Hey Soldier — You're In the Smart-Phone Army Now!

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Remember how the Army would pretty much issue only uniforms and boots to recruits who showed up for basic training? Well, some lucky soldiers will soon be getting something extra — an iPhone or a similarly smart phone. “We actually have a pilot study going on right now where we’re issuing these things to soldiers in basic training,” Lieut. General Mark Hertling said as he pulled his iPhone from a camouflaged shoulder pocket at breakfast Tuesday. Several hundred newbie troops at Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood and Oklahoma’s Fort Sill will soon get either the popular Apple gimcrack or an Evo Android smart phone to make their transition into the Army go a little more smoothly. “It has everything a soldier needs to know,” Hertling says.

Recruits can download  Army manuals right into the devices and read them while waiting in line for chow or whenever they’ve got some downtime, says the three-star general, who’s in charge of the Army’s initial training. His fingers flit across on the touch screen, and suddenly the Soldier Creed fills the room from the iPhone’s tiny speaker: “I am an American soldier — I am a warrior and a member of a team.” Hertling grins. “You say `OK, well that’s kind of cheesy’ — but no, it’s not — that’s how these young kids learn.”

Soldiers will not only get the phones for free — Uncle Sam will also pick up the monthly bill. But the troops will have to return them once they’ve finished their training, at least in the pilot program. “In the future, soldiers could potentially keep the phone for their entire Army career,” an Army official said Wednesday. They might also get extra money to help pay the monthly charges.

The growing “Apps for Army” library (A4A, in Army-speak) include the Soldier’s Blue Book — the basic details of the service — physical training and first aid manuals, an app detailing the seven Army values — loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage — and a “mood tracker” that lets a soldier monitor his or her psychological well-being. If the soldier is too despondent to report to P.T., there’ll be an app to submit a sick-leave request. (More on See 10 iPhone apps to help keep you healthy)

“Enormous opportunities exist for Army exploitation of commercially developed smart-phone technologies,” an Army outline of the program says. “Opportunities exist to significantly enhance soldiers’ and units’ effectiveness and efficiencies in the conduct of administrative functions, training, leader development, access to specialized training and aided execution of military functional tasks.” (Hmm….wonder if there’ll be an iPhone app to translate that sentence into English?)

“The first question we got when we were talking about issuing the iPhone is well, what happens if the kid doesn’t show up for his ship date and he’s already been issued an iPhone — he’s going to steal it,” Hertling recalls. “My initial reaction was, `Oh yea, that’s a good point’ — and a young person next to me said, `You can’t steal it — it’s got a geo-locator on it — you can track the guy down and find out where he is, or just turn it off from a remote location and the iPhone’s no good.'”

Hertling says  the Army really doesn’t “want to get into the business of issuing smart phones — we want them to pull down the apps.” But his superiors are investigating the possibility of making iPhones a nifty recruiting tool. Not only that: the iPhone is made in China. If it becomes a key tool for the U.S. Army, it could reduce the chance of war between Beijing and Washington.

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