Military comms in the field vs. smartphones

The first smartphone as we know it today arrived in 2007 with the iPhone, 12 years ago. At the time, I was Sergeant Delrosario, U.S. Marine Corps, stationed at 29 Palms, California with the Marine Corps Communication-Electronics School (MCCES).

Some of the Marines training at the school had come from Microsoft, Google, and other big names in tech. I’m tempted to say that had I come from such a background, I wouldn’t be joining the Marine Corps, but then came 2008 and the Global Financial Crisis.


The schoolhouse probably cranked out some of the longest basic military occupational specialty (MOS) schools in the military. These were junior enlistees (almost all either E-1 or E-2) going to school for six months or more, learning crazy complicated commo-electronic whiz-bang things.

Despite that, the overall reliability, user-friendliness, intuitiveness, and demand for smartphones to do military work outweighed that of our demand for military comms to do routine military work – coordinate people to go here, do this, do that, at this date-time, with this equipment.

I worked in the supply warehouse helping manage the inventory of communication-electronics needed for the initial entry Marines to train on. The price tags on some of these items were just mind-boggling.

I remember once holding a circuit board priced at over $1,000,000. I joked with one of the civilians there, a retired Marine Master Sergeant, “Damn… $1,000,000 for this? Where’s the spot where I park my car? This thing can’t be worth that much.”

Symptom of yet another [government]-industrial complex? Probably. But not my point here.


I just concluded a short field exercise with my unit. And like many of my other previous field exercises, we got more done with smartphones than with our military comms. In fact, with my unit, most of our military comms didn’t work, most of the time.

We got work done despite it all.

I got work done despite it all.

It reminds me of Up the Organization (1970) by Robert Townsend. In the book, Robert Townsend illustrates how work tends to get done despite the leadership, not because of it. In my field experiences, the same seems to hold true with our communication systems.