Soldier's Diary: The Importance of PowerPoint Slides in Iraq

Editor's note: U.S. Army Capt. Dan Sukman is serving a one-year deployment to Iraq. For previous entries and his bio, see the Soldier's Diary archives.

May 3, 2006

The last couple of days have been moving fast. I am nearly finished with the inventories and only have a few pieces of property to look at and sign for. It’s a good thing I am just about done, as Sgt. 1st Class Massey, my operations NCO (non-commission officer), is getting ready to take his mid-tour leave to see his family.

Although his expression does not change much, I know his excitement to go on leave can only be matched by that of his family's. We have talked about the long flights ahead and the inevitable heat that will greet him when he steps off the plane in Kuwait, but none of those matter when you are seven days away from seeing those who mean the most to you.

When he goes on leave, the hours at work will increase, leaving less time to watch "The Simpsons" or read about the latest Mets win in Stars and Stripes. I can’t and won’t complain. When I took my leave, Sgt. 1st Class Massey was able to cover his job and mine. Now, I will be expected to do the same.

It’s a common theme here, and practiced by soldiers at all different levels and staff sections: Do more with less. I have watched other soldiers on staff double their workload when their counterparts takes leave, and yet the mission goes on. You won’t hear any complaints, rather, you will hear people brag about how much more they can accomplish.

In addition to finishing up the inventories and getting up to date on Sgt. 1st Class Massey’s piece, I also finished a revision of a brief I was asked to put together.

Approximately three days ago, I put together a PowerPoint briefing for my commander. It had the right info, but was not displayed in the proper manner. It’s a lesson I have learned on this staff, and over the last six years in general: How you present information is often just as important as the information you present. When it comes to this job, if your audience, be it your boss or soldiers under you, don’t understand the information you are trying to send across, they might make a decision based on the information they thought they heard, and it can cost lives.

As a staff officer, I have done a ton of briefings over here, some as short as 30 seconds, some a little longer. The amount of man hours put into briefings in Iraq, be it preparing scripts or getting graphics on a PowerPoint slide just right, must be astronomical. Don’t even get me going on the number of slides printed out on these briefs. One running joke we have is $87 billion approved from Congress, $86 billion on paper and printer toner.

The true testament to the professionalism of soldiers out here are the briefings that occur every day at the squad level. Soldiers going out on patrol day in and day out get mission briefs from their squad leaders, platoon sergeants and platoon leaders for every mission. No fancy PowerPoint slides in these briefs, and they are usually conducted in a tent or adjacent to a HMMWV rather than a comfortable conference room.

Where it all ties together is the squad leader depends on accurate info from his platoon leader, who depends on accurate info from the company, which depends on accurate info from the battalion and brigade, where the decision for the operation was made. At any level, if information is not presented in an understandable manner, lives could be at stake.

It sounds like I am making a big deal about the mundane, the ability to brief affecting the lives of soldiers at the lowest level, but I will end this by paraphrasing my boss, who often states that when we look at a map "the pins on the map are not just pins, they are actual soldiers, and they are our soldiers."

E-mail Captain Dan at Click here to read his bio.