Analytics on the Battlefield: The Start of a Years Long Journey

Consider this my “Hello World!” post. This article was originally published on my linkedin profile, but in considering what this blog is about, where to start, etc., I felt like it would be a great jumping off point. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoy!

Afghanistan was the very last place I expected to have an epiphany about the power of data, but it was this unlikeliest of locations where I realized data could be used in a profound way.

In 2010 I was deployed to Afghanistan as part of a Route Clearance Company that was responsible for patrolling the roads around Kandahar for mines and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). As the Operations Officer for the company, one of my primary tasks was route planning and mission development. After the first few weeks in theater, I began to take a hard look at the routes we were patrolling, taking into consideration the volume of traffic on the routes and history of IED events on each route. Unbeknownst to myself at the time, I was building a heat map of traffic patterns and IED events.

What I found is that IED events were typically occurring in and around the same places; there was little variation where IEDs were being found. By using and refining the heat map, I was able to work with the company staff to plan missions that minimized time on routes with little traffic, no tactical importance, or no history of IED events, and instead had the unit maximize time in the areas where there was most likely to be an IED.

This approach proved to be wildly successful and I credit this use of data both as my personal “A-Ha!” moment about the power of data and as a significant reason why our unit had a successful deployment. My unit cleared nearly 15,000km and most importantly, brought everyone home alive. I was awarded a Bronze Star at the end of the deployment which was due in no small part to my use of data-driven mission planning and mission optimization.

Now, nearly 5 years removed from my deployment, I’m ready to take the next step in learning how to use data to drive strategic business decisions – I’m proud to announce that I will be starting graduate work in Business Intelligence and Business Analytics.

Starting classes doesn’t represent the end of my journey – merely the next phase – and I am excited for what it means to be going back to school, and for formalizing skills in an area I have been interested in for a long time.

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