CASCOM helps take Soldiers to the front lines and beyond
Matt MacLaughlin, branch chief of the Technology Integration Branch at the Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee, Va., reviews the newest version of Soldiers magazine. MacLaughlin and his team just completed the mobile web platform for Soldiers magazine to keep the readers informed. The final product is available for viewing at www.scoop.it/t/soldier-magazine. Photo by Jamie L. Carson, Combined Arms Support Command Public Affairs Office.

FORT LEE, Va. -- Soldiers magazine closed the cover on its final print publication this fall however, that was not the end for the Army's flagship magazine. Instead with the help of the Combined Arms Support Command, it was a new beginning and a venture into the "new wild west of mobile web publications," said Matt MacLaughlin, chief of the CASCOM Technology Integration Branch.

Earlier this year, the staff at Soldiers magazine was informed the funding for the publication would cease at the end of fiscal year 2011. This budget related decision was made across all of the service-level publications to include Marines magazine, All Hands and Airmen, said Carrie McLeroy, Soldiers editor in chief.

Soldiers magazine already had an established online presence through multiple platforms connected to army.mil, dodlive.mil and social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. But McLeroy was searching for a way to intertwine all of these products and further bring the magazine to the masses. The answer came in the form of a mobile application, which will provide it's readership with a more interactive experience.

The reputation of MacLaughlin and his tech-savvy crew reached McLeroy after the CASCOM team created an app for the Army Office of the Chief of Public Affairs' Online and Social Media Division.

Working in the command headquarters at Fort Lee, Va., MacLaughlin and his team's primary mission is to develop technological advancements in training such as simulation programs. But once word spread through the Army grapevine about how they could design, build and integrate a versatile mix of capabilities, the team has been fielding requests from numerous organizations and other military services.

"We are focused on our command mission, but we also see the need to assist organizations when the impact will aid in overall leader and force development," said MacLaughlin.

CASCOM, which is part of the Training and Doctrine Command, is a multifunctional organization which oversees Army combat development, doctrine development, initial military training, and leader development for logistics, human resources and finance.

The TIB's ability to assist Soldiers across today's Army is far reaching especially through the means of technology.

"We were excited about this project with Soldiers magazine. The magazine is all about Soldiers, just like the title implies, so of course we wanted to assist them," said MacLaughlin.

After much discussion and concept development, the team began in May to create a mobile platform that would allow Soldiers' readership more interaction with the publication.

From concept to publishing online, the process took several months.

"One of the biggest aspects for us was the initial building of the platform," said MacLaughlin. That sets the foundation, and then comes the fine tuning of their creation.

"In the grand scheme of the process, the 'perfecting' is probably the most intense because we are so critical of our own product," said MacLaughlin.

The overall development process takes a certain amount of creativity and out-of-the-box thinking by the staff, said MacLaughlin. Creativity does not always confine itself to regular business hours, meaning that sometimes the staff works alternative work schedules to complete projects.

Looking back, the team devoted additional time on this project because of the legacy of this magazine, said MacLaughlin.

"Soldiers magazine is the most well-known Army publication, so we wanted to make sure that we put together the most dynamic product possible," said MacLaughlin. However, it's a living product, meaning that there will be updates and some tweaks depending upon user feedback.

"Moving to an entirely digital environment provides us the opportunity to interact with our readers, whoever they are and wherever they may be," said McLeroy. Gone are the days of waiting to receive letters to the editor in the mail and through email, and then having to wait a few months to print responses in the hard copy publication. Readers now can share their thoughts and receive responses from the magazine's staff within hours and sometimes minutes as a result of the new multi-media platforms Soldiers is using to engage audiences.

When it came to the design of the mobile web platform, McLeroy provided the TIB team with the guidance of keeping it simple, allowing for the stories and photos to be the focus of the product.

"The Technology Integration Branch incorporated everything the reader would see in the print version, in addition to the social media and commenting options. The key to online consumption is really the content featured and functionality," said McLeroy. "If there are too many bells and whistles, or the reader experience is lousy, just as in the print version, the content gets lost, and we fail."

The design will not be stagnant and may evolve depending on feedback from the readership.

"If our readers ask for something different, we will provide Matt and everyone on his team their input," said McLeroy. "That's the beauty of the app … it's a bit easier to do a redesign for this app than for a print issue that works on a three-month production cycle."

The maintenance of the platform will be handled by the CASCOM TIB crew, and the Soldiers magazine staff will contribute the content to the mobile site.

"The mobile app and social media platforms will allow us to link up with readers, so they can comment on the featured content, and also influence future content in ways much timelier than ever before," said McLeroy.

Ultimately, the product developed by the TIB team is providing Soldiers with something that has been lacking, said McLeroy. The publication hasn't had the direct interaction with the readers.

The new platform can be viewed at www.scoop.it/t/soldier-magazine, and McLeroy and the staff at Soldiers along with MacLaughlin and the TIB team look forward to readers' feedback about the newest version of Soldiers magazine.

Page last updated Thu November 17th, 2011 at 00:00