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U.S. Central Command takes responsibility for one of world’s largest war records collection

By Zack Baddorf , CENTCOM Public Affairs

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March 17, 2011 — CENTCOM

At a small ceremony today, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Donald Walker, the command records manager at U.S. Central Command, signs a form officially transferring control of the Operation Iraqi Freedom records from United States Forces Iraq to CENTCOM. Photo by Mass Communications Specialist Chief Jane West.

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Florida (March 15, 2011) — U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) officially took responsibility today for one of the world’s largest electronic war records collections, composed of 46 terabytes of about 50-60 million documents and one terabyte of photos.

This collection represents the records created at the operational-level joint headquarters in Iraq.  The individual services manage their own records within tactical units deployed in support of operations in the CENTCOM area of responsibility.

At a small ceremony today, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Donald Walker, the Command Records Manager at U.S. Central Command, signed a form officially transferring control of the Operation Iraqi Freedom records from United States Forces-Iraq to CENTCOM.

The data from Iraq may well be the largest war records collection ever, according to Joel Westphal, the section chief of CENTCOM’s Records Management Section. His team is still determining just how many documents have been transferred to CENTCOM.

An operational planning team will soon start processing the documents by categorizing and describing them. After that’s completed, the documents will be eventually transferred to the National Archives in Washington D.C. to be placed in their Electronic Records Archive (ERA).

“It’s a long process,” Westphal said, “but, for request for information, searches, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, etc., it’s very difficult to find records unless the records have been processed.”

During the Gulf War in the early 1990s, “many records were lost due to a variety of issues, one of which was not really having an effective records management program in place,” Westphal said. “CENTCOM has taken determined actions with records management over the years, and we were determined that what happened in 1991-1992 would not happen again” with the joint records from Operation Iraqi Freedom.

A backup electronic copy is currently being sent to the National Archives.

In addition to the digital data, United States Forces-Iraq has transferred 350 cubic feet of paper documents to CENTCOM and Marine Corps Forces Central Command (MARCENT), with more to follow in the months ahead.

The collection transfer was a “collaborative effort” of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, the National Archives, and U.S. Central Command.

According to Westphal, the collection “represents just one part, albeit a major one, of the history of the Iraq war and represents the sacrifices of what our dedicated military and civilian staff endured and is still enduring today. The CENTCOM Records Management Section takes the responsibility of arranging and preserving these records seriously; our final goal is to see that these records find their way to the National Archives so they can be utilized by future historians.”