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Top US Marine says smartphone society has made soldiers soft

General Robert B. Neller, commandant of the US Marines Corps, says soldiers may need to leave their phones at home.

USMC/Sgt. Gabriela Garcia

Cell phone radiation can be a danger to soldiers, but maybe not for the reason you'd expect.

Gen. Robert B. Neller, the top officer in the US Marine Corps, says those phones can give away a soldier's position. It's just one of the ways that modern comforts have made troops weaker, in his opinion.

Speaking at a panel Tuesday on the future of expeditionary warfare, Neller told the audience that the military is now going back to basics, teaching sailors to navigate by the stars and soldiers how to use camouflage.

Those skills hadn't been needed because the enemy didn't have planes, satellites, jammers and the ability to see the electromagnetic radiation spectrum, Neller said.

Find Neller's comments on phones at around 56:30 in this video.

But nowadays, phones can be a liability because the enemy could determine their position. When the Marines tested one of their own Marine Expeditionary Forces (MEF), they quickly saw the danger:

"What do you think the largest electromagnetic signature in the entire MEF headquarters emanated from? The billeting area. Why? Because everybody had their phone on."

Neller noted that the US Naval Academy had actually stopped teaching celestial navigation, but is bringing it back because the military isn't sure it can rely on GPS.

As for the Marines, they're going to learn how to dig foxholes, turn off their devices and keep quiet instead of checking email, he said.

The Marine commandant did have some praise for the younger generation, though. Referring to the challenge of fighting on three extra fronts (space, cyber and information) in addition to air, land and sea, he said he's confident that younger generations will be up to the task.

"They're more adaptive than we ever were: they'll adjust," he said.

The US Marine Corps didn't immediately reply to a request for comment about whether phones will be allowed in the Expeditionary Forces.