27 March 2010

My Unit has a Facebook Page?!

Here's a story I've told so many times it must be true: A couple of months ago, a battalion commander in our brigade allegedly received a phone call from a municipal police department here in Iowa. "Did you know that one of your soldiers, SGT X, has a picture on her Facebook page that shows her drinking an alcoholic beverage while in uniform?"

The story goes that the commander had three immediate responses to the call:
1) "Why is the police department checking out Facebook photos of females in my unit?"
2) "Why is my soldier apparently not aware of the policy against drinking alcohol while in uniform?"
3) "My unit has a Facebook page?!"
One of the reasons I started experimenting with a mil-blog, a Facebook page, and other Internet-based tools was to know what I was talking about, when the boss and the boss's boss turned to ask for an informed opinion. I'm probably about as old as they are, and just about as set in my ways. In terms of a catch-phrase currently popular in our unit, we older folks are "digital immigrants," while our younger soldiers are "digital natives."

In other words, Young Joe and Joan Soldier may have grown up with text-messaging, and MySpace, and Facebook, and Twitter. They may think very little of living every minute of their lives publicly posted to the Internet. Those of us who remember before there was an Internet, however, barely speak the language.

Not to get too touchy-feely on you, but there's probably merit to both perspectives. There have been some knock-down, drag-out religious conversations within Big Army about whether or not social media tools are good. They certainly are useful when you're trying to tell people about what's going on in an organization, or how successful a mission was downrange. On the other hand, they're dangerous tools for the very same reasons: Loose Facebook pages sink ships.

Quick rules of thumb for the digital soldier: Treat every weapon as if it is loaded, every camera as if it's recording, every microphone as if it's "hot," and every computer as if it's directly connected to the front page of the New York Freakin' Times.

During a recent meeting of all headquarters company soldiers, our brigade commander mentioned that he'd asked his public affairs soldiers to prototype a unit Facebook page for communicating non-secret information to soldiers, friends, family, and employers. They'll apparently still do a web page, and a hardcopy newsletter called "The Ryder Dispatch" (a PDF copy of the first one is posted on the unit web page).

It was funny how younger soldiers in that meeting just shrugged, like they would've expected any organization these days to have a Facebook page. It was also notable how at least one old soldier--not Sherpa, but definitely someone who thinks like me--point-blank asked the commander about the recent case of an Israeli soldier violating "operational security" (OPSEC) via Facebook.

As of this week, my unit has a Facebook page. Based on nothing more than word of Internet-mouths, it's gained more than 1,000 fans in less than two weeks.

Guess it's time to "go native?"


  1. The question I would have as both civilian cop and a Nat Guard soldier, WTF? Why would a cop call and report seeing a picture of a soldeir drinking in uniform? Who gives a Sh--?

    Now, I might report the off duty nat guard soldier we caught smokin' weed. Why? Because of assh--s like him, the rest of us have to suffer taking random piss test all the time.
    As far as seeing a soldier drinking in uniform...I couldn't give a rat's a--.

  2. I just became a fan, too. You CO should have sent the police dept of a picture of a cop eating a donut. Sugar-high and guns? Dangerous combination.


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