Social Media blocked on the battlefield

July 1, 2009

Working public affairs in a combat zone brings new challenges daily.  I love my job because I get to tell the story of the American Soldier in Iraq.  Specifically, in 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division.

However, lately, I’ve been really flummoxed at my inability to access Social Media sites.  I feel like I can’t, know I can do a better job as a brigade public affairs officer if I had access to sites that the Secretary of Defense wants me to use.

Herein lies my professional frustration.  The Secretary of Defense has said on numerous occasions that public affairs officers need to reach audiences through social media.  You can read various statements here, here, and video here.

“Public relations was invented in the United States, yet we are miserable at communicating to the rest of the world what we are about as a society and a culture, about freedom and democracy, about our policies and our goals.  It is just plain embarrassing that al-Qaida is better at communicating its message on the Internet than America.” -SecDef Robert Gates, Nov. 2007

The newly appointed Principal Deputy Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs recently said about social media, “It’s not just better one-way communication; it’s better two-way communication. It’s not just us reaching people; it is them reaching us, too.”

And he has a twitter feed on the official DOD Web site.

And almost a year ago Iwrote about the Secretary of the Army encouraging military blogging.

Before deploying my brigade established a presence on several social media sites.  Several are registered on the Army’s official social media directory.

After lengthy days at the office or covering events, I update the 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division Facebook page on the SniperHill internet in my containerized housing unit…it connects at Slowsky-like 8kbps and I pay $88/month.  The money is not the issue, I consider it a personal expense for occassional professional use, however, I could do much more if I had access at my desk—just like the PAOs & other Soldiers in the states.  Access the senior leaders say I should have.  Access that keeps family members informed.

I feel bad when my brigade commander asks me “Hey, PAO, when are we going to start the brigade blog?”  I have to give him the penguin salute because I can’t effectively launch it without access to monitor the activites or have a truly interactive environment.

For those who think…“stop whining, back in WWII we didn’t have that internet stuff”…I dare you to look at our Facebook page and see what the moms, dads, and spouses say when they see a photo of their Soldier or images of where the special person works and lives.  Now, you will see the power of social media.  I’m happy to “whine” on their behalf.

Recently, the Army allowed access to these sites from bases in the states.  That’s nice, however, when a Soldier can go home to their family at night there is less of a need for social media—except the fan, follower, subscriber base that’s built in garrison can be exploited during a deployment.

Meanwhile, we deployed PAOs are blocked, blocked, blocked by the network managers.  (Except for General Odierno’s PAO who updates his Fan page daily).

For my signal friends, try explaining the classic “bandwidth” argument to the families of deployed Soldiers.  Really, how much bandwidth could about five public affairs Soldiers per brigade effect things—is our networking situation really hinging on five guys uploading photos to flickr and videos on YouTube?  Not to mention the enemy is still beating us to the punch on getting out the story.

I just want do my job as a tell the story of the American Soldier and fight enemy propaganda with truth.  I post on the brigade’s page for the Soldier on guard duty who lives in a tent and seldom has internet access and may not want it–but, his family & friends still want to know how he’s doing.  Without social media access I feel like I have the proverbial a knife in an information gunfight.

DISCLAIMER:  I have submitted a waiver for access that is going through approval channels.  And, of course, views expressed here are my own.  Not the DOD, Army, or my unit.  Hope I don’t get in trouble for this posting. *fingers crossed*

If you’ve read this far, thanks for your interest. Please help us reach our goal of 4,000 Fans on Facebook to represent each Soldiers from the Highlander Brigade deployed to Iraq


Things I might ask a politician

August 21, 2008

If I were allowed to really ask tough questions of a politician…I would ask:

“Sir/Ma’am: Each year American born, ‘Christian’ Americans murder over 14,000 American born, ‘Christian’ Americans…why isn’t crime prevention higher on the list of campaign issues? Why does your messaging not link education, healthcare, adequate housing to crime?”

“Sir/Ma’am: Most Americans don’t work in factories. But it seems that the pols constantly pander to ‘hard working factory workers’ in ad after ad. What about the other people who work in the service industries, education, technical fields, military, artists, and even unemployed?  Do they matter too?”

“Sir/Ma’am: Many people in cities don’t drive cars, or at least not very far. So why, oh why, don’t we ever discuss the need from more rail and mass transit? Do you think the special interests have bullied you into drilling for oil?”

Does anyone else wonder why the media doesn’t ask tough questions?  Do you think the upcoming debates will focus on policy or side-issues?


Blogging while brown

July 29, 2008

While visiting the Jack & Jill Politics blog I read about the Blogging While Brown (BWB) conference that was held in Atlanta this weekend.

The following paragraph describes the origin and purpose of the BWB conference.  From BWB official website:

Whether it’s fighting injustice , debating racism in the media, serving as a new technology underground railroad of information or celebrating our best and brightest, bloggers of color are a vital and viable part of the blogosphere who aren’t afraid to voice their opinions on a number of subjects. Their readers are willing to mobilize for change. Bloggers of color are at an inflection point in the continued development of the blogosphere.
To that end, the Blogging While Brown Conference was born. Blogging While Brown is the first international conference for bloggers of color. For the first time this new generation of activists, entrepreneurs and new media content creators will step out from behind their keyboards and meet in person.

Needless to say I wasn’t invited nor aware of the BWB conference, before today.  Perhaps because I’m not among the “best and brightest” of bloggers of color?  I find it interesting that the BWB conference occurred the same weekend as the UNITY ’08.  In the future it would be nice to see BWB gain more clout and work with larger groups of journalists like NABJ or NAHJ.  Though it’s possible the BWB doesn’t see itself as affiliated with the standard world of old media?

The founder of BWB has several videos from the conference posted on her blog. I recommend the one from the bloggers who run Black Web 2.0.  Interestingly enough, Web 2.0 works the same way for black people as it does for others…shhhhh…don’t tell anyone.

I did find it interesting that many of the BWB participants were heavy users of Twitter (if you’re wondering “what the heck is Twitter?” click here).  I enjoy Twitter too, though my feeds are closed to the public.

Well next year there will be another Blogging While Brown conference.  If there’s not a scheduling conflict maybe I’ll attend.  I see myself as a blogger who happens to be brown.  Part of the concept of Naked Conversations is that a person can blog anonymously and say whatever they want because “no one wrote the official blogging rule book” it seems that BWB caters to potential weblebrities like those listed here, here, or here.  The fact none of the web celebrities are brown is a good reason to continue the BWB conference.

Me, I’m just a regular guy blogging for bloggings sake.  What about you?


Should the media cover military funerals

July 10, 2008
Fired ANC Public Affairs office

Fired Arlington National Cemetery Public Affairs officer

Hopefully my 18 month academic lobotomy at Georgetown will ensure that I make sound decisions when I graduate and embrace the media.

Recently the Public Affairs director at Arlington National Cemetery was fired for honoring a fallen Soldier’s family’s request to allow media at their loved ones funeral.  In April, one funeral was reported on by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post.  Today he has a full article about Gina Gray getting the “boot”.

In small towns across America there are monuments to honor our fallen Soldiers.  Remembering those killed in action is a necessary to keep the civilian citizenry engaged in the sacrifice Service members make while they “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic.”

Attending the funeral for Second Lieutenant Lisa N. Bryant at Arlington National Cemetery is an event I will never, ever forget.  I saw a similar event depicted on Army Wives and was touching but not quite the same.  The Soldiers of the Old Guard caissons platoon are among our Army’s finest ambassadors.  Their story and the story of the heroes who make the ultimate sacrifice on battlefields should be told.

I won’t speculate on any families reason to have media at a funeral.  What I do know is we celebrate our fallen heroes all the time.  Just a few weeks ago there many hours of live coverage of Tim Russert’s funeral and; Metro (Washington’s mass transit system) had it’s highest number of passengers during President Reagan’s state funeral.

This is all interesting to me.  There’s a balance between policy and free press.  Here’s an example of conflict between the two.  Most often the military has a hamonius and mutually beneficial relationship with the media.

What’s your opinion?  Have you ever been to a military funeral?