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