10 things I can’t do from my desk

July 31, 2009

Not much changed since the last post. From my work desk in Iraq, I’m still restricted from engaging audiences on social media sites. Despite yet another article indicating that Social Media engagement is a priority for the Army.

Here’s a list of things I can’t do from my work desk that the DOD wants me to do–though not from my desk, I suppose:

1.) Download the Army’s official design templates for Web sites and Social Media

2.) Listen to the DOD Bloggers’ Roundtable–by the way you should listen to the BRT on August 4, 11:00 a.m. EST for an update on the Advisory and Assistance Brigade mission COMPLETE

3.) Post on my brigade’s blog

4.) Post tweets on my brigade’s Twitter feed @4_1AD

5.) Interact with the over 2,300 Fans who support the 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division on Facebook

6.) Visit any of the Social Media sites run by my higher headquarters MNC-I, CENTCOM

Our goal at Multinational Corps-Iraq is to maximize our use of Social Media to inform you about our missions and the people who accomplish them. We’re striving to create a dialogue with you. We will do that by sharing news, information, insights and conversation with the people who support our organization and operations in Iraq. –MNC-I

7.) Conduct spot media assessment on a number of different Web sites. Cookies, schmookies

8.) Read any blogs that are not on a .mil domain

9.) Share videos, photos, and audio products with others because access to USB ports is blocked…I wonder how civilian news agencies operate? Do they require reporters to use personal equipment and run down to the local coffee shop to access the internet to file stories?

10.) Upload videos produced by Army broadcasters to DVIDS via FTP–blocked

As a Soldier we improvise and adapt where possible. However, all the 100mph tape and 550 cord can’t help me access Social Media.

*venting complete*

Oh, if I’ve missed your phone call at my desk, it’s because I’m at the MWR internet center down the street writing this blog post. Sorry.

Update: Looks like the debate over Web 2.0 access is at the highest levels of the DoD. The Pentagon’s top public affairs executive is an active participant and proponent for Social Networking.

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

Year ahead in southern Iraq

May 24, 2009

Clearly, I haven’t posted in a while.  That’s because I’m super busy in my job as a brigade public affairs officer.  My primary base is Contingency Operating Base Adder in Iraq’s Dhi Qar Province.  Though I will spend time in Muthanna and Maysan province too.  For those worried…no, I’m not violating OPSEC…you won’t know my specific movement times or travel methods.

Days here are busy.  From my initial impressions dealing with the Iraqi media will be interesting.  There are language and cultural barriers.  Every word in English does not translate directly to Arabic and vice versa.  So context is always important.

I live near the Zigguart of Ur.  We, the U.S. Military, recently turned over control of the ancient site to Iraq’s Ministry of Antiquities.

You can see we are using Social Media to stay connected with our supporters at these links:

Facebook:  4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division FAN Page


Read an article about our social media efforts in the El Paso Times here.

So for the year ahead I hope to share the experiences of Soldiers in the Highlander Brigade and explain our collaboration with Provincial Reconstruction Teams, the Gov’t of Iraq, and Iraqi Security Forces.  Stay tuned…

Commonly asked questions about the deployment

March 24, 2009

These are some frequently asked questions:
Q: When do you go “over there”?
A: Sometime this spring. I’d suspect in the month of May.

Q: But, you’ve been “over there” before, why do you have to go again?
A: Because, the Army needs me to go. It’s just my time again. I’ve been fortunate to have good assignments since the last time I was there. Also, going to combat is ultimately why we have an Army.

Q: What type of living arrangements will you have?
A: Not sure yet. I imagine a trailer. Something like a FEMA trailer…probably sand colored.

Q: How long will you be there?
A: A year. The SecDef stopped the 15-month deployments on Aug. 1, 2008

Q: Can you keep in touch?
A: Part of my job is keeping in touch with media outlets in the states. Communication is one of the greatest differences between when I was there in ’03-’04 and 2009. I suspect I will have Internet access on my desk and a cell phone. Though I’m hearing the Internet is heavily firewalled. I plan on speaking with the guys who run http://www.taskforcemountain.com and seeing how they’re set up

Q: Are you scared?
A: Well, I have better armor and training this time and my role is a bit different. However, there’s always a bit of fear of the unknown. I won’t take unnecessary risks. I believe prayer helps.

Q: What will you do over there?
A: I’ll be responsible for the internal and external communications for a Brigade Combat Team. Public Relations and journalism. Blogging, media relations, spokesman, editing, photography, speechwriting. Also, I’ll be advising an Iraqi Army Division on public affairs–this should be challenging and interesting.

Lessons Learned from DINFOS

February 20, 2009

Many of the 27,000 personnel involved with Department of Defense Public Affairs (Public Relations, journalism, and communications) are trained at the Defense Information School (DINFOS) at Fort Meade, Maryland.

Leaders (officers, Senior noncommissioned officers, and DOD civilians) attend the Public Affairs Qualification Course.  The curriculum is outstanding and prepares graduates who are “capable of performing the basic duties of DOD military public affairs practitioners.” 

Here is a quick run-down of things I’ve learned at DINFOS:

  • DOD Principle of Information:  Maximum disclosure, minimum delay
  • The military uses AP style for internal journalism publications
  • If you are media seeking photos, videos, or military related news products go to the DVIDS page
  • Motto:  Strength through Truth
  • On writing:  “You know you’re finished [writing] not whey you don’t have more words to add, but when you have no more words to subtract.” -J. Hollewarth
  • The DOD is increasing engagement in Online and social media
  • Effective response=Bridge + Command message
  • The person who comes out with the information first gets to “characterize” it

More links: DINFOS Wikipedia page, DOD Public Affairs homepage, Army public affairs intern program, Biography of Robert T. Hastings, Jr. Asst. SecDef for Public Affairs, DINFOS graduate and former instructor, DINFOS history

AP Story:  “Over the past two years, the number of public affairs officers trained by the Defense Information School has grown by 24 percent to almost 3,500.”

Recent stories about DOD communications efforts:  here, here, and here

Links to Army social media sites

February 17, 2009

For my supporter, reporter, and blogger friends…here are the primary links to the Army’s presence online.


Twitter: [micro blogging]
Flickr: [photo]
iReport: [reporting]
NowPublic [reporting]
Delicious: [bookmarking]
FriendFeed [landing page for all social media sites]

Happy Holidays from Majorman

December 24, 2008

Greetings readers.  Hope your Winter is going well.  Please take some time to visit  family and friends this season.  Reflect on 2008 and look positively towards 2009.

Should ever feel down take an opportunity to help someone out–I guarantee you will feel better.

My time at Georgetown is complete and I’ll be involved in more mainstream Army duties in the weeks ahead.  Pray for our troops.

Should you ever want to see more military news check out the Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System (DVIDS).  And a good source of daily Army news is at Stand-To.

Thanks for taking this blog from Zero to 11,000+ readers (total) in just six months.

Oh yeah, Go Titans!