03 June 2009

I should have known better

Recently, I responded to a request for an interview from a reporter from the Army Times regarding TaskForceMountain.com . I composed my thoughts on the forum, and wrote them down in a statement for the reporter. I made the mistake of assuming that, since my fellow milbloggers and favorite professional journals are exploring the possibilities of Web 2.0 in 4th Generation Warfare, that the Army Times would want to do so as well.

I should have realized that this was, in fact the Army Times, and that I shouldn't expect them to be interested in in-depth defense policy analysis. The Army Times, like many newspapers, is designed to sell copies to a certain segment of the population, and does so by exploiting a few hot-button issues.

Most editions of the Army Times seem to be a grudge-fest for grumpy retirees and Soldiers who love to bitch and complain about anything and everything. They appear to feature the exact same articles and headlines week after week. In fact, I would probably wager that the exact same headlines and graphics are recycled every fiscal year.

Typical headlines fall into a number of categories. Let me know if I left one out here:

1.) New Uniforms! When will you get them? (This always features bitches and complaints. Getting desert boots to deploy to Iraq? Of course, some retiree will bitch and complain that the desert boots aren't made to be polished, like his were back in the 1970s)
2.) New Deployments! When will you go? How long will you be gone? (Features bitches and complaints)
3.) Sex scandal involving high-level official! (Features bitches and complaints)
4.) Pay Raise! When will you get it? (Features bitches and complaints. Anything involving money is usually printed in big letters. This is probably the most popular headline.)
5.) Promotion List! Are you on it? (Features bitches and complaints from those not on it)
6.) Sound off! Yes, you too can send us your bitches and complaints!

Again, the Army Times isn't there to give Soldiers in-depth defense policy analysis. Rather, they're meant to catch Joe's attention--particularly when it involves uniforms and money issues--and sell copies. And nothing sells more copies than people bitching and complaining.

So, it really shouldn't have surprised me that the final published article article regarding TaskForceMountain.com wasn't about the possibilities of Web 2.0 in 4th Generation Warfare, but rather, about Maj. Gen. Michael Oates' solicitation for input in a thread entitled "Stupid Rules", in which he asked Soldiers to name the stupidest rule they came across in the Army.

So, really, thanks Army Times for your high standards of journalism. I will post my statement to the Army Times in full, as I feel the message about the possibilities of Web 2.0 for the military needs to be heard:

Hats off to Major General Oates for turning the 10th Mountain Division into the first Web 2.0 division in the US Army. MG Oates’ website, taskforcemountain.com is not only a great way for the general to stay in touch not only with families, but also provides him with candid and honest feedback from Soldiers. It provides him with the type of information that doesn’t come up in the statistics during staff meetings: the vital morale and quality-of-life issues which are of critical importance to our Soldiers. MG Oates has had discussion threads on a wide variety of topics, from reducing DUIs to providing better opportunities for single Soldiers.

I think that taskforcemountain.com will set a new standard for military web pages—both my family and I prefer going to taskforcemountain.com instead of the Virtual Family Readiness Groups (vFRGs) which the Army is currently providing for Soldiers to keep in touch with their families. The vFRGs were actually a ground-breaking first attempt by the Army to create a web forum for deployed Soldiers and their families. Unfortunately, it’s only really open to a Soldier’s closest family members—not for extended family or friends. Also, many of the registration procedures deter even close family members from joining.

To sign up for the Virtual FRG, one must first be able to pinpoint a Soldier’s unit down to the battalion level. For those of us who are actually in the military, this is simple. But to family and friends who have minimal knowledge of the military, this can prove confusing and troublesome. Even with a precise location of a Soldier’s unit, family members might be confused whether they should join a Soldier’s brigade-level FRG or their battalion-level FRG—indeed, these terms may mean little to those outside of the military. After locating a Soldier’s unit, users must then go through an in-depth sign-up and confirmation process to receive an account and password. To create an account, one needs to provide not only their phone number but also the last four digits of their Soldier’s Social Security Number. Not to mention, even after the sign-up process is complete, one still has to be confirmed. This isn’t an instantaneous process, as on many web forums, and the length of time turns off many users. Most users want to start browsing and posting right away.

Taskforcemountain.com, on the other hand, is open to all, and incorporates the latest Web 2.0 technologies. Family members and friends have no problems in accessing the web page and viewing pictures, news stories, cartoons and MG Oates’ discussion board. Family members can even have a message to their Soldier displayed for all to see on the web page. Using technologies such as RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feeds, web-savvy users can get updates from taskforcemountain.com in real-time on programs such as Google Reader, and can even get these updates on their iPhones and Blackberries.

It’s great to see military leaders incorporating Web 2.0 and social networking technologies in an attempt to facilitate better public diplomacy between the military and civilian communities. A few years ago, military policies almost snuffed out many Military Bloggers (Milbloggers). Fortunately, a number of senior leaders in the US military, such as Lieutenant General William Caldwell (who blogs as “Frontier 6” at the US Army’s Combined Arms Center website, where he sets up web-based discussions for students to participate in, and encourages his students to blog) and US Southern Command’s Admiral James Stavridis (who blogs at the USSOUTHCOM website) have turned milblogging into a mainstream affair.

I even had a web discussion with Admiral Stavridis within the past month on his blog, in which we discussed the effects of social networking sites like Facebook, which was credited with organizing massive world-wide protests against the Colombian narco-terrorist group, the FARC.

MG Oates might take some advice from General Ray Odierno, who posts regular updates via Facebook. News stories on Facebook can be “liked”, which makes them visible to one’s friends—many of whom may know very little about the military other than what they see in the news and in popular culture. Certainly, General Odierno’s Facebook stories have been wildly popular, and the responses he gets from Soldiers and civilians alike are incredibly touching. MG Oates might also benefit from using sites like Digg, and Delicious to promote his news stories.

Additionally, I know that I, personally, would like to see an official 10th Mountain Division fan page on Facebook--if the 101st can do it, we can too!

1 comment:

Boss Mongo said...

Bitches and complaints; never get those from milbloggers...