Bridging the Basics: How do you bridge to something that wasn’t around in the good old days?

| May 30, 2014 | 0 Comments


Sgt. Maj. Mark Swart
8th Theater Sustainment Command Public Affairs


As the Army redefines itself from an Army at war to an Army of preparation, leaders in both the officer and noncommissioned officer realms often seek to revive some of the practices that were common before Sept. 11, 2001.

But in some ways, the environment our leaders operate in has irrevocably changed, and there’s no going back.

Yes, I’m talking about technology, and specifically, the Internet.

As the Internet has become a mainstay in American society, so also has it in our Army. We’d have a hard time without it. From Army Knowledge Online to email to Web-based logistics, supply and personnel systems, we’re a wired Army.

This also applies to our personal lives. For some senior leaders, the Internet might still seem like a novelty. But for our Soldiers in the millennial generation, interacting on the Web is a way of life just as genuine as face-to-face engagements. In fact, a highly publicized 2013 study cited that 53 percent of millennials would rather give up their sense of smell than their technology!

The Army also understands that the benefit of our Soldiers engaging the American public through social media outweighs the risks. After all, who better to tell the Army’s story than our Soldiers?

As leaders, we have to prepare our younger subordinates for the transition in navigating social media as Soldiers, just as we have to manage our own online personas. We must teach them to balance self-expression against sabotaging both their own careers and the Army’s professional image.

We addressed this issue during a briefing at a recent 8th Theater Sustainment Command-wide NCO Professional Development and made a few key recommendations to help our Soldiers:

•Approach discussions on social media with Soldiers from a professional development angle: One picture of them intoxicated or dressed scantily can come back to haunt them later and even threaten their credibility as leaders in the future, even if what they are doing in the picture isn’t specifically against regulations. Encourage Soldiers to think “G” or “PG-13” as a content guideline.

•Make sure Soldiers understand how privacy settings work on all of the social media platforms they use. If they want to share something with the world, they need to think about how they would explain that post to their leadership.

•Never forget operational security (OPSEC). People from around the globe who wish to do our military harm are always watching our families, our friends and us. We shouldn’t make their task easier. Do you really want “friends of friends” to be able to see your content?

•Soldiers should consider the larger ramifications of sharing and liking content that portrays the military in a negative manner. Promoting such content only reinforces stereotypes and fuels the problem. Portrayals of negative behavior by service members can even erode the public’s trust in the armed forces.

And finally, it is important that Soldiers understand there can be legal ramifications. Talking negatively about supervisors or releasing sensitive information is punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It’s never appropriate to be disrespectful of superior officers or NCOs, whether a Soldier is speaking in person in the company area or posting to Facebook at midnight on a Friday.

Five articles in the UCMJ (88, 89, 91, 133 and 134) deal specifically with different aspects of inappropriate behavior in public.

All in all, even though social media didn’t exist before 9-11, the concepts that guide us as Soldiers have never changed. The basics are still the basics, regardless of the mode of communication.

As long as we conduct ourselves as professionals and remember OPSEC, social media is an asset and an opportunity to highlight our Army.

(Editor’s note: For more information on social media and training, check out the Army Social Media Handbook on the AKO Army Public Affairs Portal.)

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Category: News, Standing Columns

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