Friday, June 7, 2013
Facebook and Today's Army
Not long ago I wrote about the importance, even in our digital age, of old-fashioned snail mail for soldiers, a situation that entered my awareness now that our son, Nick, is in basic training at Fort Jackson, SC.
But we’re also becoming aware of the ways in which the Army is using social media to inform, or not inform parents of service men and women. Fort Jackson, for instance, has its own Facebook page, which provides updates on what’s happening at the fort or company level and also posts photos of training activities taken by base personnel.
We think one of the pictures had Nick in it, but we couldn’t tell for sure. It didn’t give a full view of the face, and the big caps the soldiers wear also hinder positive identification. Still, it’s kind of neat to be able to keep up with at least officially sanctioned base news, and we’ve really been following, rather than interacting with the page.
How Come He (She) Hasn’t Called?
Not everyone has been so reticent. We were told when Nick shipped out that he would get to make one phone call of about two minutes shortly after he arrived safely at Fort Jackson. Owing to the time difference, the call came in at about 3:30 p.m. on our home phone. I work out of a home office and was there to take the call and talk with him, but Linda was at work and never got a chance.
Not long after that group of Soldiers in Training arrived at Jackson, the Facebook page lit up with comments from parents who wanted to know why they hadn’t heard from their kid. Like sharks drawn to blood in the water, some of the parents began feeding on each others’ anxieties and it almost seemed that for a while, that was all the Facebook page was about.
Finally one of the officers responded to the complaints with an answer that should have been glaringly obvious.
Your soldier gets one phone call when he or she arrives at Fort Jackson, the officer wrote. We don’t tell the soldier who to call, and if he or she has a boyfriend or girlfriend, the call might not be to the parents. Q.E.D.
They Oughta Be in Pictures
Once training got under way, the Facebook page began blossoming with photos of training activities. It quickly became apparent that some companies had leaders who are social-media savvy and took and posted a lot of photos. Others didn’t.
In the past week there’s been another flurry of parent postings with the running theme that the parent in question hasn’t seen any pictures of the family soldier, and what’s going on here. Like the phone call situation, this one started feeding on itself as well.
A couple of days ago the battalion commander himself felt the need to respond personally to those posts.
Fort Jackson isn’t a photo studio, he said, in essence. It’s an Army basic training facility, and its purpose is to turn young recruits into soldiers who have learned the skills that are necessary to help them have the best chance of surviving a combat situation and fighting properly. And, he added, if certain people don’t let up on this photo question, we will block them from using the Facebook page.
Take that. It’s a sign of the times, but at the same time I can’t help shaking my head and thinking that if Dwight Eisenhower had had to deal with this, we’d all be speaking German.