How much information is too much for a soldier in the United States Army to divulge through blogging and social media? Anything that puts other soldiers' lives at risk. According to the Army's Chief of Strategic Communications, Lt. Col. André Dean, that's about it.
WebProNews recently sat down with Dean to talk about the social media use of soldiers. "We have since 2007...jumped into social media with determination to be here and stay here, and it's just taken off like gangbusters since," says Dean. "We're just trying to find out where the Marines are. Where are those Marines?"
"Restrictions are almost non-existent," he explains. "Like any blogging community, you establish some rules of slander or libel or just basic good conduct on the Internet. That's all that we have with the exception being United States Military in time of war, what we call "operational security," which means if a soldier talks about a mission that's upcoming, the enemy is listening always to what we say and do, and if a soldier talks about something that could cost a soldier his or her life, that is operational security violation."
"But soldiers are trained to do that," he continues. "They're trained to do that continuously. So we just have them be reminded of...and they're getting an operational security briefing before they start to blog, and we ask them to honor and respect that, and that's really the only unusual piece, because of the nature of what we do. We have to put something in place, and soldiers...I mean, nobody argues that piece, because that's their life protected. The whole community has to rally around and understand that piece, and they do immediately. I mean that's how we watch each others' back...by good operational security procedures."
"So, we stress that as a part of blogging, and we say 'Cut loose. Fire. Go. Tell the Army story.' And these great young soldiers do."
Obviously, the Army wants to encourage young people to sign up, and a big part of that encouragement these days comes from the soldiers themselves, showing what their lives are like.
"If you're a soldier, you can talk any part of your soldier thoughts, views, pastimes, current times, hobbies, interests, life...it's a wide open gambit," says Dean. "What we're trying to do is let the soldier say, 'I have a life. I have a great life. I do fun, interesting, challenging, dynamic, boring things, because I have a great life as a soldier,' and I think that's part of the greatness of this effort right now...it let's soldiers take it in whichever direction they want to go, and say 'Here's my Army story.' And people go, 'Wow, they're doing that in the Army?' or 'He can do that?' or 'She can do that? I thought there was a drill sergeant yelling at you all the time.' You know, that stereotypical Hollywood kind of an 'Oh my gosh, I'd never want to go do that, because, you know, they beat me up every day with Pugil sticks and the drill sergeant screams at me and gets me out of bed every morning.'"
"Oh, well yeah, for 8 weeks, and then after that, you're a trained soldier and you go and execute your mission, and then you have 48 days of vacation a year, and it's 30 plus these four-day holidays that we kind of slide in there for operational morale, to pick up the morale, and you find out you get a chance to travel around the world, depending on what your next assignment's going to be...chances to grow, educational development, and then on it goes..." Dean explains.
"We're finding that as we get the story out there, and more and more soldiers tell their story, the more people say, 'Wow, why are we afraid of social media?'...in the other branches of service, and 'Why wouldn't we want to tell our story and why wouldn't we want to have all of our Marines or all of our Sailors, or all of our Air Men and Women telling their story too?' Because it's a great story to tell."
"So, a little bit of risk, good operational briefing securities..." he reiterates. "Be careful guys, and think about what you're doing...we trust you with your buddy's life. We trust you to point your weapon down range. We trust you with all those weapon systems we placed in your hand, and you guys do a home run every time we give you important missions. Do a home run. Hit that home run with social media also. Tell the story, unafraid. If you have a critique or a criticism, tell the criticism, but be straightforward and honest about what you say and do, and then don't jeopardize your buddy's life on operational security stuff'...It's constantly a part of our lives,' so just reminders, especially for 18, 19, 20 year-olds. Sometimes they just need good reminders, but when they hear it, and they're thinking about their buddy, left and right, and their team, they get the message and they're right on track."
"A lot of what we're doing in the marketing of the United States army, is we want people to have the comfort level that says, 'I can do that.'