With multiple missions underway around the world, the U.S. military is constantly shuffling personnel (and their families) between locations all over the planet. And while moving thousands of people long distances poses any number of logistical challenges, it’s no surprise that the human element -- feelings of dislocation, loneliness, homesickness, or just not knowing your way around a new place -- has often been neglected as a touchy-feely “non-mission critical” issue.
That’s changing, however, thanks to the military’s adoption of social media: over the last couple years, loosening restrictions and new guidelines have made it easier for personnel to engage in private social media activity and leadership to implement broad-ranging social media initiatives. And that, in turn, can help smooth the transition for personnel as they move around the globe.
On that note, the U.S. Army is recognizing an Army garrison in South Korea, Camp Humphreys, for its “Outstanding Initiatives in New Media,” which are helping prepare the garrison for the arrival of large numbers of new personnel as part of a consolidation of U.S. forces in Korea.
Home to the 2nd Infantry Division's combat aviation brigade, over the next few years Camp Humphreys will see the number of U.S. Army personnel jump from 6,670 to 22,497, many of whom are moving with their families. With this wave of new personnel looming in the near future, Humphreys has established social media resources on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere, which are used by the garrison staff to communicate with personnel and family members, and which are now some of the most-visited social media sites associated in the Army.
The U.S. Army’s Installation Management Command’s director of public affairs, Mike Thiem, stated: “The key to success during times of change is being able to communicate in a timely and accurate manner. Social media tools like Twitter and Facebook go a long way in helping garrisons rapidly share information with the soldiers, families and civilians they support.”
As noted, the U.S. military has been exploring social media’s potential for improving the quality of life of service members -- a key component in recruiting and retaining personnel. For example, in November I wrote about a study commissioned by the Pentagon to determine what kind of psychological impacts social media use has on service members’ long-term relationships. The study, performed by social psychologists led by Benjamin Karney of the University of California at Los Angeles and the RAND Corporation, will follow 8,000 families before, during, and after deployments, examining service members’ personal interactions with loved ones via social media, and the impacts on their psychological well-being.
The Department of Defense lifted a ban on social media use by military personnel in February 2010, when Pentagon officials issued a memo outlining new rules for Internet use by employees, directing that non-classified networks should henceforth allow access to social network sites. Some parts of the DoD were ahead of the curve. For example, the Military Health System began using social networks back in 2008 to reach Web users under the age of 25.
Meanwhile some classified networks behind the military firewall are allowing commanders in the field to share crucial information: one proprietary DoD social network, CompanyCommand, allows captains to share information that would otherwise have to go up (and back down) the entire chain of command. At the upper levels, the DoD also launched a Strategic Knowledge Integration Web, which provides senior commanders with real-time command status, news, and information feeds, as well as a blogging function. In September 2010 the DoD launched a military-wide Facebook-like feature called MilBook, accessible to all military personnel. Subsequently MilBook was joined by MilWiki and MilBlog, all of which replicate functions of their general purpose namesakes behind the military firewall. And in April of 2011 the Defense Information Systems Agency added a social feature, called “Community,” to its Forge.mil platform for online collaboration, using Drupal Commons, an open-source social software platform, which lets lead developers track the progress of projects, discover others working on similar projects, and share information, best practices, and plans with relevant parties.