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Military brass joins wired troops

Admirals and generals hope to connect with soldiers via their own Facebook pages and blogs. But will they tweet?

By Gordon LuboldStaff Writer for The Christian Science Monitor / January 20, 2009

Wired: Many of the troops in today’s war zones have easy access to the Internet. Pvt. Mike Farra kept in touch with his family from Afghanistan.

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Some of the US military’s top flag officers are becoming dedicated bloggers and attempting to change the military and extend their reach, one Facebook “friend” at a time.

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They are using the Internet and social media to reach down within their own traditionally top-down organizations – and outside them, too – to do something the military isn’t known for: creating more transparency to empower young military leaders and the public.

Some senior officers say transforming the military means more than buying next-generation vehicles or developing new training. It’s giving more people more access to what they’re doing and thinking. That’s already happening as top officers create their own blog sites and Facebook pages in order to keep pace with the plugged-in, hyperconnected charges they lead.

Gen. William Ward, head of US Africa Command, and his staff use the Internet to explain the new command’s purpose to a wary audience. Adm. James Stavridis uses Facebook and other online portals to promote his ideas about how to use “soft power” to win over other countries. And Adm. Thad Allen, commandant of the Coast Guard, has a running dialogue online about how he is trying to transform his organization. Gen. Gene Renuart, commander of US Northern Command, in Colorado Springs, Colo., also has a Facebook page. But with 48 friends, he’s just getting started.

“We need to understand that we are not living in the same social environment that we grew up in,” says Admiral Allen, who announced a new information “revolution” – not in a press release or an “all hands memo” but on YouTube, the popular online video site.

Allen is embracing the medium-is-the-message in hopes of connecting with the very people he hopes to influence as he sets a course to engage the rank and file and the public at large on his wide-ranging ideas.
“This is a permanent feature of our environment, and we need to understand how to operate in it, communicate with our people, and put out policies and let them understand what the organizational intent of the Coast Guard is and what we expect of them,” he says.

What’s he talking about? Allen wants to make junior leaders smarter about where he is taking his organization, thus empowering them to interpret his message to act on their own. That means, in part, daily blogging on his site about his travels, his thoughts, and people he meets.

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