Last winter, the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team embraced the world of social media by jumping on the YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and blog bandwagons.
Since the unit launched its Web sites in February and March, interest has grown from just a handful of followers — mostly Sledgehammer soldiers and family members — to an audience of thousands.
As of August 2009, the distribution list for the brigade’s Web site was estimated at more than 5,000 people.
Additionally, the 3rd HBCT boasts close to 1,500 Facebook friends and approximately 2,000 Twitter followers. The unit’s YouTube channel has 24 subscribers and approximately 1,500 views.
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One video, posted last week on the 3rd Brigade’s YouTube site, shows a Rock Band video game showdown between Atlanta Falcons football players and soldiers representing the 3rd HBCT. Another video depicts mass casualty training.
In May, when the unit buckled down for Hammer Focus, a crucial Fort Benning-based training exercise meant to prepare the brigade for its upcoming stint at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., families, friends and followers were able to track the brigade’s progress online.
When the brigade departed in July for a 30-day rotation of pre-deployment training in the California desert, the soldier’s stories were told through videos, tweets, blog posts and Facebook updates.
And now, as the 3rd Brigade completes its movement to Iraq — the last flight is due to depart Lawson Army Airfield on Thursday — those who are interested in keeping up with and expressing support for the troops can do so online.
“Social networking allows us to tell our story to a whole other audience who may not have another way to read about us,” said Pfc. Erik Anderson with the brigade’s public affairs office.
So far, the Web chatter has been mostly positive, something Anderson said the soldiers and command team truly appreciate as they say goodbye to loved ones and prepare to spend the next 12 months overseas.
Williamelissa Maldonado wrote the following message Monday on the 3rd HBCT’s Facebook page: “God bless you all and be safe!!!! Honey take care of yourself we love you.”
Jerry Grundhauser on Oct. 9 wrote, “Stay safe warriors you are in my prayers.”
Paula Moser Swain said, “My son’s first deployment. Just heard from him in Kuwait. Everyday I’m praying for all of Sledgehammer. Hooah!”
“We’ve seen a large increase in comments and the amount of interactions and well-wishes received in particular on our blog and Facebook page,” Anderson said.
Establishing an operationally secure yet information-rich social media network for the 3rd Brigade did require careful consideration of current Army and Department of Defense social media policy, Anderson said.
While the Defense Department has no current policy in place to govern the use of sites such as Twitter, Flickr and Facebook, the Army and Marines do, according to the Army’s Web site.
The Army, for example, recently announced it was reversing a yearslong policy of blocking social media sites. The Marine Corps, however, has gone in a different direction by recently banning Twitter and Facebook from its official networks.
Operational security and troop safety are paramount when considering what should and should not be posted online, Anderson said. “Information that appears online can’t be too specific or give away too much detail that could put soldiers in danger,” he said.