Marines and Social Media

I was able to embed with Task Force Southwest for the first two days of their full mission rehearsal exercise last month. Embedding as a journalist with the Marines was a new experience for me that required signing  a dozen waivers acknowledging (among other things) that I knew the ground rules.

Guess what the most interesting ground rule was? No identification of Marines by name and if I had photograph of a Marine with the name tag on his uniform visible it had to be obscured before being published.

Major Kendra Motz, the public affairs officer (PAO) for the Task Force, explained the concern was potential cyber stalking and/or cyber bullying of the Marines and their families through social media accounts. I had asked specifically about using the name, age and home town of the Marines because that’s a  staple of military journalism.  It humanizes the story and reminds fellow citizens that the men and women serving are people just like them.

I was surprised by the new policy but recognized instantly it was a prudent measure. Given the Marines United  scandal the Corps is currently enduring an operational measure designed to prevent exposure of deployed Marines to potential abuse on social media is interesting.

One could make the argument Marines shouldn’t be on social media. Tier One operators aren’t on Facebook; it might be time the rest of the armed forces to do the same. Given the viciousness of trolling from all sides of the political spectrum as well as the weaponization of social media by groups like Daesh (ISIS); banning Marines from using social media makes sense. But passing regulations that you anticipate will be widely ignored makes no sense. And I haven’t any sense on the feasibility of a social media ban in today’s Marine Corps but would be thinking about it were I tasked with finding potential solutions.

Marines United was the topic of an almost two-hour podcast from All Marine Radio with the Legislative Assistant to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Brigadier General Dave Furness. For readers new to FRI Mike “Mac” McNamara is the host of All Marine Radio and he worked for Dave when he took Regimental Combat Team 1 (RCT 1) to the Helmand province in 2010.

Dave, Mike and I outside the CP of RCT 1 on Camp Dwyer, Helmand province

Dave, Mac and I taught at the infantry officer course together in the early 90’s and have been good friends ever since. The Helmand deployment was the third combat deployment where Dave and Mike served together so as you can imagine they are tight.

The program linked above is fascinating, informative, and at times damn funny. It is a rare thing to listen to a general officer giving you the same brief he gives congress members. At the 1 hour 19 minute mark Mac transitions into a discussion about the barracks. What they are talking about is how much control Marine commanders enforce on their Marines during their off duty hours. BGen Furness reviews the barracks have changed from the open squad bays that we had as platoon commanders to the high raise dormitories of today’s Corps.

This is a topic of heated debate these days; open squad bays were not popular with junior Marines but they made the maintenance of good order and discipline easy. The modern barracks are nice providing Marines a degree of privacy and control of their living spaces never available in the past at the expense (apparently) of good order and discipline. Dave and Mac are adamant that discipline saves lives on the battlefield and they connect that discipline directly back to how and who runs the barracks. They have the statistics from their last combat deployment to back that up and it is a fascinating discussion to listen in on.

As Dave got going on the barracks being a key indicator of unit discipline Mac goads him by saying it’s not that way now and Dave goes off like a firecracker. I had tears in my eyes I was laughing so hard because I knew Mac had done this on purpose. Dave Furness is not only a good friend but an interesting, articulate guy who can tell some stories but who also has a critically important job which he remembers at the 1 hour 45 minute mark.  He must have looked at a clock and realized he was behind the power curve for the day when he suddenly said (clearly alarmed) “Hey I’ve got to go! I’ve got a job to do……”It’s hysterical radio and one of the reasons I’m enjoying being a fan of this unique venture .

The Girlfriend has a PhD in organizational leadership and she listened to the barracks discussion twice – taking notes both times. I urge all who have an interest in leadership to listen to this podcast; it’s an education in how to achieve excellence at the lowest levels of an organization.

The Go Fund Me campaign is off to a great start and I appreciate the support from the best friends a man can have. I still need a little help to make it to Afghanistan to report the story of Task Force Southwest. Please  take the time to support straight reporting from the front lines by donating to The Baba Tim Go Fund Me page.


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