Commander connects online with Soldiers, families spread around the world
January 9, 2009
BAGHDAD -- Any joke about the antiquated bureaucracy of the military gets a chuckle out of servicemembers and civilians alike.
The naysayers who think the military is unwilling to leave their tin cans and string behind, cross into the 21st century and meet the children of the chat world were proved wrong Jan. 4, when Maj. Gen. Michael Oates, Multi- National Division - Center commander, and more than two dozen Soldiers throughout the MND-C area and the U.S. met online in the taskforcemountain.com's Lima Charlie chat room.
Soldiers asked a variety of questions: stop-loss, housing, promotions, awards, football, a possible move of the division headquarters to southern Iraq, housing allowances and cost of living adjustments back at their home station.
The online chat session is an important development in social media, helping to develop relationships and foster open communication between Soldiers and leaders. In the last decade, businesses, universities and organizations great and small have increasingly used social media technology to reach their constituents.
The first instances of chatting took place in the 1960's, before the internet was developed, through a program that allowed users to chat in real time with two other users. Internet Chat Relay was created in 1988 by Jarkko Oikarinen, who worked for the University of Oulu in Finland.
Soldiers use chat programs to stay connected with loved ones at home while deployed, and even see each other through a web camera, helping boost morale during long deployments.
Since 2007, Oates has been looking for a way to use social media networking to interact with Soldiers of all ranks. Once in Iraq, a website was constructed to achieve this goal and help start a virtual town hall.
The website, taskforcemountain.com, has been active for six months, and unlike most social media sites that spike early and die off, the site's following has been consistent. The most popular feature on the site is the Mountain Sound Off Blog; a site where the CG posts his thoughts or questions and asks the audience for their comments.
"To our knowledge, this is the only division where the commanding general manages an active blog and has done an online chat with Soldiers," said Maj. Daniel Elliott, MND-C deputy public affairs officer. "During the chat, he took notes of all that was asked and plans on passing on the information to his staff."
Soldiers who participated had the option to log on anonymously or use their real name, with over two dozen coming and going through the hour-long session.
"Comments were held in a queue, until the general finished a subject. The big topic was the possible move of the division to southern Iraq," Elliott added. "He took the time to answer each question carefully and connect with his troops. Not all commanders take the time to really connect with their troops like he does."