Real time, real answers: Fort Benning hosts Facebook Townhall
October 19, 2011
FORT BENNING, Ga. - The garrison command invites Soldiers, families and the local community to come to today's town hall from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The location? Facebook.
More than 14,000 people attended the inaugural Facebook Town Hall in January, said web content manager Anthony O'Bryant, who expects even more guests this time, since civilians from the surrounding area are welcome to join in.
"Really, what we're doing is using the power and popularity of social media to create and maintain open dialogue not only with Soldiers, families, civilians who work, live or may be moving to Fort Benning, but also with our neighbors who live around the installation," he said. "They're all part of our community."
As a Columbus native, garrison commander Col. Jeffrey Fletcher understands the value of a close partnership between the tricommunity.
"It's absolutely essential that we continue to build those relationships with the folks here in Columbus and the surrounding communities," he said. "It makes our military installation that much stronger."
So why take the venue from a tradition in-person forum on post to online?
"This virtual means of communicating is the wave of the future," Fletcher said. "It allows our family members who otherwise may not have been able to come to a physical town hall to participate in the comfort of their own home. The response is immediate. It's worldwide. It makes sense."
Short of profanity or other spam-like activity -- such as posting the same comment multiple times -- feedback will not be censored. Fletcher said he feels the transparency of the Facebook medium will help the community gain confidence in the leadership.
"We are certainly going to let this be an ad lib and freelance experience," he said. "Sometimes we won't be able to give folks the answers they're necessarily looking for, but they'll be able to see we are flexible, we are responsive and we certain value the feedback of each of every one of our members of the community."
There will be roughly 50 Fort Benning representatives gathered during the town hall to answer questions. The team will be ready to field questions on everything from traffic and housing to youth programs and the latest on installation developments.
"We made a promise to our Army families back in 2007 to take care of them, and this is one of the ways we are going to provide them with the information we think they need to know about," O'Bryant said. "(Facebook) allows us to have a two-way conversation. The interaction back and forth provides them with a better answer because we are able to directly, specifically get to what they are asking. There's definitely a place for traditional town halls -- that face-to-face time is important. This is just another way we can add to it."
Along with questions, guests are welcome to share suggestions and observations on anything relating to Fort Benning. The Facebook Angels, who Fletcher called "family member subject matter experts," will be on site to facilitate discussion, so the town hall will be more than just a question-and-answer session, he said.
Fletcher also extended a special invitation to Fort Benning youth, who have a unique insight into several aspects of installation life, he said.
While preparing for the town hall has taken a lot of work, Fletch said it's an investment that will yield tremendous results.
"The bottom line is the garrison is here to support our Soldiers, civilians and families," he said. "The more we know in terms of what's affecting the quality of life of those great people, the better we can influence and help get situations resolved. They do so much for our nation and for our Army. We owe it to them to try to be an advocate for them and try to do the very best we can by them."
To attend the town hall, visit www.facebook.com/ o/oo FortBenningFans any time between 6:30 and 8 p.m. To post a comment or question, users must first become fans by clicking the "like" option at the top of the page.
BECOME AN ANGEL
Besides agency directors, there will be a few Fort Benning spouses on-hand to field questions. Known as "Facebook angels," these women are familiar with the Fort Benning community and are active on the Fort Benning Facebook page. They are Rhonda Garrard Young, JoLynn Mowrer, Andrea McTaggart and Denise Hutchinson. Fort Benning is always looking for more angels to support the page, which currently has more than 80,000 fans. Log on to get involved.