By Mr. Eric Pilgrim (Fort Knox news)March 21, 2019
Within a minute on March 19, @CG_ArmyROTC typed a tweet and hit Send--
"Talking social media with @FortKnoxKY PAO. You've got to be in the space where our Soldiers are! #warriorleaderswanted #alwaysflytheairplane #GOTwitter @ArmyROTC"
These tweets, and posts on Instagram, have become the norm for the U.S. Army Cadet Command and Fort Knox commanding general, Maj. Gen. John Evans Jr., especially considering his social media life began in September 2018.
People are beginning to take notice. To date, Evans has grown his Twitter account from 0 to 1,518. His Instagram presence is almost as impressive, having generated 1,491 followers from 81 posts.
"When I got here initially, I talked with our [public affairs officer], who kind of cautioned me against social media," said Evans. "That may be a function of an experience he'd had in the past … I've always been a user of social media."
Evans said his previous military background didn't always warrant involving himself in the world of social media.
"As [Special Operations Forces] guys, we really don't do social media because there's frankly not a lot we can talk about," said Evans. "And it just puts us at risk."
When he took command of U.S. Army Cadet Command, he said he saw the need for a social media presence. Down the street, Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, commanding general for U.S. Army Recruiting Command, fell in on already established commander accounts. Evans didn't have that luxury.
Other than the official Cadet Command accounts, there weren't any for him to use to get his personal voice out there --a voice that he considers critical to the mission.
"Between myself and General Muth, we are responsible largely for recruiting the Army," said Evans. "West Point does their piece, obviously, and the Officer Candidate School on the officer side, but he and I are a very significant part of the Army's accessions enterprise.
"In order to go out and get the young people, you've got to be in the spaces where they are."
Evans said 30 years ago, those spaces would have been schools, churches and other physical realms. Today, those realms have become virtual, and it's apparently working.
"Talking to my cadets as I travel, there's a certain degree of appreciation for the fact that a general is willing to kind of come down to where they're hanging out and spend time with them," said Evans. "I can do that through social media."
Cadets have not only liked and reposted items that Evans posts, they even engage him with questions about career paths and comments to some of the things he shares. He admits, though, that there are some inherent dangers built into operating in some of the platforms.
"The Twitter space can get a little dicey; it can get a little ugly from time to time," said Evans.
Because of this, there has been a hiccup or two along the way, though very few in comparison to some other accounts. In one instance, he attempted to communicate honestly and openly through Twitter to allay some fears about an issue and instead found himself on the receiving end of vitriolic attacks.
"The amount of attacks and second guessing, and personal sniping that occurred, surprised me," said Evans. "I learned from that. It's not a clean space."
Evans said people who engage using their true names typically have built-in bona fides from which to have a meaningful dialogue. It's sometimes those who mask their identity behind an alias who cause the problems. He has discovered that one click of the Block button can eliminate those accounts.
This inherent danger is likely the reason why other general officers don't engage.
"There's risks and benefits to operating in that space," said Evans. "You've got to walk in aware of what the risks are, and then you have to be relatively conservative about what you say and how you say it."
Evans' social media efforts continue to reap benefits as his follower numbers grow. He admitted one of the reasons why they are growing.
"Every time I go to a senior or even a junior program, I say, 'How many of you are on Instagram?' and they raise their hands because almost all of them are," said Evans. "So I tell them, "Follow me on Instagram. Here's my tag, here's my handle.'"
Another reason for growth is because of some researched strategic hashtags that he and his staff regularly use that have begun to catch on, like "warriorleaderswanted" and "alwaysflytheairplane."
A third reason might be because of a running challenge he has established with his senior enlisted advisor, Command Sgt. Maj. Mario Terenas-- @CSM_ArmyROTC -- to see who can get to 2,000 followers first on Instagram. Terenas is at 1,260.
The lighthearted shameless plug serves a serious purpose.
"In order to be able to understand your formations, your Soldiers, the American people, you have to be where they are," said Evans. "It's great to do town halls on post, and it's great to have [family readiness groups], and it's great to dialogue with the folks who work with you, but at the end of the day if you want to understand how a Soldier feels, you have to be in a space where that Soldier's going to open up a bit."
Not one to miss an opportunity, and maybe because of that ongoing bet, Evans offered one last bit of advice.
"I encourage anybody who would want to follow what I'm doing, follow what Cadet Command's doing, see what the young men and women are doing in our country that are part of the ROTC enterprise, follow me at CG_ROTC," concluded Evans. "You can do that."