FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Fort Rucker is in a constant state of turnover with Soldiers and families arriving every day, and among the top concerns these people have is getting information on their new home.
About 70% of Fort Rucker’s population changes out every year, according to Col. Whitney B. Gardner, Fort Rucker garrison commander, and above and beyond the normal challenges associated with arriving at a new post to live or train, the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected every aspect of life at the post makes it an even more challenging time.
“You may have been here a minute, but look around you, there are a lot of people who are just now showing up here. Fort Rucker is a unique place to come to even in normal times, but they’re showing up in a COVID environment, which makes it even more difficult to find out what is open, what is affected, what is available to a newcomer,” Gardner said. “We’ve been trying to find lots of different ways to get this information out.”
There’s certainly no shortage of information in the world, but when it comes to getting timely, accurate and specific information on Fort Rucker and the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, the post offers several outlets that serve as official communications channels.
These include the garrison digital app, USAACE and Fort Rucker Facebook page; the USAACE and Fort Rucker Twitter account; the Twitter account for Maj. Gen. David J. Francis, USAACE and Fort Rucker commanding general; the post website; and the online publication found on that website, “Army Flier.”
On these outlets people will find the latest official word on what is open, what is closed, service changes, the latest general order and policy updates, and numerous and updated articles, briefs, public service announcements and links to information leadership considers important for Soldiers, families, employees and veterans, Gardner said.
“The USAACE-Fort Rucker Facebook page and the post website are kind of the focal points for the information and updates we push out,” the colonel said. “They’re both good sources for the latest information. Our daily services update is on them and that’s an important piece of what we’ve been doing – it’s a great resource.”
The services update was started in March when the pandemic forced leadership to start making changes in services all over post, with many closures of offices, cancellations of activities and a large portion of the workforce teleworking from home, not to mention quarantining many newcomers, the commander said, adding that it proved quite popular on Facebook for people seeking the latest news on openings, closures and changes.
People will also frequently find leadership interacting with Facebook users on the official USAACE-Fort Rucker page, answering questions, and providing information and clarifications to users of the page, Gardner added.
“Col. Chad Chasteen (USAACE chief of staff) and I have a team of folks who are empowered by the CG to answer questions as quickly as possible via social media,” he said. “We try to be as transparent as we can be. We’re not perfect, but the CG accepts the risks because we’re trying to ensure that the message that is out there is accurate and timely – we don’t want it to get overwhelmed by rumor or wrong information.”
Sometimes, the answer is there is no answer, he added.
“The general wants to answer people’s questions as quickly as possible, but sometimes it’s just not possible because leadership hasn’t made a decision about something or they don’t have all of the information,” Gardner said. “We would like to have more information out more frequently, but patience is good at times – sometimes no message is good. It gives the decision makers a chance to really analyze the information and not make a hasty decision that causes turbulence for people.”
Recently, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service and Installation Management Command rolled out a new form of communications for people to take advantage of – the Army Digital Garrison app, available for free at the Google Play and Mac App stores. Gardner is “a big fan,” he said.
“I use it because it’s quicker,” he said. “If I want to know if an office is open or closed, or I’m looking for a phone number – it takes me two seconds. On Facebook or the website, I’d have to scroll or click around. The more I use it, the more comfortable I get with it. We’re making improvements to it, especially how well we can use it during storms to get information out to people quickly. I think it will be the wave of the future.”
However people choose to get their information, the colonel said they need to remember that the official sources are the best place to get answers to questions, and accurate and timely information.
“There are, of course, differences between official pages and informal pages,” he said. “There are also a lot of different informal groups on social media, such as family pages or unfiltered pages – those are not official.
“I worry sometimes that people come to Fort Rucker and all they know is what is on an informal page,” Gardner added. “A lot of them give good information and share advice, but I worry that someone who needs official information may not get accurate information, or may confuse advice with official information.”
Gardner said he feels USAACE and Fort Rucker have done a good job in getting out timely, accurate information during challenging times, but there is always room for improvement.
“The reason we work so hard to get information out and updates posted is for predictability,” he said. “With so much uncertainty in this environment, people who are interested in Fort Rucker and what’s going on here hopefully feel comfortable knowing that the information flow is generally predictable – they know where to get it and generally what it is going to look like. We’re not throwing out information just to have something out there and then retracting it. A lot of people are putting in a lot of time and effort to ensure that we are providing accurate updates as often as possible.”
OFFICIAL NEW SOURCES
* USAACE and post website - https://home.army.mil/rucker/
* USAACE and Fort Rucker Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/ftrucker
* USAACE and Fort Rucker Twitter account - https://twitter.com/ft_rucker
* Maj. Gen. David J. Francis Twitter account - https://twitter.com/davidfrancisavn