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Technology in the Military: Friend or Foe?

While connections boost morale, there are very real security issues at stake — and more

Technology has done incredible things for America’s armed forces. From the battlefield to the home front, the advantages have proven to be far-reaching and life-altering, and in some instances, life-saving.

For families, video chatting has changed military life for the better and has introduced solutions to parenting problems while one parent is deployed. Not having to rely solely on photos and handwritten letters, parents who are away serving overseas have an easier time staying involved with what’s happening back home. They can remain in their children’s lives, participate in family events, and even accompany a spouse to the hospital for the birth of a child. The possibilities seem limitless for family members in terms of communicating with a deployed spouse.

Subordinates have taken to Google to find information that should be supplied by their leadership.

These resources are invaluable. That is — if the service member has access; not every location or mission will come equipped with the capabilities to call home. In my own personal experience, I was lucky enough to be able to use all the internet has to offer in terms of keeping in contact with the home front. It was the single most important tool I had to stay connected with everyone.

Sometimes, just hearing the birds chirp and traffic from back home were welcoming sounds that I realized I took for granted when I was there. It’s also good to kick back, forget what’s outside, and just read up on Facebook. I enjoyed reading about the simple things my friends and family were talking about. These things made a world of difference in my morale while I was deployed.

Digital Leadership
However, on the flip side, technology has interfered when it comes to how service members interact in a way that has changed the dynamic of leadership in the military.

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Back before cell phones and social media, leaders were actually forced to literally have face time, spending a good amount of time with their subordinates. By doing this, leaders had ample time to get to know their soldiers and teach them. I can remember a time when the Army had certain days set aside that were specifically for leaders to spend time with and train their subordinates. I participated in those days and I remember all of the talks that I was given, and I retained much of the information I was taught.

Leaders also used to get to know the families of their troops, and frequently offered their support to them as well. That was before smartphones and Facebook.

Related: Social Media Zaps Our Empathy

Back then, no one was checking their news feeds, comments, or text messages. Calling was still preferred over sending a text message, in fact, because composing a text message on the good old T9 keyboard took way too long to compose. Since then, there has been a huge shift in the way leadership handles their communication. They have begun to rely more on phones and put less stock into interacting with those they are leading. It’s too easy to type out a block of information, hit send, and call it a day.

Mass texts and emails have replaced the time spent getting to know each other. Information gets lost in translation because fast-moving texts can sometimes contain too much and the key pieces get buried or skipped over.

By using their phones to conduct all their business, leaders are taking the human element out of the relationship they are supposed to be building. In turn, subordinates have taken to Google to find information that should be supplied by their leadership. It’s become too easy to copy and paste what they need.

Having turned mainly to technology, this is what they will rely on for future reference. The internet is filled with military message boards that soldiers are turning to for answers. Log onto any of the online military support channels — and there will be almost any category filled with young service members wanting information that should be supplied by their chain of command.

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Leaders are also setting a bad example by keeping their faces buried in their cell phones in front of their subordinates. If you walk into squad rooms on any given day, you’ll likely find more than half the personnel staring intently at their cell phones. Soldiers are built to follow and this is what today’s leaders are doing: They’re producing personnel who don’t know how to communicate without a phone attached to their hands.

Social Media Trouble
A few years ago, a soldier got into big trouble for a post she made on Instagram. She took a picture of herself reclining in her vehicle. Under the photo, she had a caption explaining that she was hiding from the flag retreat (saluting the flag) and didn’t care what anyone thought about her actions.

Naturally, the photograph and post went viral among the military community. It was shared through numerous military oriented Facebook pages and sparked an outrage. Many called for the soldier to be reprimanded and the post ended up making its way through her chain of command. A statement was eventually released that the incident was under investigation. This soldier made a huge mistake and underestimated the power of social media.

A lot of young people air their dirty laundry on their accounts. This is true of both their personal and professional lives. Many feel empowered by the fact that it’s “just the internet.” They feel safe behind the screen, and maybe setting their accounts to private gives them a false sense of security. Nothing anyone posts online is 100 percent private.

Related: How to Parent the ‘Text Generation’

The military has had its hands full implementing discipline where social media is concerned. Basically, if it’s something that’s punishable under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), do NOT partake in doing it online. Those actions will have consequences and repercussions. In addition to the obvious violations, military members are capable of putting out content that can lower morale. The average person doesn’t think twice about complaining online about certain aspects of his/her job, but service members must be careful about doing this. One slip of the fingertips, and one can find himself/herself in hot water.

On the Battlefield
There’s no doubt that technology has done phenomenal things for the battlefield. For just about anything a person can think of that will support our armed forces, someone has invented something similar or has gotten close. Then there are those who weren’t blessed with the same sense. Going hand-in-hand with social media, are certain battlefield mistakes that can be detrimental to the military. They can even land a service member in prison.

For example, taking photos of classified information is a huge offense. Posting them to social media is even worse. It may be exciting to a young service member who has never deployed or been to a theater of combat operation, but that doesn’t make it acceptable. Most have social media accounts across several platforms, and they are super motivated to post all of their war photographs, showcasing their daily life to their friends and family.

This, again, is where leadership comes into play. These young military members need to be trained on what is acceptable to post and what is not. I’ve sat through PowerPoint slideshows where these types of things are briefly mentioned simply for the commander to check a box. Yet it must be driven home that national security may very well rest in their hands.

Related: The Hidden Hurt of Military Families

One more huge battlefield issue that ties into social media is casualties. This is one I believe needs the most attention. The military has got to have time to contact next of kin. Proper notifications must be carried out before people can freely talk about the incident publicly. A lot of military personnel may be eager to share a tribute as they are coming to terms with the loss of a comrade. However, no family member should have to find out such news from reading social media websites and pages.

Technology is an amazing thing and has greatly enhanced every facet of human existence. To the military, however, it truly is both friend and foe.

Angelina Newsom is a U.S. Army veteran and an OpsLens contributor. She served 10 years in the military, including a deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. She studies criminal justice and is still active within the military community. This OpsLens article is used by permission.

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