Social Media Brings Airmen Closer to Home for the Holidays

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Rich Murphy
  • 185th Air Refueling Wing
At 1 a. m., during a rare restful sleep, Lori Hill is awakened by a strange sound coming from another room. She slowly stumbles into the room and turns on her computer monitor. On the screen, her husband, Master Sgt. Marshall Hill, greets her, "Good Morning!"

The old fashioned "morale calls," where deployed airmen would wait in line for a 15 minute phone call home, are quickly being replaced by web-cam chatting, status updates, and image sharing.

In February of 2010, the United States Air Force issued a memorandum announcing that social media sites such as Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube would no longer be banned from military computers. This memo allows deployed soldiers to maintain daily contact with family and friends. These new media are becoming increasingly more important during the holiday season.

"Me and my husband talk to each other over Skype just about every other day. Just being able to see his face makes a big difference," said Mrs. Hill, the wife of deployed Master Sgt. Marshall Hill, a boom operator with the 185th Air Refueling Wing in Sioux City, Iowa. Lori and Marshall use the social media program "Skype," which allows users to chat via web cam across the internet for free.

Mrs. Hill added, "In previous deployments, Marshall might call once a week. Now we can chat whenever he has some time off."

The Air Force lifted the ban on social media due to the incredible growth of sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Justifying the lift of the ban, Gen. C. Robert Kehler, Air Force Space Commander, said, "The Air Force views the use of social media sites as a positive way to communicate and conduct business. Providing more open access will allow the Air Force to communicate more effectively to all Air Force personnel, their families, and external audiences."

One of the biggest names in social media, Facebook, has become an important tool for deployed units communicating with family and friends. Lori Hill said, "Marshall constantly updates us on what he is doing over there. It is comforting to see his updates."

The military has also been using social media to communicate with family and friends. The 185th ARW and the 185th Airman and Family Program both use Facebook pages to post images, links to stories, and display video clips and communicate with the public.

Air Force 2nd Lt. Jeremy McClure, the 185th ARW Public Affairs Officer is responsible for updating the wing's official Facebook page. "Facebook is a great channel to communicate with our airmen. It also gives us a place to informally interact and build relationships with the community."

The 734th Agribusiness Development Team (ADT), a unit made up of Iowa Army and Air Force Guard members, has been deployed to Afghanistan for several months and uses Facebook to keep family and friends updated on what they are doing.

Air Force Capt. Peter Shinn, the 734th ADT Public Affairs Officer, posts daily photos and updates of the units work. Capt. Shinn said, "We are doing a lot of good work over here and we want to let our friends and family know what's happening. Facebook allows us to stay in touch with our people and keep them informed."

While the use of social media has certainly benefited those involved on deployments, it is not without its share of problems.

Air Force personnel must be careful about what they disclose over the networks. Sites such as are mobile programs that indicate where someone is currently located. Information such as that could provide enemies with valuable information.

Additionally, airmen are cautioned to consider operational security when posting information, pictures, and status updates. Airmen's social media activity both on and off duty is subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The minute-by-minute updates provided by sites such as Facebook and Twitter can also violate privacy rights of combat casualties. The military holds fast to its tradition of contacting next of kin before releasing information about those injured or killed in combat. Commander may cut off access to social media during emergencies or in the case of fatalities so that the next-of-kin can be properly informed.

Despite the risks social media poses to military operations, the benefits are certainly being felt by soldiers and their families.

"Marshal uses common sense and is careful not to disclose too much about what is happening over there," said Mrs. Hill. "Sites like Facebook and Skype are just a blessing. It is still hard to deal with him being gone, but these sites make it a little bit easier."

For more information on the Department of Defense's policy on social media, review the DOD Directive-Type Memorandum 09-026 - Responsible and Effective Use of Internet-based Capabilities.

You can also be a Facebook fan of the 185th ARW, the 185th ARW Family Readiness Program, and the 734th ADT by selecting the following links:
· 185th Air Refueling Wing
· 185th Airman Family Program
· 734th Agribusiness Development Team

The appearance of hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the 185th Air Refueling Wing, the Iowa Air National Guard, the United States Air Force or the Department of Defense of the external website, or information, products, or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Services/Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) sites, the United States Air Force does not exercise editorial control over the information users may find at these locations. Such links are provided consistent with the stated purpose of the website.