Wednesday, January 07, 2009


The USAF FINALLY has a web presence outside of their official .mil site. The ones I think are the most significant are the official USAF blog, Air Force Live, the official USAF YouTube Channel, AF Blue Tube, and the official USAF twitter site, AFPAA. First, a big BZ to Capt. Faggard and his team for getting this project up and running. As George Smiley at In From the Cold notes, this is a sea change in AF thinking (if not a complete 180 degree shift). We're not quite all the way there, thanks to the idiotic filtering that prevents the viewing of any sort of blog from USAF computers. I won't discuss that any further other than to again state that it is an idiotic policy.

What I do want to discuss more in depth is something that Galrahn over at the USNI Blog brought up, which is the complete lack of a USAF blogosphere. While there are a fair number of active and retired USAF personnel who blog (the least of which would be myself), there are two important distinctions between this group and the Naval blogging network. First, the Naval side of things is an actual network. There is communication between the various writers, both on and off the blogs. On the USAF side of things that really doesn't exist, with a few very low order exceptions. Second, the Naval side of things actually seriously discusses matters of importance to Naval policy. With the exception of In From the Cold, ELP and (VERY occasionally) myself, I'm not aware of any active or retired personnel discussing issues of policy in depth. There are the industry reporters, like Danger Room, Ares, and David Axe over at War is Boring; these fill a related but distinct niche.

The full point that Galrahn brought up is that since the USAF blogosphere is, to use his words, "non-existent," the USAF PA folks are forced into trying to jumpstart one. This will dovetail with a point that George Smiley made which was that the effort by Capt. Faggard and his team has so far consisted largely of repeating canned stuff put out by the PA establishment that has already been released via the service's official .mil page and that it appears unlikely that they would be able to tackle a controversial subject, such as the recent nuclear troubles at Minot. Obviously if a blog (or a blogosphere, for that matter) does nothing other than repeat official .mil reporting, it serves no purpose. As I see it, there are three main ways in which less official new media can compliment the official .mil stuff.

First, new media provides a more personable way to communicate, leading to more personal stories, such as this account of a USAF combat photographer who at the site of a bombing in Sadr city which killed six coalition personnel, this series of stories from a flight surgeon assigned to Operation Deep Freeze, this story of a 1st Lt. teaching English in Korea, this video of fast roping from a CV-22, or this video of a mock commendation awarded to an airman for sacrificing his foot to save another airman's TV. By the way, the Operation Deep Freeze and teaching English stories come from PACAF's official blog, which isn't too shabby either. The point about these stories is that to my knowledge, none of them were disseminated through official .mil channels and that they provide a more personal look at USAF personnel, which is always a good thing when you are trying to connect with people.

Second, new media provides much more interaction, meaning you can communicate WITH your audience instead of TO it. This might seem like semantics, but it really is an important distinction. By themselves, Information Dissemination, CDR Salamander, or any of the other Naval blogosphere members would not be nearly as informative and useful as they are together and, more importantly, with their stable of regular commenters. AF Live has done this a little bit; I've seen Capt. Faggard comment on a few of the posts at other sites about some of the stuff his team is doing, but more could be done. Encouraging an actual conversation, by putting a post up on AF Live that is about a post elsewhere discussing something USAF related (bonus points if it talks about AF Live directly), would be a good way to start. Aim Points gets this half right, as it links to and provides outside perspectives (including blogs in the mix). The trick for AF Live will be to provide a commentary at their own place directed back towards the authors of the outside piece.

Third, new media provides a way for discussion of issues outside of official dissemination channels. This is most often referenced in regard to controversial issues, issues that official channels won't touch or cover very cursorily. (Minot, the other nuke troubles, and Maj. Jill Metzger immediately come to mind.) Here the AF effort has a larger struggle, as it seems unlikely that the official blog of the AF would be able to call for the resignation of leadership in the wake of a scandal, as other more unofficial blogs have done. However, there is still a role for an official blog to play here, albeit a more indirect one. By encouraging communication among (and growth of) USAF focused blogs, AF Live can indirectly effect this type of discussion of controversial issues. They can also affect it more directly by linking to posts discussing these issues in a professional manner. Linking to something and pointing out that it is interesting and bears a look does not necessarily confer absolute approval. Obviously this third way will be the most dependent on the level of approval from the brass and top cover from superiors, but there are still ways to make it work.

Overall, I feel that AF Live (and the other official AF new media efforts) are doing fairly well on the first point, although they could use more of those stories and less of the canned PA pieces, starting on the second, with more involvement from them this could be a good area, and nonexistent on the third, although to be fair this is going to be the toughest nut to crack. To be honest I'm just happy that the USAF has finally embraced new media instead of shunning it. I'll be very interested to see where Capt. Faggard and his team take this.