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Arizona Air National Guard Leaders Promote Social Media Safety

Phoenix Sky Harbor Air National Guard Base -- Social media is a staple in the diet of generational airmen and sometimes, like any diet, without proper care and exercise it can be dangerous. With the exponential growth and ease of information access, Air National Guard leaders from Phoenix are encouraging their troops to practice social media safety.

"If you're not on Facebook, 95% of your troops are," says Chief Master Sgt. Johnny Smith, 161st Air Refueling Wing Command Chief. "Airmen are talking less and posting more - some good and some that should be raising a red flag."

Chief Smith's remarks come in the wake of a situation where disconcerting remarks were found on a guardsman's personal Facebook page considered to be potentially dangerous or harm threatening from another individual. Chief Smith explains that it is not just leaders who should be taking notice. He says everyone should be a good wingman and "do a buddy check; make sure everyone is okay and monitor content when possible. If Airman 'Jones' isn't acting like Airman 'Jones,' talk to your leadership."

"We take these situations seriously," said Col. Steve Balser, 161st ARW Commander. "We want to prevent anything serious happening to one of our airmen. Sometimes social media sites are their only form of communication. Posts and pictures can be very telling about an individual's state of mind," he added. "The people we drill with are more than friends, they're guard family and we should look out for them."

Colonel Balser also cited concerns about the increase in servicemember suicides and how social media posts might provide some early warnings. He said he is equally concerned, however, about poor decisions to post inappropriate content and the potential consequences a guardsman could face.

"Posting inappropriate content on social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter, could result in UCMJ or ACMJ action," said Maj. John Conley, 161st ARW Judge Advocate General. "Oftentimes, people feel less inhibited to speak their mind in a web posting than they would in person. Social networking sites can be fertile ground for offenses such as: Contempt Toward Officials (Article 88); Disrespect Toward a Superior Commissioned Officer (Article 89); Provoking Speeches and Gestures (Article 117); Stalking (Article 120a); and the General Article/Conduct of a Nature to Bring Discredit Upon the Armed Services (Article 134)." Major Conley adds his advice for Airmen: "If you wouldn't say it or do it in front of your Chief or your Commander, don't post in on the web."

Maj. Denise Sweeney, the 161st Inspector General, who also works on the Joint Southwest Border mission in Arizona, has been involved in a situation where a servicemember lost their job due to a social media indiscretion. "Posting photos on your Facebook that create an [operational security] concern can lead to unintended consequences," said Major Sweeney. "Everyone needs to think about the resulting outcome of posting an image or comment that could compromise a mission."

The Air Force has published guidelines for appropriate use of Social Media available on the Air Force portal. While no one can monitor everyone's personal social media site, the 161st ARW leadership encourages everyone to think carefully about what they post and how it might affect their career or someone else's.