I grew up in a military town during the Vietnam war. I remember my friends’ dads going on tours, particularly submarine cruises, for months at a time with little or no communication. There was just a lot of wondering.
Today, social media has made life for military families another universe. You can keep connected with military personnel via Facebook and YouTube just about every day. Dads and moms serving abroad can help their kids with their homework, read bedtime stories, and do some of the things they would if they were back home.
That would have been unimaginable in my childhood. Many dads returned back then as virtual strangers to their young kids, and young kids generally do not hug strangers. So welcome homes were often … painful.
The beyond-words blessing of social media’s real-time information does have a down side, though. A handful of military families are learning about the death of their loved ones via Facebook, according to USA Today. One of the widows mentioned in the article received the bad news when she was home alone with her children.
The military has a special process for notifying families that their loved ones have died. Uniformed military personnel are dispatched to their next of kins’ homes to deliver the news in private face to face in a dignified way.
According to the USA Today article, the next edition of the Army’s Social Media Handbook, which provides guidance for leaders, soldiers and family members, will address the casualty notification process.
This is a sound strategy, in my view, because I believe additional training is the answer. Additional guidance and more training should help prevent this problem from growing—along with any related calls to restrict military personnel’s access to social media in the field.
Social media has brought so much joy to military families. It’s truly sad to think it has caused extra pain for the families of some military personnel who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.