Associated Press Writer
FORT MONROE, Va.—You don't often hear a three-star general using the word "friend" as a verb.
But for Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley and other Army brass, a new era has brought a new language — and new tools like online social networks Twitter and Facebook — for seeking out young recruits and spreading the military's message.
Freakley, who heads the Army command that oversees recruiting, says social networking sites offer another way to reach tomorrow's soldiers.
"They live in the virtual world," Freakley said. He cited Facebook as a key component in targeting 18-to 24-year-olds. "You could friend your recruiter, and then he could talk to your friends."
Even Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has a new Facebook page to answer questions about the mission in Iraq and spread the word about what the troops are accomplishing there.
The Army isn't the only branch of the military with Facebook friends or that has a following on Twitter. The Air Force has also established a Facebook page, Twitter feeds and a blog, while the Marine Corps is using various networking sites mainly for recruiting purposes. The Navy is "experimenting" with several forms of online media, and some of its commands are using Twitter, a spokesman said. Even the Coast Guard commandant regularly updates his Facebook status while traveling.
The Army has also added to its Web site video games, a virtual recruiter and clips that answer commonly asked questions about life in uniform.
Showing off the videos during an interview at his office at Fort Monroe, Freakley said some of the questions were surprising: Can I have a dog in the Army? Can I buy a truck in the Army? Can I be married in the Army?
The Army, Freakley said, wants to answer those questions.
Earlier this year, the Army established an online and social media division within its public affairs office. The division's director, Lt. Col. Kevin Arata, said the search is on every day to find new avenues online to reach not only soldiers, but their families and the general public.
"We know that's where they are, and we need to go to them," Arata said.
The Army recently launched its own Facebook page, which contains much the same information as its official Web site.
Lindy Kyzer, who updates the site, along with the Army's Twitter feed and blog, says the networking sites add a different dimension: chat.
"We really try to make it an open forum," Kyzer said, adding that negative posts are not removed. The Army has deleted some comments it deemed not "family friendly."
"Everyone has an opinion and it's amazing that the Army is showing both sides," said Danny Andazola, a 24-year-old Army reservist from Denver who has posted on the Facebook page. "When younger people see comments from both sides, it can easily help them decide if the Army culture is for them."
The Coast Guard also maintains a presence online.
Adm. Thad Allen, Coast Guard commandant, routinely updates his Facebook status from his cell phone while traveling. He also posts video blogs from overseas, said a spokesman, Lt. Tony Migliorini.
The services' presence beyond their Web sites represents what Arata called a "culture shift."
"I'm sure there was the same pushback years ago when somebody invented the telephone. 'Ooh, you can't talk there because somebody might hear you.' Well, that's the whole point. We want people to hear us."
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