Fort Snelling Army Reserve program first on YouTube

Cover of Warrior Citizen
Journalism by members of the Army Reserve has traditionally found a home in print publications like this one. The Army Reserve, like the other armed services, has recently started to embrace new media and is beefing up its presence on Facebook and other social networking sites on the Internet.
MPR Photo/Jess Mador

Sgt. 1st Class Chris Farley has produced four seasons of his program, called "The Sight Picture," but until about a year ago, not many people outside the 88th Regional Readiness Command at Fort Snelling could see it.

In this episode, which Farley shot in Uganda last year, an Army Reserve unit is vaccinating livestock at a displaced persons camp.

"Well, we inject the animals. We treat them for worms, deworm them and other sorts of diseases they have, skin diseases and so on and so forth, do the chickens, do the goats," goes the video.

Chris Farley
Sgt. 1st Class Chris Farley produces The Sight Picture at the Army Reserve's 88th Regional Readiness Command at Fort Snelling
MPR Photo/Jess Mador

Farley says this is the kind of routine Army Reserve humanitarian mission that the public rarely hears about. He says that is what is so great about posting on YouTube.

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"Even if you got one hit," he said, "that is one person that knows about you and it is a huge rippling effect."

Other episodes of "The Sight Picture" show things like basic training, martial arts techniques and discuss a wide array of issues pertinent to soldiers. The show aims to tell soldiers' personal stories, and Farley's YouTube channel gets thousands of hits.

Farley says he gets a lot of feedback from viewers, many of them civilians. He says reaching a wider audience is helping to shatter the stereotype of who the typical soldier is. One way he tries to do that is by using humor.

"On this episode of 'The Sight Picture,' we go before the board, not to be trumped by Donald, but instead by five Command Sergeants Major," the voiceover said. "These stories and more bad metaphors and cliches coming up. You're in 'The Sight Picture,' right here right now."

Farley's boss Lt. Col. Mike Walton says it practically took an act of Congress to get "The Sight Picture' onto the Web.

"We had to go to our two star general, and then to a three star general at the Pentagon in order to even get the first Sight Pictures onto YouTube," he said, "because there was a prohibition against putting Army publications on YouTube."

Now that the cyberspace barrier has been breached, Lt. Col. Bernd Zoller, Chief of Media and Marketing for the US Army Reserve, says it's critical for the military to expand its Web presence.

"We are trained to defend the country but we have the same emotions and feelings as everybody else."

"We have seen a change in how people get their information," said Zoller, "be it news or entertainment, and we are trying to adapt just probably like many companies and civilian organizations that are trying to do that as well."

The military spends about $50 million a year on national advertising, direct marketing and events, but the armed forces have been slow to embrace new media. While Zoller says the Internet isn't a substitute for traditional advertising, it's an important recruiting tool.

The Army needs about 80,000 active recruits each year to sustain itself. Until recently, meeting that target was a challenge, particularly as the conflict in Iraq escalated. Now, with the weak economy, recruitment is back up.

Cindy Williams is Principal Research Scientist at the MIT Security Studies Program. Williams says the military has been behind the curve when it comes to the Internet, but it is working hard to keep pace with new technologies and get its message in front of young people.

"If that medium is Facebook, because this is a child of the Facebook generation who has been raised on computer games and player in social networking," said Williams. "If that is that individual, and you are not reaching out using Facebook, you have a possibility of missing that person."

Williams says it's difficult to pin down the impact of the Internet on recruiting, because the rise of new media in the military is coinciding with the recession.

Sgt. 1st Class Chris Farley says he'd like to see the Army produce more Web video. He says programs like his show civilians what their tax dollars are paying for. Plus, he says, telling soldiers' stories is the best advertising there is.

"It's not a stiff, starched military. You've got human issues, you've got human feelings," Farley said. "We are trained to defend the country but we have the same emotions and feelings as everybody else."

Farley says he'd like to do more video, too, but for now he is a one man band, shooting and editing "The Sight Picture" on top of his regular duties at the 88th. He's not sure whether he'll be able to continue much longer. The Army Reserve unit at Fort Snelling is slated to close as part of a base relocation program.