Take a break from social media for the holidays and focus on time spent with loved ones in the real world.
That’s the message the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., wants Marines to take from its latest video posted Thursday on — what else? — Facebook.
The video is one of the latest attempts to reach Marines through social media as the Corps’ leaders embrace the humor that’s often the coin of the digital realm.
The light-hearted efforts come as the service confronted a social media scandal this year when an investigation found thousands of active-duty Marines and veterans had belonged to a Facebook group in which members posted degrading messages about their fellow servicemembers online.
In the Combat Center’s video, base commanding general Maj. Gen. William F. Mullen III and senior enlisted leader Sgt. Maj. Michael J. Hendges sit down for chow with a group of junior Marines, who scroll through social media feeds on their phones as they eat and chat.
In the latest video, the base leaders reprise their respective roles as the thoughtful and articulate general and his gruff, laconic heavy. These are parts the two played to comic effect in a widely shared video this fall.
As an instrumental version of “The Carol of the Bells” builds to a crescendo, the millennial Marines become increasingly wrapped up in their digital worlds, frustrating the imposing and clearly old-school Hendges.
Like a modern take on Linus from the “Charlie Brown Christmas” special, one Marine stretches, cracks her knuckles and bends her head down over a laptop keyboard, her fingers rapidly tapping.
Hendges can take no more and orders the Marines to stop, before Mullen offers sage advice.
“Hey Marines … take time over the holidays to disconnect from your phones, talk to the people around you, especially your friends and family,” he said. “The most important people are the people you’re with, not the people on social media.”
There’s a real-life irony in that Mullen knows embracing social media for these messages helps amplify his command message.
“He understands the power of social media, yet wanted to get a message across to our Marines,” said Capt. Karen Holliday, director of the base’s communications strategy and operations, via email.
The command experienced that power this September with a video that offered a humorous take on the standard safety brief given by many commanders before the long Labor Day weekend. At the time, Holliday said it “was tough sell to senior leadership, but they loved the final product.”
Produced by a lance corporal and directed by a Marine veteran, the two-minute video reached 2.5 million viewers, Holliday said Friday.
Commanders throughout the service are turning to digital platforms to engage their Marines, she said.
“We are extremely lucky in the [Marine Corps] in that many of our leaders have realized the benefit of this type of communication,” Holliday said.
And yet the Marine Corps has also been burned by the harmful power of social media this year.
In March, Marine veteran and investigative reporter Thomas Brennan exposed the existence of a 30,000-member Facebook group called Marines United, where active-duty and veteran Marines shared nude photos of female servicemembers and others, made derogatory comments about them and threatened some of the women.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller took to YouTube in March to respond to the scandal, telling Marines to focus on training to fight adversaries and not “hiding on social media” and participating in or allowing online activities that disrespect or harm their fellow servicemembers.
In the holiday video, Mullen reminds Marines to take care of one another, a central theme of the Marine Corps’ ethos and its motto of “Semper Fidelis,” always faithful.
“The sergeant major and I look forward to seeing you back in the new year, ready to train,” the general says. The combat center is home to one of the country’s largest combined arms training areas.
The spot posted Thursday, a little over a minute long, was produced under the leadership of Sgt. Eric Laclair, with corporals Dave Flores, Francisco Britoramirez, Devin Andrews, Medina Ayala-Lo; lance corporals Ashlee Conover, Isaac Cantrell, Jeremiah Naranjo; and Pfc. Raychel Porter.
For his part, Mullen has pushed the Marines to “outdo each other” in their efforts to produce positive, shareable content for the base.
“They are absolutely up to the challenge,” Holliday said.
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