There are times when social media can break through military bureaucracy.
In 2008, paratroopers from the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division returned to Fort Bragg from a 15-month deployment to Afghanistan. Though they were told, prior to their deployment, that they would return to new barracks, they instead returned to their old barracks, allegedly built during the Second World War.
The barracks of the 2-508th Parachute Infantry Regiment should have been condemned. Mold caked the ceiling tiles, lead-based paint flaked from the walls, and raw sewage bubbled up through the sinks.
The experience of 2-508th wasn’t unusual, either. One urinal at my hangar at Fort Bragg was broken–occasionally overflowing–for my entire three-year tour in the 82nd Airborne, despite numerous calls to the Directorate of Public Works. On one occasion, a warrant officer made an angry phone call to DPW, only to have the operator at the other end hang up on him.
Edward Frawley, father of one of 2-508th’s paratroopers, posted a video of the dilapidated barracks to Youtube, sparking public outrage. His ten-minute video eventually warranted the attention of the Army’s senior leaders, who worked to resolve the unsanitary conditions in the barracks.
Another social media pioneer, Iraq War veteran Alex Horton, chronicled his frustration with the bureaucratic behemoth known as the Department of Veterans Affairs. Stuck in administrative purgatory while applying for the Post 9/11 GI Bill, Horton posted a rant–filled with specific details and dates–to his website, Army of Dude.
Not only did the VA work to rectify Horton’s issues, they even hired him as a blogger.
But there are times when “Youtube Justice” isn’t appropriate.
Take the recent case of soldiers returning from Afghanistan who reportedly paid over $2800 in excess baggage fees to Delta Airlines.
While Delta should probably look at re-negotiating its contract with the US military (nearly all service members redeploy with four large bags), the damage done to these service members was largely self-inflicted.
Assuming the soldiers brought no more than the four allotted bags–as specified in their travel orders–they could easily claim the baggage fees and be reimbursed by the government. Though turnaround times may vary, I’ve often been reimbursed for travel fees within a week to ten days.
Service members traveling long distances should also carry a valid government travel card, for use during travel emergencies such as this. Why did their chain of command let them travel without verifying that they had either a.) a government travel card or b.) a personal credit card with sufficient credit to pay for incidentals?
Perhaps the most shocking aspect is the fact that these soldiers admitted to checking a bag with an M-4 rifle, M-203 grenade launcher, and an M-9 pistol in the belly of the aircraft. Dealing with lost luggage is bad enough–imagine dealing with lost luggage and three missing sensitive items as well.
There’s a time for Youtube justice, and a time to just file your damn travel voucher. This definitely falls into the latter category.