Operations In The Information Environment (FICTIONAL) CMC White Letter 1-20

By Major R.W. Pallas

The following white letter is a fictional recommendation for a social media policy. It is the belief of the author that social media is a critical piece of terrain, both now and in the future, as our 38th Commandant mentions in the CPG as it continues to become weaponized. Every operating environment requires leadership, and this is a recommended next step. The viewpoints expressed in this letter are that of the author and do not reflect the USMC or any other governmental agency. THIS LETTER WAS NOT CREATED BY HQMC AND IS ONLY A RECOMMENDATION.

                                                                                                                          21 Apr 20 


From: Commandant of the Marine Corps
To:     All Commanding Generals
          All Commanding Officers
          All Senior Enlisted Leaders 


Ref:  (a) 38thCOMMANDANT’S PLANNING GUIDANCE dtd July 2019
         (b) JOINT MEMORANDUM dtd 22 Jan 2020        

1. The current global landscape outlined in the NDS requires our forces to out think competitors by rapidly processing and synthesizing information with sound judgment and a broad range of solutions.  It also requires leaders at every echelon to remain engaged, with an ability to leverage and exploit operations in the information environment . Similar to our earliest days in uniform learning how to conduct a map study and identify key terrain, it is now time we apply those same principles to the world of social media and online content. Allowing Marines to explore any terrain without engaged leadership reminds me of a lesson once given to me by a battalion commander, “You can pretend that you care, but you can’t pretend that you’re there.”

2. The Marine Corps embodies the youngest population more so than any other branch of the Department of Defense.  With more than 90% of the Generation Z population owning a smart phone, the backbone of our Corps are founders of the global digital renaissance.  As of 2019, more than 72% of the American public uses some type of social media, and as leaders we must remain present in every environment our Corps operates in.  I expect leaders at every level to engage accordingly.  Leaders cannot afford to outsource the information space of social media to staff officers for online curation – it is a commander’s responsibility.  All leaders must embrace this role and will strive to ensure every Marine understands how to successfully navigate the terrain, to include appreciating the impacts, positive and negative, a single post, tweet, or picture can produce from the tactical to the strategic.  While risk is inherent in everything we do, social media offers far more benefits than risk.  For example, the current operating environment has placed unique challenges for the nation and our Corps to solve with respect to social distancing, and social media has been a valuable tool in solving these challenges while still continuing the mission. As I would expect each and every one of you to be the first onto a battlefield and last out, it is now time we demand the same commitment in the digital world.

3. This white letter establishes three lines of operation:

LOO 1: DC/I establishes protocols vetted through the Judge Advocate for the Marine Corps and DoD, with basic guidelines and rules of engagement with respect to social media conduct.

LOO 2: All board selected commanders, senior enlisted, and general officers will receive social media training beginning with fiscal year 2021 at commander’s course, general officer symposium, or brigadier general select orientation course.  

LOO 3: All board selected commanders, senior enlisted, and general officers will initiate and maintain a presence on social media. 

4. At the conclusion of this white letter are a series of articles describing the benefit of engagement by leaders in the social media realm.  Like every conflict, the Marine Corps is not alone, and the joint force as well as our partners and allies will be with us.  Major General Mick Ryan of the Australian Defence Force, is a premiere leader with respect to social media and leveraging the benefits to military forces.  I encourage each and every one of you to closely follow and read about the steps and improvements he has made personally managing his own account and establishing a social media policy as a brigade commander. As for an American leader in service today, we must look to our counterparts in the U.S. Army, specifically General Abrams, Commander of United States Forces, Korea for a leader who has mastered the art of leadership in the social media realm. The Marine Corps can look internally to leaders such as Sergeant Major Anthony Spadaro who recently retired as the senior enlisted leader for INDO-PACOM, a great example of how to engage and lead in social media with a personally run account. 

5. Like every clime and place the Marine Corps operates, whether the hot and arid desert or cold and mountainous winters, we adapt and thrive.  Leadership is the factor that plays the critical difference in the success or failure of every unit—and operations in the information environment are no different.  Although many of us, to include myself, grew up in a world where social media was not present, it is now a facet of our daily lives we can no longer ignore.  I thank you all for your help in this rapidly evolving landscape.

                                                                            D. H. BERGER


Major General Mick Ryan, Strategy Bridge, “Why Should Military Leaders Use Social Media?”

Joe Byerly, US Army, War on the Rocks, “Harnessing Social Media for Military Power”

Kori Schake, War on the Rocks, “Social Media as War?”

Steve Leonard, Modern War Institute, “How Social Media will Drastically Change the Way Wars are Fought. Unless it Doesn’t”