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Member-Of-The-Week: Joshua Salmons

Joshua Salmons was born in San Diego in 1980 to two Navy parents. He moved regularly as he followed his family across the globe, finally spending a few years in southern Maryland where his father retired after 27 years of service.

Salmons graduated high school in Kentucky the following year and went on to earn his associates degree at a local college near Ashland, Ky. He continued his education at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio, earning a bachelor’s degree in video media production and a minor in Bible in 2002. During his college years, he earned money as a freelance web designer and videographer.

After graduation, he joined a college friend in Michigan where Salmons helped begin Flannel, the film company that produces the successful Nooma film series.

In January 2003, Salmons decided to enlist in the Army, becoming the fourth generation of both sides of his family to enlist in the military. He chose the job of a print journalist and entered service at the end of that month.

He has served at three duty stations: Fort Knox, Ky., Fort Hood, Texas, where he deployed to Iraq for a yearlong tour, and has served at the Defense Information School since June 2007.

While he started at DINFOS as a basic journalism instructor, his insistence on adopting social media as a tool for military PA led to him being selected as the first DINFOS emerging media coordinator in December 2008. He works with the various new and emerging media offices of each military service to develop best practices and policies for social media use in the military. He also works with DINFOS to effectively adapt the new media needs of each service in to the schoolhouse curriculum. In September 2009, Salmons was invited to Belgium by the office of the Supreme Allied Commander, Admiral James Stavridis, to train up the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) senior communication staff on the use of social media for military public affairs. Salmons contributed to the strategic directive outlining social media use for SHAPE NATO, authored by Mark Laity, the strategic communications director for SHAPE NATO.

Salmons also serves on the all services social media council and Pentagon social media brain trust, which meet regularly in the D.C. area.

He will be leaving the service in June 2010 to join USAA in San Antonio, Texas, as their senior blogger and community manager. Salmons is also scheduled to graduate in June from the Baker Center for Graduate Studies in Flint, Mich., with a master’s degree in business administration.

1. What made you decide to serve, is it due to family military ties, or your own passions?

I am fourth generation military from both sides. There has been a Salmons and/or a Langton in the services since the Spanish-American War. My father was career Navy, so we moved every couple of years. I grew up with the military life style front and center, yet I wasn’t bound and determined to join up myself. I even went to college, unsure of what I wanted to do with myself. After college, I tried my hand at some freelance work and with a startup film company. When that wasn’t panning out I decided to serve in the Army for a few years. It was something I’d always had in the back of my mind and I figured that was a great time to spend some years in uniform.

So I suppose I didn’t feel like I “had” to enlist, but I was proud to do so.

2. How has the military changed your life, and how you perceive the world?

It has, sure. You see and do things most people don’t normally do. I see gun enthusiasts and guys into hunting cultivating the warrior kind of lifestyle. Movies and books capture certain elements of war and make it entertaining–“action” flicks and such. In the Army, it’s nothing to be out on a field exercise–camping out with rifles, tactical marches and training. Some of my friends think that sounds super amazing. The romance of it all wears off after a while, and especially when you’re deployed. If there’s anything about war, it’s that it makes you desperate for peace. There is a quote by a guy named Erasmus: “War is delightful to those with no experience of it.”

The military has also enriched my perceptions of parts of the world. I know a great deal about Islam from my Muslim friends and from reading. When people in the states ask me how things are going “over there,” it takes a lot to lay things out and put things in context. Being in the military has shown me life is complicated. For as much as many might think or wish war was a push of a couple of buttons or a squeeze of a trigger, it’s the ramifications of those simple actions that keep us up at night, decades later.

3. I see that you have a degree in communications. Did your degree help you in anyway during your time in the military? and if so how?

It did and it didn’t. Now that I’ve spent time teaching new military journalists, I see patterns in attitudes and behaviors. Our worst students are often those with college degrees, especially those with degrees in English, literature or journalism. I can’t put genuine statistics to it, but often college students come with a sense of entitlement and arrogance that make them unteachable. Our training is centered around making anyone a writer. We start with verbs, nouns and end up with designing newspaper pages–start to finish, all in 56 training days. Many times, people with degrees feel that they are above the training. They resist learning the Associated Press style. They resist criticism. They sometimes feel they are more learned than their instructors. It’s a pain.

I felt twangs of that sort of elitism when I was first going through the training, sure. I felt I had already reached a certain level in my skills as a communicator. But I also knew it was better to shut up and learn than flaunt what I thought I knew.

All that to say college didn’t make me any sort of superior person. It’s a matter of attitude. I learned more from people on a day-to-day than I did in a classroom.

4. You stated on your Govloop profile that “My “job” in the military is as a print

journalist and public affairs professional, what does that mean in reference to the military?

There are 200-some jobs in the Army a person can do. They can be an infantryman, they can be a helicopter pilot, they can be a print journalist–there are a lot of options for those who want to serve. Journalism falls under the purview of public affairs, so in addition to writing stories and taking photos of those in uniform like the guy in the movie “Full Metal Jacket,” there are also a lot of public affairs functions we serve too. We facilitate media visits, we escort the press when they spend time with us. We are liaisons to the public.

5. You stated that you have been involved with social media. How do you see social

media changing the military, and or gov sector.

Social media is the evolution of communication. Just like we went from horses to automobiles in the transportation paradigm, we are going from from legacy media institutions to a new world of content creation through the efforts of individuals, not large organizations. When cars became more prevalent in this country, the government had to determine what laws and agencies would regulate the operation of these tools for transportation. Similarly, the government has to standardize and expand its adoption of these new tools in order to remain relevant in the communication world. Think of what would have happened if the U.S. government kept its fire brigades and police officers on horses, because cars were just to “unsafe” or involved too many “risks”?

Social media won’t change the military, per se. It is creating a public that expects to be interfaced with in a certain way. If the government and the military want to keep at things in their normal ways, they will become irrelevant. Legacy media products (newspapers, radio broadcasts, television programs) are the products the government produces to engage the public in the communication world. It’s like the products companies would create to make money or gain attention from those using horses back in the transportation example. If a company wanted to be a name in transportation, they made saddles, horseshoes and the like. When cars came around, it wasn’t the quality of the saddles being made that lessened their impact on the transportation world, it was the irrelevance of saddles and horseshoes to the new transportation paradigm of automobiles. With government, they can continue to make the saddles and horseshoes of legacy media if they wish, but people aren’t using those media channels in nearly as many numbers as they were. If they don’t change they will become irrelevant.

6. Tell us about your Blog, and your current book project?

I started writing my blog http://unhub.com/joshuasalmons back in 2005 so my folks could keep track of me when I deployed to Iraq. I wrote pretty regularly through the yearlong deployment and beyond, sharing my experiences with whomever wanted to tune in. I was even featured in the book “The Blog of War” by retired Army Major Matthew Burden. Eventually I let things subside as I didn’t have as many things to write about. But, I did begin blogging again to document my efforts to fight the good fight in regards to social media advocacy.

The book I’m writing came about because of last year’s National Novel Writing Month, which happens every November. In that contest, people challenge themselves to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It’s a fun exercise, but I liked where the story was going after the 30 days and wanted to see it through.

The book is science fiction, influenced by my geekdom and recent read “Wired for War.” “Wired for War” goes in to the unmanned systems and drones we use in the military–tremendous technology. It also explores some of the ethical concerns that go along with remote-operated weapons and the evolution of certain artificial intelligence aspects that are necessary with drones.

So in the book, the story takes place some years in the future. The preeminent military power of the day is stretched thin and relies on its technology to keep the peace. They use networks of computers and drones to accomplish their military goals. Things are so automated, that the only humans on the front lines are the specialized mechanics that keep the machines running. The story happens on a distant planet, where the protagonist is the only person on his side of the war, maintaining the machines that fight, while humans make command decisions from Earth. Things go wrong (obviously) and communication is cut off. The book attempts to explore our humanity and how we might act if we saw machines exhibiting behaviors that seemed human, while we ourselves felt more and more disconnected from our fellow man. I like it.

7.What are your favorite Social media resources?

My friends and coworkers are my favorite social media resources. I learn what I know by sharing knowledge.

8. Why is Abe Lincoln your favorite public servant?

Abe Lincoln, apart from the normal reasons for why he should be revered, is an amazing example of tenacity, humility and poetic righteousness in the face of overwhelming opposition. Lincoln wrote the most beautiful letters. He was a failure in so many things. He was tall, awkward, had an abusive wife. He couldn’t keep his nation together and couldn’t find leadership to do so either. Even when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, he received negative feedback from everywhere, even many in the North. Still, he persevered. He was very humble, and strong, and would have been forgotten in our televised age (too ugly, not “personable” enough). Still, he became the historical figure he was, not because he fit the mold, but because he didn’t.

9.What are your plans after you have accomplished writing your book?

I am about to end my time in the service, actually. I’ve been in the Army for seven years. I’ve been very blessed during my time, but there’s no “social media” job for me in uniform. We’re a few years away from making “community managers” or some sort of “strategic communicator” a part of the pantheon of jobs in the services. I can’t keep advocating for social media and doing what I love in uniform. Strangely, I’ll be able to do more for the service in a suit than in my uniform.

But the government isn’t really ready for social media advocates either. Agencies still need to standardize the skill sets, fund the positions, etc.

So guys like me are left hanging around for things to evolve a bit more. I’ve been very blessed to receive an offer from USAA to become one of their social media guys. I’m moving to San Antonio in a few weeks to start a stint as their senior blogger and community manager. I absolutely love the company, am a happy customer and very much look forward to exploring things with them.

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Pam Broviak

You are an amazing person – good luck in your new endeavor. And I look forward to reading your book some day!

Andrew Krzmarzick

Wow – Did you produce that video, Radiah? That was incredible! Quite inspiring.

Josh – you know you’re one of my favorites, man. Mad love for you, brother.

Carolina Laverde

Enjoyed reading your life story. Best of luck with USAA Joshua. I think their customer service overall is wonderful!!

Avatar photo Mike Lambert

Josh, I’m glad to hear you landed a job that perfectly suits your strengths, but sorry it will be taking you away from the D.C. area — I’d hoped to run into you at future conferences in this area! You are a rising star in many ways — Godspeed to you, my friend, as you start what sounds like an awesome job in San Antonio!

Sam Allgood

Thanks for serving and promoting enhancements to a better Army. As a fellow USAA member, I look forward to your blogs.