Facebook CEO makes stop at Fort Bragg during ‘Year of Travel’
By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: March 15, 2017
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Since the New Year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has attended a rodeo in Fort Worth, Texas, visited a Civil War battlefield in Mississippi and stood atop an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
On Tuesday, Zuckerberg's so-called "Year of Travel" took him to Fort Bragg, where he visited with soldiers and leaders with U.S. Army Special Operations Command.
The billionaire's visit was not publicized, but word of his presence quickly spread after a video was posted of Zuckerberg dining at an on-post restaurant.
Lt. Col. Robert Bockholt, a spokesman for USASOC, said the Facebook CEO was on post "to learn about what we do and how we provide strategic value to the nation."
"He was genuinely interested in the military and what special operations are and what we do," Bockholt said, describing the visit as a two-way discussion.
"He had the opportunity to engage with a variety of members from the command in order to better appreciate the role of Army special operations," he said.
USASOC is the largest command within U.S. Special Operations Command, with more than 32,000 soldiers and nearly 1,800 civilians across the globe, including almost 9,000 soldiers and 1,400 civilians at Fort Bragg.
The command includes Special Forces, Army Rangers, Civil Affairs, Psychological Operations and other types of troops.
At any given time, USASOC has more than 4,000 soldiers deployed in 76 countries, undertaking more than 200 missions, from secretive raids against enemy combatants to long-term partnerships with other militaries.
Several hours after his visit, Zuckerberg wrote about it in a post on his Facebook page.
"I started my day in North Carolina at Fort Bragg, the largest military base in the world," he said. "My first stop was the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. This is the group that handles some of the most difficult and specialized missions. The general in charge talked about how they have many ways to use force, but their biggest challenge is understanding people and building trust with communities on the ground in other countries to support their missions."
Zuckerberg said the military excels at execution and building teams and that his discussion with the USASOC commander, Lt. Gen. Kenneth E. Tovo, explained why.
"The general told me the most important values they instill in their soldiers are empathy and adaptability," he said. "That's why their special operators 'live, work, eat, sleep and fight' with the communities they operate in. It's critical to their success that they communicate authentically and build relationships. As one officer told me, '95% of people around the world just want safety and jobs for themselves and their families. If you can understand that, you can start building trust.'"
While on post, the Facebook CEO also met with military spouses, who explained how they stay connected to their loved ones when they were deployed and shared the difficulties of military life.
Zuckerberg has made other appearances in North Carolina this week, according to his Facebook page.
On Monday, he met with the Duke University and University of North Carolina basketball teams and also spoke to students at North Carolina A&T State University.
By late Tuesday afternoon, Zuckerberg had moved on to Charlotte, where he posted a live video alongside NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. before "going for a quick drive" in Earnhardt's No. 88 car.
At Fort Bragg, Zuckerberg had lunch at "Let Me Cater to You," which opened its Pope Field location two weeks ago. It's run by Army veteran Judy Cage, who broadcast the visit live on Facebook.
"He wanted to visit a veteran-owned restaurant," said Cage. "He came through the line and he just wanted to eat amongst everyone. He didn't want to be off in a separate dining area or anything like that."
He met with soldiers, airmen and the wives of deployed personnel, Cage said.
"He was very humble, and he was interested in what was going on in our community," she said.
Other stops on Zuckerberg's tour of the country have included Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Alabama. He has participated in community service projects honoring Martin Luther King Jr., met with police, visited business owners, met with local newspapers and visited historic sites along the way.
This year, Zuckerberg has said he plans to visit 30 states to accomplish his goal of visiting and meeting people in every U.S. state.
In a Facebook post announcing the personal challenge from Jan. 3, he said the tour was his latest effort to learn new things and grow outside of his work. Past challenges have included running 365 miles, building an artificial intelligence for his home, reading 25 books and learning Mandarin.
"After a tumultuous last year, my hope for this challenge is to get out and talk to more people about how they're living, working and thinking about the future," Zuckerberg said.
Zuckerberg said his "Year of Travel" will help shape his ongoing work at Facebook and with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which he founded with his wife, Priscilla Chan, in late 2015.
The initiative's goals are to "advance human potential and promote equality in areas such as health, education, scientific research and energy."
"Going into this challenge, it seems we are at a turning point in history. For decades, technology and globalization have made us more productive and connected. This has created many benefits, but for a lot of people it has also made life more challenging. This has contributed to a greater sense of division than I have felt in my lifetime. We need to find a way to change the game so it works for everyone," he said. "My work is about connecting the world and giving everyone a voice. I want to personally hear more of those voices this year."
Staff writer Paul Woolverton contributed to this report.
Military editor Drew Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Zuckerberg delivers the keynote speech at the Facebook's F8 Developers Conference on Tuesday morning, April 12, 2016 in San Francisco, California.
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