Posting online videos can be boom or bust for U.S. servicemembers
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE — Anyone with a computer can watch homemade and uncensored movies posted by servicemembers worldwide.
Some are great, others aren’t and there are those that are too bizarre to be made up.
Three U.S. airmen stationed at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea decided to take a leap into Internet cinematography by filming themselves throwing a small frog into an F-16 jet engine last June.
A grainy version of the video was posted on MySpace.com, leading officials to ground the fleet of 41 jets and inspect every engine for damage. The frog didn’t live to talk, but its starring role spoke volumes, landing one airmen in jail and giving the other two bad-conduct discharges.
But either by choice or necessity, some military commanders are embracing Internet video as a communication strategy.
The aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis crew used video to make a routine training event into something e-mails have described as “hilarious.”
Stennis crew created its own version of Terry Tate’s Office Linebacker Super Bowl commercial to merge humor and information into something special.
Switching Tate’s character for “Big Safety,” the safety department’s leading chief petty officer tackled, slammed and drove home the importance of observing the rules and regulations to safety violators.
The video was originally slated only for the crew, but eventually found its way onto the Internet.
“I certainly did not expect it (the video) to become as popular as it is,” wrote Stennis’ Command Master Chief Joe Curtin in an e-mail response to Stars and Stripes. “It is a fantastic video, and we had plans for a sequel — we will wait and see about that.”
While the Stennis video delivered a specific message, other commands have produced music videos to communicate a more general message: We are working hard, and everything is fine.
Just one YouTube posting of squadron VAW 116 “The Sun Kings” video of life on deployment set to the Black Eyed Peas’ “Pump It” has been viewed 641,527 times as of April 12. That number does not include multiple postings of the same video, e-mailed copies and blog posts, and clearly demonstrates the message potential online videos can deliver.
But they also carry a degree of risk.
“With the ability to post anything you want on the Internet, there is always the possibility of things that are inappropriate or contrary to the Navy’s mission ending up available for public view,” wrote VAW 116’s public affairs officer, Lt. Christopher Peace. “We made our videos purely for fun … and they were screened by our CO before anybody outside of the command saw them.”
U.S. Forces Korea spokesman Dave Oten said he was unaware of any local guidance specifically targeted toward YouTube.com or similar sites, but the military does publicize the need for electronic security when using the Internet.
Even though military commanders emphasize the importance of electronic security, actually achieving and maintaining that security can be daunting.
“I don’t think the military has the manpower or the resources to look at the Internet all day,” said Sgt. Anthony Banks, of the 532nd Military Intelligence Battalion. “There’s too much out there.”
The volume of material being posted is only part of the problem. The inherent anonymity of the Internet makes it hard to tell who’s posting what and if it is genuine, Banks said.
Spc. Constant Dume, of the 302nd Battalion Support Brigade in South Korea, said he’d seen video clips from troops in Iraq, and from what he could tell, the stuff he viewed was about as real as it gets.
“I didn’t download it, but a friend of mine did,” he said. “It was this guy getting shot in Iraq. It’s not fake, it’s the real stuff. I wouldn’t say I liked it — it’s the reality of what’s going on.”
Dume said he believes people should be prevented from posting anything classified, but other day-in-the-life stuff should be fair game.
“People want to know what’s going on in the war and the only true sources are the soldiers who’ve been there,” he said.
The idea that the only true sources are the servicemembers themselves is not new. What is new is the global acceptance of online video as a medium.
“I think also that when sailors, or any people within an organization, get excited about something that reflects their command positively, they tend to pass it on,” said Cmdr. Jack Hanzlik. “… Hence our people become our best advocates.”
Stars and Stripes reporters Jimmy Norris and Erik Slavin contributed to this report.
AFN Korea videos on YouTube, too
In addition to music videos, movie trailers and dancing Lego people, YouTube viewers can now download the latest stories from American Forces Network Korea directly to their computers.
Since March 5, AFN personnel have uploaded 31 news stories and three 30-second commercial spots to the popular video downloading site.
The YouTube uploads are part of a four-month pilot program intended to supplement existing AFN venues, including the AFN Web site, www.afnkorea.net, said Capt. Paradon Silpasornprasit.
Tech Sgt. Michael Tateishi, AFNK station manager at Osan Air Base, said he got the idea after seeing personnel downloading funny videos from the site.
“The goal is to get our information out to whoever wants to see it,” he said. “We’re putting our products in a place where people are already there to watch videos.”
Viewers can post comments and rate content on a scale of one to five stars.
Most of the AFNK stories posted on YouTube have received between three and five stars.
One news story, entitled “Flattop February” received more than 2,000 hits. Other AFNK uploads have received as few as nine. Tateishi said their stories and commercials had been viewed 10,228 times as of April 11.
He said the payoff in extra viewers is worth what he describes as a minimal extra effort.
Each story only takes two minutes per upload, he said.
— Jimmy Norris