VADM John C. Harvey, Jr.

VADM John C. Harvey, Jr.

Last Monday, I was given the incredible opportunity of visiting the Pentagon and interviewing VADM John Harvey Director, Navy Staff. VADM Harvey was gracious enough to give me 45 minutes of his time to ask about the future of the Navy, advice for junior officers, and his time at the Naval Academy. This posting will be the first in the series.

I understand the MilBlog conference (liveblogged here) occurred this weekend and RUMINT sources tell me that VADM Harvey hosted attendees at the Pentagon to discuss defense blogging. While I was not able to attend the conference, I was able to discuss milblogging and social media (Facebook, MySpace, etc.) with the admiral. My questions/comments are italicized, while the VADM Harvey’s comments are in the regular style:

Sir, you talked about this recently [here]: how have defense blogs, I know you read them, how have they contributed to public discourse or have they not contributed? In what ways can we improve?

Well, just right off the start I think they have contributed to public discourse…I know from the reports of the people who run these blogs that they get a large number of visitors and are getting into the public.

I don’t know how much we penetrate though…

Beyond the readersthey’re already interested in [defense issues].

Yeah, it’s almost a dialogue between those who already going to be there no matter what…So are we reaching new people on the blogs?…I am interested in expanding the public dialogue…I think that’s really important for the Navy as our role of a department and as our role in the nation. How do you do that?

I think perhaps the way to focus on is to see how we establish a presence on Facebook and MySpace and the other social media that exists. Just an example that woman from Scotland who sang [Susan Boyle]… I think the number of views of that 4-5 minute video is up to a fairly staggering number. Now clearly there is a fairly large human interest piece in that story, but I think of how, if we had on Facebook, the ability to respond rapidly to the events of Easter Sunday went down in terms of getting our hostage Captain Phelps back. I think that would have been seen by lots of people as an opportunity to talk about the Navy and why we have a role to play and what the role is and establish that broad level of awareness that I think is lacking in the nation for a large number of reasons.

Bottom line: I think a public dialogue is important. I think blogs certainly contribute to that public dialogue. I just don’t know what their reach is, if we are just talking to ourselves, people who are already interested… so that leads me to say there are other media we may want to use and find a way to use, because what drags is down are the security requirements…I would hope we could overcome those and really tell the fabulous story the Navy is, it’s really a collection of stories, and put that out there and demonstrate the value of this organization. I think that is really important when you ask them to give you so much money to operate.

It’s funny you should mention that because I friended Pacific Command the other day on Facebook.

There a number of them…One blog which has really impressed me is called “Task Force Mountain.” It’s the command blog of the 10th Mountain Division. I remember seeing someone make a reference to it as a pretty good one so I went and looked at it. I thought it was spectacular for the command, commander, families, and for the public. It really seemed to me to define what a command blog ought to be about. I corresponded with the commanding general of the 10th Mountain Division and asked him a little bit about what he learned and how he went about setting it up.It was very, very fascinating. I think it’s a great example of one that brings real benefit to all the parties involved, whether they are in or they’re out or in the chain-of-command or outside the chain-of-command.

One of those issues, it’s great to have a command blog, but that also requires time from someone whether it’s the CO or…

Well you have to make the decision it’s worth your investment of time and energy. The fact you’re here…I’ve said, “Well, gee it’s worth my investment in time and energy to try and support these efforts” and I think it is important.


With this, VADM Harvey has taken the lead in defining the uses of blogs and social media for the Navy. With all the talk coming from the Air Force about the new forms of media, it’s great to see that the senior leadership in the Navy is thinking about these matters very carefully.

First, VADM Harvey recognizes what was pointed out in the just released paper on social media: “someone–right now–is talking on the Internet about your agency and your mission.” VADM Harvey realizes that the utilization of Web 2.0 resources by the Navy is critical to telling “the fabulous story the Navy is” and “demonstrat[ing] the value of this organization.” Why is this important? As VADM Harvey points out, we, the Navy, ask for money from the public to operate and Web 2.0 can prove invaluable for relaying to the public how we put that money to use.

VADM Harvey recognizes the important role blogs can play within a command. Task Force Mountain’s blog regularly updates friends and families of the work their loved ones are doing in Iraq. Major General Oates, the commanding general, contributes as well. For example, one posting asked for thoughts on how the Army can decrease the amount of sexual assaults. He even video conferenced in from Iraq to speak at the MilBloggers conference (transcript here). As VADM Harvey points out, blogs can be a useful way to solicit input and keep families updated with instantly uploaded text and pictures.

VADM Harvey also points out the limitations of blogs. If the Navy were to rely solely on blogs and web postings to disseminate information over the internet, only readers who were already interested in Navy news would ever receive the information. Why? Because I have to type or into my browser. A presence on Facebook, MySpace and similar sites has the possibility of attracting readers who might otherwise not be interested in defense issues. When I friended (now a verb) PACOM on Facebook, a notification was generated that I friended PACOM and my friends were updated with this “news.” This notification was not limited to friends from the Academy; civilian friends were also able to see it. Social media allows for people to stumble upon information instead of consciously seeking it out.

We should take VADM Harvey’s vision of the blogosphere and Web 2.0 very seriously. As I mentioned to him, a blogging CO must dedicate time and energy. Why should this investment be made? As VADM Harvey responded emphatically, “It is important.”

Posted by Jeffrey Withington in Navy

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

  • Byron

    Outstanding, MIDN Withington! And thank you, VADM Harvey for sitting down with MIDN Withington and giving him 45 minutes of your valuable time.

    One point I’d like to make about blogging: In 2003, when things in Iraq were getting really ugly, all we heard in the MSM here in the States was the bad things that happened, and all the doom and gloom that could be shovelled out over the airwaves. It was MilBlogs that showed us the light, and started to turn the corner on getting the media honest again. I have nothing but enormous respect for the sacrifices in both time and careers that these great people have given up so the truth could be had by the likes of me.

    And Mr. Withington, I’m too lazy to type, I just click links 😉 USNI blog is the home page!

  • Excellent post. It is so refreshing to find out VADM Harvey supports blogging. I work for U.S. Pacific Fleet and have been fortunate in that ADM Willard supports our CPF Facebook, Twitter and has his own blog and podcast. Social media has really opened up another lane of communication for us.
    I don’t think it is the only avenue of communication and still think traditional media outlets are important. However, the transparency and two-way communication via social media enables us to talk to the public in a groundbreaking way. I am so pleased Navy leadership is enabling this dialogue and can only look forward to how this will help us tell the stories of the great things our Sailors are doing.

  • BZ to ADM (S) Harvey! I can see why he has earned a 4th star. With leaders like this embracing social media, the Navy will be in good hands. Great job Jeffrey! Thanks for reading and commenting LTJG Donnelly. It is great to see jo’s reading and commenting on this blog. Keep it up!

  • Would that other agencies inside DoD take such an enlightened view… (or here if you are blocked)
    – SJS

  • Great post MIDN Withington.

  • The Navy has done very well by us bloggers. They’ve put us aboard ships, given us incredible access, and been pretty level-headed and tolerant of the whole medium.

    Today, I suspect many Navy bloggers have, in general, better naval access and larger naval affairs rolodexes than many a New York Times writer.

    What boggles the mind is…where did the reporters go? Once, not so long ago, conventional reporters could have crowded the zone–and shut us out. But “big general-reader market” reporters went AWOL. Today, a lot of those reporters come to blogs (and their bloggers) to get information, background, story ideas or feedback.

    That said, I wish I, as a blogger, had a better idea of what the Navy wants from Navy blogger-types. As the medium grows, it might do everybody some good if big Navy figured out what it wants to get from the blogging community. And then told us (in Proceedings, maybe?).

    The Navy has yet to completely articulate a need–beyond the Admiral’s desire for blogs to attract numbers of non-Navy people–I’ve not heard much. Not saying I’d deliver, but, on the off-chance that an idea might resonate, I’d be glad to consider a list of strategic goals.

  • Byron

    Does the ideal of free flowing ideas conflict with the Navy setting goals? Should it? I tend to think not. Rather, I think the Navy needs to figure out what they can get out of the blogosphere, and how best to utilize it. For starters, commands could use them as an anonymous suggestion box.

  • Fouled Anchor

    Jeff, nice post and certainly a great topic. Might I suggest that your next trip be up the road to the Defense Information School (DINFOS) at Ft. Meade? I’m curious if DINFOS has incorporated anything into journalism and Public Affairs Officer training on social networking and blogging. Should Navy Mass Communication Specialists and their other service counterparts receive training on using these media to effectively communicate command and service functions, activities, and goals? This is still a relatively new comms strategy, and I would be interested to hear how proactive DINFOS has been toward incorporating it into the large public affairs efforts.

  • Byron

    Agree with the Chief, great idea. Don’t miss out on the quirks of the blogosphere, either.

  • jwithington

    Thanks everyone for the compliments! Great idea Fouled Anchor and I will have to look into that. Things are getting busy here with the end of the semester, but I will be in the area at various points over the summer.

    Keep blogging!

  • That said, I wish I, as a blogger, had a better idea of what the Navy wants from Navy blogger-types. As the medium grows, it might do everybody some good if big Navy figured out what it wants to get from the blogging community. And then told us (in Proceedings, maybe?).

    Defense Springboard,

    In my experience, the Navy doesn’t ask for anything, and I think that is a good thing.

    Speaking for myself, if someone tells me what I should and should not write on a blog, they should expect me to ignore their advice. I’ll make those decisions for myself.

    I think the military services should focus their approach to the blogosphere by leveraging the medium as a way for inputs and outputs, but I think it would be inappropriate for the military services to ask something of the writers.

    Besides, the services don’t have to as for anything. Speaking from my own experience embarking on USS Freedom, I think the Navy got out of that embark what they wanted simply by putting me in that position to see for myself. Regardless of what I have written specifically, there is no question the exposure is where the value is.

    By approaching the medium and not bloggers directly (or specifically), it doesn’t become about anyone specifically.

  • Jay

    Springboard — I think the answer to “where did the reporters go?” is in the media a lot recently — witness the number of papers cutting staff, or reducing their coverage in other ways, or simply shutting down.

    Lots of other posts elsewhere in the blogosphere re: paper (old) media down, electronic media up, and the correct balance still settling out, so won’t go into it here.

  • LTJG Theresa Donnelly

    I just completed PAQC (DINFOS PAO school) in December and yes, we do talk about social media and even had a panel on it, but I think we could have gone even deeper on the subject. I don’t remember it being a particular lesson, but a lot of discussion did take place about social media and the general attitude was that it was encouraged as a outreach opportunity.
    With that stated though, I think the one thing holding us back is that our current OPNAV instruction regarding public Web sites prohibits any official Web site not existing on a .mil domain. Once we can find a way to legally have a social presence, I think more commands will participate. When our own Presidential Administration is using social media as a platform to communicate, I think that is a pretty compelling reason to engage. I bet people had the same security concerns when e-mail was starting and we found a way to live with that, so hopefully DOD will issues guidance and the Navy will then follow.
    Incorporating social media into a communications strategy is difficult when the guidance does not match reality. Some say, well we can have a .mil blog or Facebook. Well…that is like us telling the public that to hear my boss speak, they have to get base access and come to where we are. No one will do that. We have to be able to communicate where the public is already residing. And, right now that is via social media channels such as Facebook and blogspot. Just my thoughts.

  • I’m not saying the DOD needs to come down and present a list of “thou must do” priorities. Nobody in the blogosphere (aside from an occasional blogger tool or ignorant fanblog) would accept such a mandate. We all know this.

    But I think it would be interesting–and informative–to hear more about what the Navy would like to see in the blogosphere. It would give us bloggers a better idea of where the Navy is in terms of Web-think, allow us to engage in the debate…and just maybe it’d give us some ideas as we all work to expand our blogs and community.

  • Zen

    The vast majority of so-called “milblogs” are, in fact, right wing political blogs. Not all, but almost all.

    Unfortunately, at the time DoD discovered this thing called the ‘internet’- the previous regime was using these milbloggers as campaign tools. So long as DoD chooses to align themselves with what is a fringe minority, they will have difficulty getting the message out. After all, most folks would skip reading about a great USN humanitarian mission or a daring prosecution of piracy if they have to wade through a discussion of President Obama’s birth certificate or how the NY Times is in league with Osama bin Laden.

  • fantastic info!!

  • Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.