In late summer of 2012, I PCS’d (Permanent Change of Station) from Stuttgart Germany to Williamsburg Virginia. To me, this was an ordinary move; with the exception of it was the first one with my wife and two kids. My wife did an awesome job of getting the kids and dogs ready for the move, but was quite upset that the friends she had made over the past three years would no longer be with her. My simple, albeit snarky comment was “Welcome to Army Friendships.” Naturally, she asked “what’s Army friendship?”
Army friendship is the development of close bonds for a limited amount of time. Typically, the timeframe of an Army friendship ranges from the duration of a 2-week TDY to a 3-year permanent assignment. Army friendships end with the near complete cut off of communications, with the exception of liking a Facebook status, or commenting on a random photo posted to social media.
My first experience of Army friendship occurred nearly 22 years ago. My friendships developed at Fort Jackson through eight weeks of basic training. My squad and more broadly my platoon developed some deep friendships, often sharing personal information normally reserved later in life for a spouse. We swore to eachother we would remain in touch, I have not heard from any of them since we walked off the parade field on graduation day. The thanks you get for feeling sorry for someone and giving them your cheese spread.
I have developed other Army friendships over the years, to include friends in Airborne School, the Officer Basic and Advanced Course, ILE, as well as time in combat, or in the famed 101st Airborne Division. Some of these friends came to my wedding, and now we barely speak to one another. Those in the military tend to understand that this is completely normal.
When I think about Army friendship, my mind races to the cinematic masterpiece Stripes. Thought the comedy of Bill Murray, Harold Ramus, and John Candy, my view is that above all, the move is about friendship (strangely I have the same opinion about Ghostbusters, it’s not about fighting ghosts, it’s about friendship). If Stripes were to reflect reality on greater scale, each character would PCS and never talk to the others again.
The advent of social media allows us to continue Army friendships, although they are never quite the same. I find Facebook useful to link up with friends over lunch or coffee nearly everytime I am TDY. Moreover, each TDY I test my “Food Court Theory.” This theory states that if you sit in a PX food court long enough on any random day, you will see someone you know. My current job takes me TDY often, and this theory has yet to fail me. However, the impact of social media has done more than sustain friendships.
Social media allows soldiers, and to a greater extent men and women from all services to form friendships and connections that never would have formed twenty years ago. While this seems like an obvious statement, the impact is real and a condition the force should embrace. For instance, junior soldiers can now engage senior leaders through twitter and other on-line forums. This breaks with the traditional relationship of a specialist never speaking to a lieutenant colonel informally. The corner office barrier does not exist on twitter. Make no mistake, this is a good thing.
Personally, social media has not only allowed me to connect with Army friends while TDY, it has forged new friendships. These new friendship have been paramount in my professional development, often creating ideas (and sometimes shooting down bad ideas), to develop and write about.
When our time is done on this earth, our greatest moments are the time we spend with people. Parents, siblings, spouses, children, and yes Army friends. I am thankful for all I have and will know.