Military families around the world use social tools like Facebook to keep in touch with deployed loved ones or family in other states or countries. On Tuesday, Facebook’s founder got a chance to speak with the people his site helps.
Mark Zuckerberg made a few stops while in North Carolina on Monday – speaking at N.C. A&T, visiting college basketball royalty at UNC and Duke and driving stock cars with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Charlotte. But he also stopped at the most populous U.S. military base in the world – Fort Bragg.
The installation near Fayetteville is home to more than 53,000 active-duty soldiers and thousands more civilian employees, contractors and military family members living on post. Bragg is home to the 82nd Airborne Division, U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) and other units.
Zuckerberg said the military excels at building relationships in his Facebook post about the visit.
“The general (Lt. General Kenneth E. Tovo) told me the most important values they instill in their soldiers are empathy and adaptability. That's why their special operators ‘live, work, eat, sleep and fight’ with the communities they operate in,” he wrote. “As one officer told me, ‘95 percent 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.’ ”
Zuckerberg’s visit wasn’t publicized but he made several planned visits on post, including lunch with military spouses at Let Me Cater to You at Pope Field. The spouses told him how they stay connected when their service member is deployed – a combination of Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp and Skype.
“They talked about how having daily communication tools relieved some of their anxiety about knowing whether their spouses were safe and when they'd get to talk to them again,” he wrote. “Before they had the Internet, they used to go weeks without communication and would always be very worried if they'd get to talk to their partner again. Knowing you'll get to video chat again tomorrow doesn't feel that far away.”
The spouses told Zuckerberg about the transience of military life – moving to a new base in another city and uprooting their entire lives and having to find a new job, look for new schools and becoming part of a new community.
“One of the first things many military spouses do is join Facebook groups with information about everything from social events to good schools to recipes,” Zuckerberg wrote. “And once you're part of a base community, you're a member for life. As one woman told me, ‘We're like second family. You find your tribe and stay in touch, so if someone from a few tours ago comes to Bragg, they have a meal and a place to stay.’ ”
Zuckerberg, who is worth a cool $56 billion, is traveling around the country to complete his annual “personal challenge,” as he described it in a Facebook post on Jan. 3. In recent years, those challenges have included things like running 365 miles, or reading 25 books.
This year Zuckerberg's challenge is “to have visited and met people in every state in the US by the end of the year.” To complete that challenge Zuckerberg wrote he'd need to travel to about 30 states this year. Monday was North Carolina's turn.
Zuckerberg said meeting with the military leaves him with ideas of how to make Facebook better to help build stronger communities. He thanked those he met Monday for their service “and for the sacrifice you make every day to keep us safe.”
Abbie Bennett: 919-836-5768; @AbbieRBennett