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NEWS | July 17, 2014

What are you reading?

By Col. Jimmy Canlas 437th Airlift Wing vice commander

Growing up as a military brat overseas, I loved reading the Pacific Stars and Stripes to feel connected and to get my fix of the good ole United States of America. I remember waiting impatiently at my doorstep for the distinct buzz of the delivery man on his Honda motorcycle, expertly zigzagging between housing units to distribute the day's paper. With palpable anticipation, I would rip open the paper ... and head straight for the comics section.

Page by page, from Peanuts to The Far Side, from Beetle Bailey to Steve Canyon, I devoured each strip and filled my head with humor, satire and maybe a tiny sliver of truth. It was only after finishing Tank McNamara, the last comic strip located in the sports section that I would turn to the headlines to read the real news to learn what was happening at home, and around the world.

Fast forward 30-plus years (#iamold,#nottoooldforhashtags), and I still find myself resorting to old habits. Only now, instead of a newspaper, I reach for my iPad and go straight to my Facebook app. Scanning my Newsfeed, I feel "connected" to my family and friends. I get a chuckle because I do have real-life counterparts to Beetle, the Peanuts Gang, Steve Canyon and Far Side characters. But not unlike the comics of old, the majority of the content on my Newsfeed is filled with humor, satire and a tiny sliver of truth. Only after I satisfy my Facebook fix, will I turn to more reliable and trustworthy news sources to discover what is happening around the world.

There is, however, a danger in this habit pattern. By dedicating the majority of my time to reading the comics or my Facebook Newsfeed, I fill my head with unnecessary memes, videos, and often-biased articles from the blogosphere. While entertaining, these items may not equip me intellectually, making it difficult to articulate facts on domestic and international events; and equally as important, issues affecting the military and our Air Force. I challenge myself to skip the sensationalism and go directly to the trustworthy sources. This is not easy for me, and it is an action I take deliberately every time I pick up my iPad or smartphone. It is my gut feeling that others may share my struggle as well.

Don't get me wrong ... Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, etc. provide a convenient medium to consume massive amounts of material, but not all material online is trustworthy or accurate. In this era of rapid information, news stories can go viral with the click of a button, regardless of their validity. It is our responsibility, as members of the military, to think critically not only about what we read, but what we post as well. This applies to everyone up and down the chain of command, from the O-10 down to the E-1.
I challenge everyone, particularly those in leadership positions and frontline supervisors, to consider your sources of information and pay extra attention to the issues affecting our Airmen. It is the responsibility of leaders to provide clear, concise information to our people, and be equipped to debunk the dorm lawyers and sensational bloggers, where appropriate.

So, what are you reading?