One anonymous NCO who frequents Reddit’s Army forum received quite a shock when he opened his secret Santa gift Monday morning.
Inside the box was a copy of “We Were Soldiers Once … and Young,” a Vietnam War memoir by Lt. Gen. Hal Moore and Joe Galloway that recounts the 1965 Battle of Ia Drang. The book was accompanied by a challenge coin and a short note.
The gift — while nice — isn’t what led the Reddit user, u/kkronc, to post a photo. It was its sender: Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston.
“SSG [redacted],” Grinston wrote in the book, “I hope you enjoy this book. I also wish it can help guide you to build cohesive teams that are highly trained, disciplined, and fit.”
In a phone interview with Army Times, u/kkronc, a staff sergeant with 11 years in uniform (who asked that Army Times withhold his name and duty station), said he was “grateful and humbled” by the unexpected gift.
When asked who his favorite SMA was, however, he didn’t hesitate: “It’s gotta be [retired SMA Dan] Dailey.”
What’s SMA doing on Reddit?
Through his public affairs adviser, Grinston has had an active presence in the Army community on Reddit for more than six months. He’s branded himself by having a more personable social media presence across several platforms, where he solicits feedback from the force and discusses Army policy.
The Army forum, a “subreddit” in Reddit parlance, has more than 203,000 subscribers, though not all of them actively post. Although it’s had to expel extremist members and report them to the Army in the past, one of its top leaders thinks the Army subreddit is a uniquely suited forum for a leader like Grinston to take the force’s pulse.
“We have a lot of people that are willing to talk Army and are looking for … community without it necessarily being by name, by rank,” explained u/Kinmuan, a former soldier who is one of the forum’s moderators and handles external relations.
Most of the site’s users post under pseudonyms, which allows for a more candid exchange of ideas, he added. The community’s rules ban much of the harassing conduct that some associate with anonymous posts.
“The big difference we’ve seen with Grinston [as opposed to past Army senior leaders] … is that they are willing to go where soldiers are — even if what they have to say is not what the Army wants to hear,” u/Kinmuan said. The site contrasts from others where people “play Rock, Paper, Rank all the time,” he added.
That’s likely why Grinston has solicited feedback from the Army Reddit community on several occasions. In July, he hosted an online-only Q&A session for the service’s birthday. And during his initiatives briefing at the Association of the U.S. Army conference in October, he took audience questions submitted via Reddit.
The moderator also explained that “when you look at Facebook and Twitter, you’ve got character limits, and it’s not set up for a real discussion, [whereas] on Reddit, you are able to have constructive feedback of multi-paragraph formatted responses” with hyperlinks and resources.
Sometimes Grinston or his public affairs adviser will chime in when users ask them questions about the Army or leadership, even outside of the designated Q&A posts. And it’s that informal participation — to include secret Santa — that leaves users confident Grinston is making the most of their feedback.
“It’s like an open-door policy for mentorship,” said u/Kinmuan.
The soldier who received the package, u/kkronc, agreed — though he worded it a little differently.
“The fact that they’re willing to take the time [to engage] … is so much better than a lot of high level leaders have done in the past,” he said. “It’s like … you guys might actually care — hold on.”
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.