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'Milbloggers' Report Real Life War Stories on Web

Friday, 02 December 2005 12:00 AM

His cyber handle is "Dreadcow" and his "milblog" is entitled, "Fun with Hand Grenades – the mindless ramblings and exploits of a U.S. Army infantryman deployed to Iraq."

Dreadcow is the author/creator of but one of the soaring number of military-focused Internet Web logs - "blogs" or "milblogs" - as online diaries created by American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are known. The phenomenon also extends to soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines stationed all over the globe, GI family members overseas or maintaining the homefront, and the occassional retired military guy or gal.

In a recent entry, Dreadcow reflects, "There are people back in the States who claim we're a horrible country and our political leadership is perverse because we have such a large disparity between the rich and poor. To them I say, come to Iraq.

"Come and see firsthand the men in their pressed business suits talking on cell phones while 10 feet away kids are running around wearing tattered clothing and covered in what is probably a combination of donkey s**t and water.

"Come and see how some houses have tarps for doors and the roofs are made of mud and straw. Come and see how it looks and smells like a garbage truck with a full load tipped over and then magically vanished, leaving rotting food, papers, and God knows what else strewn about the freeways.

"Come see Iraqis sell the meat off of freshly slaughtered sheep in the sun. Come drive your car down the road where you'll get sick to your stomach after hitting 10 potholes within two minutes, then realizing you're in the paved part of town …"

Milblogging.com, which has been charting the phenomenon for some time, currently has registered 815 military blogs in 22 countries. It wasn't long ago that the number was just 50.

Some of the names are colorful enough: "MY WAR: Killing Time in Iraq," "Who's Your Baghdaddy?" "Combat Medic in Iraq," "Middle of Nowhere and Two Feet from Hell," and "Desert Odyssey."

While the quality of the milblogs ranges from crude to bell-and-whistle professional, they mostly follow the same mold. Essentially, they are diaries of the servicemen and service women, and as the months in the overseas tour pass, older entries are consolidated in an archive. There are generally plenty of pics posted, links to other milblogs favored by the amateur journalist-in-uniform, and a way for the reader to e-mail comments.

Many of the postings by the milbloggers are humorous or rough-hewn stories about the routine life at their bases, but others bring the reader face-to-face with heated military operations or the bloody gore at aid stations and hospitals – often just hours after the fact.

As could be imagined, it is this latter genre of blogging that causes the brass concern. Recall the embarrassment suffered by the Department of Defense when military bloggers posted some of the now infamous pictures of Abu Ghraib detainees.

In October, DoD promulgated new advisories to soldiers about posting personal stories and pictures from combat zones. Specifically prohibited was releasing information detailing job responsibilities and posting pictures of the aftermath of insurgent attacks or roadside bombs.

This latest advisory to the field followed on the heels of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker's memo this past summer to unit commanders telling them to take the issue more seriously:

"The enemy aggressively ‘reads' our open source and continues to exploit such information for use against our forces. Some soldiers continue to post sensitive information to Internet Web sites and blogs. … Such OPSEC [operational security] violations needlessly place lives at risk and degrade the effectiveness of our operations."

Perhaps the most onerous regulation to come down the pike, however, is the current requirement for milbloggers to register their sites with commanding officers, who have been given the authority to pull them from Cyberspace if deemed detrimental to OPSEC.

The requirement goes back to April, when Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, commander of multinational forces in Iraq, issued a memorandum ordering personnel stationed in Iraq to record their Web sites with their chains of command - and report any contributions to other Web sites as well.

The Vine memo further prohibited posting of certain classes of information, including casualty information before the next of kin has been notified, information protected by the Privacy Act, matters that are the subject of ongoing investigations, and information designated as "for official use only."

The registration requirement is a lynchpin to the more rigorous approach that has been building up steam since last February when Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard A. Cody in a memo to the field called for "a more aggressive attitude toward protecting friendly information":

"It is critical to remind our people that the negligent or unauthorized release of sensitive photos is a serious threat to our forces. Leaders are encouraged to remind all personnel that the enemy will exploit sensitive photos showing the results of IED strikes, battle scenes, casualties, destroyed or damaged equipment, and enemy KIAs as propaganda and terrorist training tools.

"For example, annotated photos of an Abrams tank penetrated by an RPG are easily found on the Internet. Inform your personnel that we could unwittingly magnify enemy capabilities simply by exchanging photos with friends, relatives, or by publishing them on the Internet or other media."

One soldier serving in Iraq learned first hand how seriously the military takes OPSEC violations by milbloggers.

Pfc. Leonard Clark, an Arizona National Guard member, this past summer got hammered at a non-judicial punishment session by his commanding officer in the 860th Military Police Company.

Leonard Clark was found guilty of 11 counts of failing to obey orders and two counts of reckless endangerment because material he put up on a blog violated regulations about posting information deemed sensitive to Army operations or movements.

Clark was demoted from specialist to private first class, fined $1,640, and further awarded restriction and extra duties.

The Clark experience aside, some milbloggers in the field express some surprise that Uncle Sam still allows digital cameras in the field and has not outright nixed soldierly diaries from the Web.

But soldiers don't leave their Constitutional right to free speech at the barrack's door. Furthermore, prior restraint is the most sensitive of free speech issues.

"Bloggers are free to discuss a fairly broad range of topics, give their opinions on virtually anything, as long as they don't violate obvious security/personal info concerns," points out milblogger "Greyhawk," who along with his wife produces MudvilleGazette.com.

The logo motto of the Mudville Gazette says that it is the "on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow."


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His cyber handle is "Dreadcow" and his "milblog" is entitled, "Fun with Hand Grenades - the mindless ramblings and exploits of a U.S. Army infantryman deployed to Iraq." Dreadcow is the author/creator of but one of the soaring number of military-focused Internet Web logs -...
Friday, 02 December 2005 12:00 AM
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