Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Blogs offer view of soldiers' lives

By Ellen Simon
The Associated Press

Spc. Colby Buzzell's squad was on a mission in a poor neighborhood in Mosul when two Iraqi boys ran up carrying old artillery shells. "Give me dollar!" they said.

Another came carrying bullets and demanding money.

"Then, all of a sudden, this really skinny Iraqi kid comes running up to us with a ... HAND GRENADE in his hand," Buzzell wrote on his war blog. " 'Drop the ... hand grenade! Drop it now!' We all started yelling. The little kid, still with this proud smile on his face that said, 'Look what I just found' just dropped the grenade on the ground, and walked over to my squad leader and said, 'Give me money!' "

The grenade didn't go off.

The squad leader explained to his men that an Army division that had been in the area earlier had paid children for weapons or unexploded ordnance.

For Buzzell, it was grist for his online war diary, cbftw.blogspot.com, whose fans range from soccer moms and truck drivers to punk band leader Jello Biafra.

Before the Internet traffic counter dropped off the site, Buzzell said, he was getting 5,000 hits a day.

Iraq war blogs, or Web diaries, are as varied as the soldiers who write them. Some sites feature practical news, pictures and advice. Some are overtly political, with more slanting to the right than the left. Some question the war, and some cheer it.

Buzzell and a handful of others write unvarnished war reporting. A few of these blogs have been shut down. Buzzell, an infantryman in an Army Stryker brigade, says he was banned from missions for five days because of the blog and has stopped adding narrative entries.

For the folks back home, the soldier blogs offer details of war that don't make it into most news dispatches: The smell of rotten milk lingering in a poor neighborhood. The shepherd boys standing at the foot of a guard tower yelling requests for toothbrushes and sweets. The giant camel spiders. The tedium of long walks to get anything from a shower to a meal. A burning oil refinery a hundred miles away blocking the sun. A terrifying night raid surprised by armed enemies dressed in black.

On the blogs, soldiers complain, commiserate and celebrate their victories and ingenuity.

What do you do if the electricity goes out while you're sitting in the latrine, leaving you in complete darkness with a dead flashlight? Blog answer: Reach into your cargo pocket and crack open a Chemlight.

The blogs offer more than war stories. They offer images from Iraq not seen elsewhere, like a sign in an office with no air conditioning: "We're in the desert. The desert is hot. Now quit your whining."

Sean Dustman, a 32-year-old Navy corpsman from Prescott, Ariz., who worked alongside the Marines in Iraq, started writing his blog, docinthebox.blogspot.com, after reading other war blogs.

"I was entranced with their stories," said Dustman, who recently returned from six months in Iraq. "This was where the real news that mattered to me was coming from, unlike what you saw through the regular media. Reading them [the blogs] helped me and my Marines prepare for the trip."
A recurring theme is the flashes of military absurdity, such as the hurried martial arts training some Marines undergo before they leave Iraq.

The Pentagon has "no specific guidelines on blogging per se," said Cheryl Irwin, a Defense Department spokeswoman. "Generally, they can do it if they are writing their blogs not on government time and not on a government computer.