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.
Thursday, September 23, 2004


Here is an e-mail I recieved from legendary DEAD KENNEDYS frontman, and political activist Jello Biafra.

Hey Colby,
Thanks a lot for alerting us about what's going on with you. Thanks also for the respect. Believe me, it's mutual. You have a lot of guts. No pun intended, but stick to your guns. Don't believe the hype - we are the real patriots here, not the unelected gangsters and scam artists who started this war. Real patriots care enough about our country - and the world - to speak up, stand up and fight backwhen the government breaks the law, lies, steals and gets innocent people killed. Real patriots do their buddies and the people back home a huge favor when they bypass our censored corporate media and become the media themselves - telling us from a real person perspective what war and agrunt's life are really like. History is important. As long as people in the field speak up we have a chance of preserving the truth. Otherwise it's the bullshit gospel according to Fox News and The Bush-Croft regime and people'sown memory being erased even more than we've got now. To all the troops: I and Alternative Tentacles support you. We support you by saying, "Bring The Troops Home!" as loud and as often as we can.
Stay Safe
Don't Give Up,
Saturday, September 11, 2004

Article In Defence Today Magazine

Soldier Blog Shutdown? Stryker Diarist Stops Posting
By Nathan Hodge
Sometimes success can spoil a good thing.

A soldier with the Stryker brigade in Iraq who posted riveting online accounts of combat in Iraq has apparently made his last post, abruptly closing a Website that drew an untold number of readers.

CBFTW—the pseudonym of the online diarist, an enlisted soldier with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division Stryker Brigade Combat Team—won a following for his frank, profane and often funny take on the life of a soldier in Iraq. He chronicled the tedium of a lengthy deployment and the occasional moments of sheer terror, including a vicious, but largely unpublicized, firefight the Fort Lewis-based unit was involved in earlier this month.

His intense, first-person account of that battle was quoted extensively in an article by Tacoma, Wash., News Tribune reporter Michael Gilbert, who traveled with the Stryker Brigade to Iraq and has closely followed their deployment. More recently, CBFTW was profiled in a story on NPR's "Day to Day" radio program.

Visitors to CBFTW's Weblog (cbftw.blogspot.com), however, can now find only one entry, posted Friday, that quotes Johnny Rotten, front man for the legendary punk act the Sex Pistols: "Ever Get the Feeling You've Been Cheated?"
The caption on the main page (posted over a black-and-white image of of Picasso's Guernica) reads: "OVER AND OUT."

In recent posts, CBFTW had hinted that he was under threat of reprimand from his superiors; the NPR story noted that he had been lectured by his commanders for possible violations of operational security, or OPSEC. A spokesman for CBFTW's unit told NPR his blog entries would be reviewed by a platoon sergeant and superior officer before they were posted.

Before the NPR story, CBFTW posted a note that cryptically advised readers to "stay tuned," followed with the full text of the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ...").

If his commanders indeed have ordered him to shut down his blog, it won't be the first time. In October 2002, Defense Week reported on a Website run by soldiers of a medical logistics battalion stationed in Afghanistan. They launched the blog to keep friends and family informed, but enthusiastic strangers linked to the site; when the members of the battalion were swamped with fan mail, they decided to shut the site down.

Blogs are, in some way, a defining cultural phenomenon of the war in Iraq, much as psychedelic music provided the soundtrack to the Vietnam War. There are dozens of Iraq blogs, posted by ordinary Iraqis, civilian administrators living in the Green Zone, rear-echelon soldiers and combat infantrymen. One Iraqi blogger, known by the nom de plume Salam Pax, even saw his Web diary published as a book, The Baghdad Blog.

Families of deployed soldiers maintain their own informal support networks through blogs, and soldiers—who have access to Internet cafes—kill the boredom of deployment by posting their own thoughts online.

Some blogs are patriotic, others are personal rants. CBFTW—a native of the San Francisco Bay Area who listed his interests, variously, as "drinking, skateboarding, reading, [and] 7.62 fully automatic weapons" along with punk rock and barroom poet Charles Bukowski—favored the rant, his long posts unencumbered by spelling and standard punctuation. He was also an avid reader, peppering his posts with literary allusions as well as references to punk and metal classics (the title of his blog—"My War"—comes from a Black Flag song). In some respects, CBFTW's irreverent blog echoed the spirit of Dave Rabbit, an enlisted man who ran a pirate radio in South Vietnam called Radio First Termer.

CBFTW is not the only military blogger who has won notoriety. Army Capt. Eric Magnell, an Army lawyer in Iraq, also was profiled in the NPR story. On Thursday, he posted a few thoughts on the interview, as well as on the case of CBFTW, on his blog (daggerjag.blogspot.com).

It's worth quoting at length:
"On Monday I spoke with Eric Niiler from NPR about my blog and how the army is treating bloggers. ... I think the story perfectly illustrates one of the reasons why soldiers may want to tell their story on their own blog rather than leaving it to the mainstream media. I don't think that Eric was misleading or twisted our words but he definitely wanted to give the impression that soldiers are being persecuted by their leaders over blogs and that their free speech rights are being infringed by a command that doesn't want their stories told. I would disagree with this thesis on several grounds.

"As I said in the story, the information environment has changed so much and is so different than in any previous war or conflict. Here in Iraq we have access to so much new communications capabilities it really is mind-boggling when you think about it. When my father was in Vietnam he wrote letters and mailed home cassettes or reel-to-reel tapes to keep in touch with my mom and his family. Even thirteen years ago, during Desert Storm, the soldiers still wrote letters and had very, very few opportunities to call their families in the States. With these new capabilities come some very real concerns over operational security. ... We know that our enemies are computer `savvy' and may have the ability to intercept e-mails or other communications over the Internet. Every soldier has to be aware and concerned about saying or writing anything that could potentially give our enemies information. Even potentially innocent statements which, by themselves, mean nothing can provide intelligence for our opponents when matched with other innocuous open source information."

Magnell, however, puts in a word of support for CBFTW:
"I've read SPC Buzzell's blog and, while I'm not a security manager, I haven't seen anything that clearly is prohibited but I can understand his chain of command's concerns."

The Army, Magnell concludes, "isn't a sinister organization looking to trample invidivual freedoms but, as any large bureaucracy, it can be slow to react to new situations and changes in the environment."

An e-mail to CBFTW went unanswered.
Monday, September 06, 2004


The View From on the Ground
With American bloggers reporting on life in Iraq, the war is only a mouse click away

"Other wars produced poetry and novels and memoirs. But the war in Iraq has brought a new kind of literature. In real time, on the Internet, officers and enlisted men and women are chronicling the war on weblogs — better known as blogs. Two weeks ago, one of the most popular war bloggers, a soldier stationed near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul who identified himself only as CBFTW, was disciplined by the Army for violating "operational security." His gritty postings described both the terror and boredom of war. Last week, he removed them from his "My War" website. But the journals of many other military bloggers remain on the Web. Here are edited excerpts from the blogs of Americans serving with the U.S. military in Iraq."