Thursday, February 17, 2005

Kirkus Review

A slacker goes to war and returns no more fit for the workaday world than before, but with tales to tell.

The recruiter didn't have to sell him hard: Buzzell, a young punk skateboarder, clearly bright but clearly unmotivated, was still living with his parents and doing data-entry temp work at the age of 26. The promise of a signing bonus and whatever job he wanted was enough for Buzzell, who wasn't alone in seeing the military as an escape from the doldrums; as he writes, "I was sick of living my life in oblivion where every fucking day was the same fucking thing as the day before, and the same fucking routine day in and day out." There's no end of routine in the Army, of course, but Buzzell's days were made interesting when he was put to work fighting the Iraqi insurgency. Buzzell is fond of quoting Full Metal Jacket, evidently the coin of the realm among his fellow soldiers, and if his narrative doesn't come close to matching the work of Michael Herr and Gustav Hasford, on which that movie was based, he does a good job of capturing the daily absurdities and occasional terrors of life on the front, where even a trip to the mess hall is likely to result in a wound. Some of the sharpest writing comes from the author's blog, which earned him celebrity beyond Iraq (and the chance to write this book) and got him in plenty of trouble with the brass. Without blog and book, his options would have been narrow: Toting a machine gun for a year didn't prepare him for much in the postwar world, and as for "having a boss yell at me for showing up to work five minutes late or tell me that I'm not smiling enough at the customers"—well, impossible.

If military recruitment is down now, wait till the kids read this book.

The book will be published in October in the USA and November in the UK. It can be pre-ordered via Amazon

By Kirkus Jul 15, 2005
Tuesday, February 08, 2005


With this relentlessly cynical volume, Buzzell converts his widely read 2004 blog into an episodic but captivating memoir about the year he spent serving as an army "trigger puller" in Iraq. Posted to Mosul in late 2003, Buzzell's platoon was ordered "to locate, capture and kill all non compliant forces." Accordingly, his entries describe experiences pursuing elusive guerrillas (aka "men in black"); enduring sniping, rocket and mortar attacks; and witnessing the occasional car bomb. Face-to-face fighting almost never occurs. No matter: though the combat scenes are exciting, this book is actually more engrossing as a portrait of the day-to-day life of a young American soldier who has "read, and re-read, countless times, every single one of [Bukowski's] books." Like Bukowski, Buzzell appears to be a sentimental misanthrope; he pours scorn on everyone from cooks to generals to President Bush. He also despises the media, the antiwar movement and everyone who thinks they understand what's happening in Iraq. That his superiors kept their hands off his blog for several months, however, shows they understood that;despite its foul language, griping, insults directed at higher officers and occasional exposure of dirty linen;Buzzell's work never really wavers in its portrayal of American forces as the good guys in a dirty war.

-Publishers Weekly
Friday, February 04, 2005

Sunday's Atlanta Journal Constitution

Urgency hits like never before as soldiers fight, then write
Teresa K. Weaver - Staff

WAR IS A STORY that never gets old.

Told from every possible perspective --- by the triumphant, by the vanquished or by the merely observant --- wartime feats of heroism and acts of inhumanity have captured the imagination of every generation, long before and since the greatest.

The war on terrorism is unique in one immediate respect: Soldiers --- mostly 20-somethings --- are telling their own stories, in profound, profane books that are hitting the shelves within months of their return from what passes nowadays as the front line.

Colby Buzzell, a 26-year-old skateboarding, pot-smoking California slacker who joined the Army in an effort to find some purpose, offers one of the most effective counterpoints to officialdom in his popular blog-turned-book, "My War: Killing Time in Iraq." In one particularly gripping section subtitled "Men in Black," he provides a three-paragraph account from CNN's Web site about a "clash" between American troops and Iraqi insurgents in Mosul.

"Now," Buzzell writes, "here's what really happened. ..."

His account is dramatic and confused --- presumably much like combat itself --- told with irresistible gallows humor and anger devoid of self-consciousness.

"It kinda made me wonder what else goes on here in Iraq that never gets reported to the people back home," he writes.

During its 10-week run, Buzzell's Web site attracted some 10,000 hits a day and got the attention of mainstream media. The fledgling blogger was "counseled" several times by officers, but his blog was never officially shut down or censored.

The age of instant communication has changed the writing landscape for good. Other factors also may help explain the new bounty of books by soldiers: The military is more educated, and every generation since the baby boomers seems more and more comfortable expressing itself.

When Buzzell's two years of service were up, he felt the first twinge of the difficult transition to come: "When I turned over my weapon, and for the first time in almost eleven months I was without a firearm by my side, I felt completely defenseless and vulnerable. It was the weirdest [expletive] feeling in the world."
Tuesday, February 01, 2005

WARRIORS - Program 06-02-05-A

To The Best of Our Knowledge
from Wisconsin Public Radio

General Patton wrote in 1943 that, "War is very simple, direct, and ruthless. It takes simple direct, and ruthless men to wage it." In this hour of To The Best Of Our Knowledge, simple and direct conversations with the ruthless men who wage war. We'll talk with a machine gunner stationed in Iraq, an Army Intelligence interrogator, an international arms dealer, and an American mercenary.

Colby Buzzell is an Iraq War veteran whose blog and book is called "My War: Killing Time in Iraq," and he tells Anne Strainchamps why he joined up and how he got past the drug test. Also, Richard Marcinko is CEO of a private security firm which trains mercenaries and he candidly tells Steve Paulson about waging war and interrogating prisoners from a mercenary's point of view. Marcinko was a decorated Navy SEAL with over 30 years combat service who commanded two of the SEAL's most elite Special Ops forces.

Columbia News Service

Soldiers' online journals come under increased scrutiny
by Mike Spector 2006/05/02

The Department of Defense is clamping down on military blogs, causing growing resentment among soldiers in Iraq who use them to communicate with loved ones.

Army Spc. Colby Buzzell returned from a firefight in Mosul, Iraq, on Aug. 4, 2004, and collapsed on his bed, drained from the most intense combat of his tour.

The next day, Buzzell headed to his base’s Internet cafe and posted the latest entry on his personal Web log:

“Bullets were pinging off our armor, all over our vehicle, and you could hear multiple RPGS being fired, soaring through the air every which way,” Buzzell wrote. “All sorts of crazy insane Hollywood explosions were going off. I’ve never felt fear like this. I was like, this is it, I’m going to die. I cannot put into words how scared I was.”

Buzzell had posted entries anonymously up until the Mosul battle. But The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash., published an article about the skirmish and quoted extensively from Buzzell’s Web log. That drew attention from the Pentagon’s internal clip service. Eventually, the article made its way to Buzzell’s commanders.

Buzzell’s battalion commander, Lt. Col. Buck James, lectured him on the inappropriateness of revealing operational details--how he loaded weapons, what kind of weapons his Stryker brigade used and specific combat locations. From now on, Buzzell’s platoon sergeant would read his entries before they were posted. After another troublesome post, a different commander confined Buzzell to the base and for a time he was forbidden to go on missions.

Buzzell, who is now 29 and lives in Los Angeles, is known among military bloggers as the “Blogfather,” one of the first soldiers to write a candid, regularly updated Web log from a combat zone. Such online journals, or blogs, began as unfiltered portals into the day-to-day travails of American troops, a 21st-century version of a soldier’s letter home.

But as the visibility and popularity of the blogs have increased, so, too, has the watchful eye of military officials. The Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force have all recently issued directives related to blogs, reminding soldiers and their commanders what information is unsuitable for posting.

In the last year, for example, the Army released specific blogging guidelines, requiring soldiers to register their online journals with commanders and establishing units to monitor Web sites for information that might violate Army policy.

The Pentagon itself has no official blogging policies, leaving the determination of what’s suitable and what’s not to commanders in the field. That increased scrutiny has troubled some soldiers, who have accused superiors of using operational security violations as a blanket excuse to mask disagreement with a blog’s politics or sense of humor. In any case, the new atmosphere has caused soldiers to think twice before they post.

“Now, as you look at the blogs ... they’re much more self-conscious,” said Jon Peede, director of Operation Homecoming, a National Endowment for the Arts program that will soon release an anthology of soldiers’ blogs, letters and e-mail messages. “That wasn’t the case a couple of years ago.”

The opinions on military blogs range from the patriotic to the anti-war. And many soldiers post anonymously to avoid trouble.

One blogger, identified as “Outlaw 13,” complained about the recent controversy over retired generals calling for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The blogger wrote that the debate “will accomplish nothing other than give the politicians something else to scrap about and maybe give [the enemy] hope that we are about to fall apart and quit.”

Blogging represents a quantum leap forward in wartime communications, according to Peede, the Operation Homecoming director.

He compared current military blogs to the famous Matthew Brady photos taken during the Civil War, which changed the way people viewed armed conflicts.

“The most powerful blogs, they are doing the same thing,” Peede said. They move beyond the mainstream media to provide “authentic, raw stories of death.”

That creates two natural tensions, Peede said. First, bloggers can accidentally reveal operational methods--how a gun is loaded, for example--that can tip off the enemy and endanger troops. Second, a blog discussing casualties can inadvertently unnerve families back home who read the posting and wonder about the fate of a loved one.

Policies regulating such potential hazards are nothing new. Although the Pentagon leaves policing blogs to individual commanders, longstanding Defense Department rules govern what a soldier can and cannot share.

“There are limitations to the kind of information that can be posted on a military blog,” said Cmdr. Gregory Hicks, a Pentagon spokesman. Information that soldiers gather during the course of their Iraq deployment is “sensitive” by definition, according to Pentagon policy, and may not be publicly disclosed without proper clearance.

The “sensitive” umbrella covers all military information that isn’t publicly available, including operation details, unit morale and equipment status.

“You don’t tell people the location of your unit, details of the kind of equipment you’re using,” said J.P. Borda, 31, who runs, a Web site that links to more than 1,300 military blogs worldwide. “It’s nothing new to anybody. It’s pretty commonsense stuff.”

Borda, a veteran who blogged from Afghanistan in 2004 and 2005, said his commanders supported his online postings and that he made a point of showing them entries to make sure he wasn’t breaking any rules.

“Go to the chain of command and ask them,” Borda said. “It’s that simple.”

Jason Hartley, a national guardsman from New Paltz, N.Y., caught the wrath of his command when he described his flight route to Iraq on his blog, He also posted a photo of a prisoner and wrote biting, satiric comments in which he said he loved dead civilians and wished he could shoot children.

He said the comments were purposefully over the top in an effort to address what he viewed as the military’s blase attitude toward civilian casualties. “So many civilians get killed every day. We must love ’em, because we sure as hell don’t stop doing it,” he said.

His commander wasn’t amused. He lectured Hartley about undermining the Army’s mission and hinted that the prisoner photo might violate the Geneva Convention. That charge was later dropped, but Hartley was punished for disobeying a direct order and conduct unbecoming a soldier. He was docked $1,000 in pay and demoted from sergeant to specialist.

“It’s hogwash,” said Hartley, who still serves in the National Guard once a month in New York City. “It’s a knee-jerk reaction to not knowing how to react to a person who had a sardonic blog.”

The ordeal left Hartley with the impression that commanders don’t scrutinize noncritical, patriotic blogs.

But Borda, the founder, disputed that claim. “It’s not like every military blogger is telling the military’s story,” he said, adding that he had come across several critical blogs, “and they’re not getting shut down.”

If Buzzell felt stymied overseas, the return home offered a quick remedy. His blog postings caught the eye of editors at Esquire magazine. He started writing firsthand accounts of his time in Mosul in March 2005. By November, he had completed the last installment of a three-part series titled, “The Making of the Twenty-First-Century Soldier.”

And during those assignments, Buzzell finished his first book, “My War: Killing Time in Iraq,” which drew on his Esquire articles and blog postings. While Buzzell’s Web site no longer houses the posts that drew the Army’s ire, his book reprints several of the posts he wrote to clear his mind in the Middle East.

Eager to distance himself from his controversial Iraq tour, Buzzell continues to take on new assignments for Esquire. He’s also working on another book, but is mum on the details.

“It’s going to be way different than the last book I wrote,” he said as he sat in traffic on the Los Angeles freeway. “I just want to be a civilian for awhile.”