Friday, August 27, 2004

Army Blogger's Tales Attract Censors' Eyes

September 9, 2004; Page B1

Army specialist Colby Buzzell figured he'd cap his yearlong deployment to Iraq by mustering out of the service this winter and easing into a new career. "I was thinking about maybe driving a cab," he says.
But that was before he launched My War, an Internet-based chronicle of his life as an infantry soldier in Mosul, where he mans a gun in a Stryker brigade. Written under the nom de guerre of CBFTW (Colby Buzzell F -- This War), the blog is a mixture of gripping accounts of caffeine-driven battle maneuvers and amusing vignettes from the dusty grind of life in Iraq's third-largest city.
CBFTW's writings are a hit in the blogosphere, with his Web page logging 10,000 hits on a recent day.
But Spc. Buzzell's writing aspirations may prove his undoing as a professional soldier. Recently, shortly after his commanders discovered My War on the Web, Spc. Buzzell found himself banned from patrols and confined to base. His commanders say Spc. Buzzell may have breached operational security with his writings. "My War" went idle as he pondered the consequences of pursuing his craft while slogging through five nights of radio guard duty, a listless detail for an infantryman. More recently, the pages again went blank, as he chafed under a prepublication vetting regime imposed by his command.
Army Spc. Colby Buzzell, a.k.a. CBFTW on his Web log, flew under military radar -- until recently.
Such prepublication censorship is rare in the modern military: Soldiers' missives haven't been routinely expurgated since World War II and the days of "Loose Lips Sink Ships." The Pentagon doesn't prescreen soldiers' communications, whether print or electronic, assigning the job of policing soldier-journalists to commanders in the field. There are restrictions against divulging references to specific troop locations, patrol schedules or anything that might help the enemy predict how U.S. troops might react to an attack. But commanders in Iraq rely on the honor system and soldiers' common sense to enforce restrictions. Infractions are in the eye of the beholder, difficult to define but easy to recognize in practice.
Censorship that does occur usually comes after the fact. Earlier this year, Army investigators were forced to go stateside to track down reams of snapshots of Iraqi prisoner abuse that Abu Ghraib guards disseminated by e-mail or sent home on computer disk. In July, an Army captain was reassigned and stripped of his leave home after writing an opinion piece published in the Washington Post.
Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman, says blogs, like other forms of communication, are tolerated so long as they don't violate operational or informational security. "We treat them the same way we would if they were writing a letter or speaking to a reporter: It's just information," he says. "If a guy is giving up secrets, it doesn't make much difference whether he's posting it on a blog or shouting it from the rooftop of a building."
Still, many bloggers, some operating in obscure corners of Iraq where traditional reporters are scarce, appear to be flying under the Pentagon's radar. There's "American Soldier," a diary compiled by an Army reservist currently preparing for his second call-up, who describes himself in an e-mail as "p -- ed, frustrated, happy and sad at the same time." A site called "Boots on the Ground" is heavy on detail about U.S. armaments. "Just Another Soldier," a National Guardsman's account, is available only by e-mail request, the author says, after his command, citing security concerns, asked him to dismantle the site.
In the age of Web cams, instant messaging and Internet telephone service, widespread censorship simply isn't possible, military officials say. "I don't see how you could censor with the instantaneous flow of information we have now," says one Army officer, "unless you're standing over someone's shoulder while they're typing. And who's got time to do that when the bullets are flying?"
Security violations are rare, says Spc. Buzzell's top commander, Brig. Gen. Carter Ham. "The commander does have a responsibility to ensure no inappropriate information is released," Gen. Ham says in an e-mail, noting that among the 8,000 men under him, only Spc. Buzzell has come under scrutiny. "While [operational security] is a very real everyday concern for us, I do not see potential violations as widespread," he says.
Spc. Buzzell's blog, riddled with misspellings and larded with obscenities, conveys the kind of raw honesty that prompts military mothers to write weepy e-mails by the score. Soldiers have told Spc. Buzzell they sometimes strip out the curse words and send his writings home as their own.
He credits as his inspiration the author Hunter S. Thompson, whose first-person articles and books about politics and drug use were popular in the 1970s. But My War probably is more reminiscent of Michael Herr's "Dispatches," a bleak, first-person account of the Vietnam War widely regarded as one of the best examples of military journalism. Mr. Herr's book took years to arrive on the mass market, but Spc. Buzzell's accounts offer near-instantaneous immediacy. And as his case demonstrates, a casual detail -- that his unit had run low on water during a maneuver, for instance -- can easily get a soldier into trouble.
The blog entry at the root of Spc. Buzzell's difficulties was an Aug. 4 piece called "Men in Black." Opening with a bland, four-paragraph squib about a Mosul firefight that he snatched from CNN's Web site, Spc. Buzzell spins a riveting account of a nasty, hours-long firefight with scores of black-clad snipers. It begins with an enemy mortar attack and a testosterone-driven scramble to arms. "People were hooting and hollering, yelling their war cries and doing the Indian yell thing as they drove off and locked and loaded their weapons," he writes. He describes a harrowing ambush. "Bullets were pinging off our armor all over our vehicle, and you could hear multiple RPG's [rocket-propelled grenades] being fired and flying through the air and impacting all around us," he writes. "I've never felt fear like this. I was like, this is it, I'm going to die."
Spc. Buzzell's account caught the attention of the News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash., the newspaper that covers Spc. Buzzell's home base of Fort Lewis. Noting that the attack got scant coverage by bigger media, the local paper drew heavily from Spc. Buzzell's anonymous account. The Pentagon's internal clip service picked up the News Tribune story and it landed in the hands of commanders in Iraq.
Within hours, Lt. Col. Buck James, the battalion commander, ordered Spc. Buzzell to his office. Spc. Buzzell quickly shaved and grabbed fresh fatigues to see the colonel he had never met. As he later recounted on his blog, he arrived to find Col. James leafing through a massive printout of his Web writings, which someone had marked up with a yellow pen. The colonel, whom Spc. Buzzell described as a cross between George Patton and Vince Lombardi, opened with a question: " 'Youre [sic] a big Hunter S Thompson Fan, arnt [sic] you?'"
Spc. Buzzell says he was called to account for two details: the observation that his unit ran low on water during the hours-long standoff and a description of the steps he took to get more ammunition as the firefight waxed on. Both were excised from his online archives.
In an e-mail exchange, Col. James says the Army was concerned about a possible security breach on Spc. Buzzell's blog, but had no desire to muzzle him. "I counseled SPC Buzzell along with his Platoon Sergeant on these points and ensured that he understood that anything he was unsure about should be reviewed by his chain of command," Col. James says. Spc. Buzzell has "performed gallantly" as a soldier, he says.
But Spc. Buzzell's trouble with the command continued. A few days later, after leaving a mocking message on his blog to the military intelligence officers he now assumed were reading along, Spc. Buzzell was ordered confined to camp. He was returned to regular duty and posted a few more times, but he recently removed all of his archives from the site, and new postings are now sporadic. He says it just isn't as fun to write, now that he has to submit everything to his platoon sergeant prior to publication. "I was never edited before," he says. "Now I am."
Spc. Buzzell said he hasn't decided whether to permanently stop posting. He says he received scores of e-mails when "My War" went silent and even got some subtle nudges from his command to continue. Indeed, Col. James seems nostalgic for Internet accounts of his men. "To be candid, I believe the widespread popularity of his writing came as a bit of a shock to him and he was uncomfortable with the attention," Col. James said in an e-mail. "Personally, I think he is a talented writer and a gifted storyteller and should pursue his talent."
Wednesday, August 25, 2004


NPR (National Public Radio) featured this website on its Day To Day show. Here is a link to the article which has a link to the radio show:

Soldiers' Iraq Blogs Face Military Scrutiny

Day to Day, August 24, 2004 · Military officials are cracking down on blogs written by soldiers and Marines in Iraq, saying some of them reveal sensitive information. Critics say it's an attempt to suppress unflattering truths about the U.S. occupation. NPR's Eric Niiler reports.

A blogger with the pen name CBFTW, stationed near Mosul with the First Battallion, 23rd Regiment, says he began his My War Web log to help combat boredom. "I'm just writing about my experiences," the soldier says. "I'm pretty much putting my diary on the Internet -- that's all it is."

CBFTW says he has avoided describing sensitive information, such as U.S. weapons capabilities, weaknesses and scheduling. But earlier this month, CBFTW was lectured by commanders about violating operational security. Two other popular blogs run by soldiers have been shut down recently.

Lt. Col. Paul Hastings, a spokesman for unit CBFTW belongs to, said the soldier's blog now has to be reviewed by his platoon sergeant and a superior officer. In an e-mail to NPR, Hastings said the popularity of blogging has increased the chance that soldiers may inadvertently give away information to Internet-savvy enemies.

But some critics worry that military officials are trying to muffle dissent from troops in the field. "I really think it has much less to do with operational security and classified secrets and more to do with American politics and how the war is seen by a public that is getting increasingly shaky about the overall venture," says Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Sunday, August 22, 2004


Thursday, August 19, 2004

Stay Tuned

Amendment I
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; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

story developing...
Sunday, August 15, 2004

Mad Mortar-men Goose Chase

Saturday, August 14, 2004

The New Yorker

by Lauren Collins
The New Yorker June 29, 2009

IIn the winter of 2004, Jonathan Pieslak, a composer and an associate professor of music at City College, was researching a paper on heavy metal when he stumbled on a Web site devoted to the death-metal band Slayer. (Their songs include “The Antichrist,” “Mandatory Suicide,” and one, written from the perspective of a terrorist, called “Jihad”: “Fuck your God erase his name /A lady weeps insane with sorrow.”) On the site, a fan had written that, during the Gulf War, the band received forty per cent of its fan mail from soldiers in the Middle East. The claim turned out to be an exaggeration, but Pieslak became interested. In April, Indiana University Press published his book “Sound Targets: American Soldiers and Music in the Iraq War,” which examines the role of music in military recruiting, combat, interrogations, and morale, and explains many things about Slayer’s appeal.

First of all: listening to heavy metal, with its double-pedal bass drums and tremolo-style guitars, Pieslak writes, is a good way to prepare mentally for a mission, because it “sounds considerably like the consistent discharge of bullets fired from an automatic gun.” Colby Buzzell, an M240 Bravo machine gunner who did a yearlong tour in Iraq, told Pieslak, “I’d listen to Slayer to get all into it.” Once, Buzzell said, a guy on his patrol rigged up his MP3 player to a Humvee, and the patrol blasted theme songs from old movies—a modern-day drum-and-fife brigade. He said, “Sometimes your motivation is down and you’re like, ‘I don’t want to play soldier today.’ . . . But then you hear ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’ theme song and you’re like, ‘Fuck yeah, hell yeah, I’ll go out on a mission today.’ ” For some in the Fourth Infantry Division, Lil Jon’s “I Don’t Give a Fuck” was an anthem—soldiers called it their “getting crunked” song, and they would chant its refrain until they were ready to leave the base.

At the Borders store in the Time Warner Center on a recent afternoon, Pieslak said that in another unit “Metallica was the group of choice. Then, when they got to Falluja, it switched to ‘Go to Sleep,’ by Eminem: ‘Die, motherfucker, die! / Unh, time’s up, bitch, close ya eyes.’ ” Pieslak, wearing Pumas, a T-shirt, and camouflage cargo shorts (no significance—just “what was clean”), had agreed to poke around the music section. Passing Classic Crooners, New Age, and Jazz (“You’re probably not going to see too many guys over there with George Winston CDs,” he said), he led the way to Rock, where he riffled through the “D”s. Dropkick Murphys. Drowning Pool. “Their song ‘Bodies’ is interesting,” he said, pulling out a CD that featured a woman holding a hand across her face, the word “SINNER” written across her knuckles. “It kept popping up.” Soldiers would use it both to get pumped up for battle and “to induce irritation and frustration among detainees.” (The detainees, apparently, preferred ’N Sync and Michael Jackson.) Pieslak said that a group of soldiers had made a music video in which they set their own footage and photographs to the song. They called it “Taliban Bodies.” A pair of Arkansas National Guardsmen, Pieslak writes, recorded an album in Iraq. One track, with apologies to Jimmy Buffett, was called “Mortaritaville”: “Wasted away again in Baghdad / One weekend a month, yeah, my ass / I’d like to kick my recruiter straight square in the teeth / But I know, ‘It’s my own damn fault.’ ”

Music, Pieslak writes, has always been a part of the military experience, from training cadences (“Soldier, Soldier Have You Heard”) to battle cries (Joshua’s trumpets, “Hakkaa päälle”) and “thunder runs,” in which troops descend in force upon a given area (in Baghdad, one team blasted Wagner, in homage to “Apocalypse Now”). In the book’s fourth chapter, “Music as a Psychological Tactic,” Pieslak examines a “sonic battle” between American troops—who blasted “Welcome to the Jungle,” by Guns N’ Roses, and “Hell’s Bells,” by AC/DC—and Iraqi mullahs, who tried to drown out the metal with chants of “Allahu Akbar” and Arabic music. Standing near the “J”s, he said, “Plato thought that different musical scales could have different effects on the human condition. We tend to have a misconception about music—that it is this thing that delights the senses, elevates the spirit. While I like that idea, it is only part of what music has been.” ♦

Read more:
Friday, August 13, 2004


The News Tribune

It didn't get much media coverage, but troops from the Fort Lewis-based Stryker brigade say fighting last Wednesday in Mosul was the heaviest and most sustained combat they've seen in their nine months in Iraq.
Insurgents with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, AK-47s and improvised bombs fought a series of coordinated, running attacks against Stryker and Iraqi troops. One estimate put the number of attackers at 30 to 40, another at more than 100.
Either way, U.S. and Iraqi forces killed an undetermined number of them - the official estimate is at least a dozen - while suffering no losses themselves.
About a dozen Stryker troops were wounded; all but two returned to duty, said Lt. Col. Kevin Hyneman, the brigade's deputy commander.
The two more seriously wounded include Lt. Damon Armeni, 25, of Tacoma, a Wilson High School and Pacific Lutheran University graduate, who is reported in critical condition and is awaiting surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for shrapnel wounds, his family said Monday. There was no information available Monday about the other wounded soldier.
A soldier in Armeni's company - Blackhawk Company of the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment - said the lieutenant was injured by a rocket-propelled grenade blast after maneuvering his Stryker in to protect five infantrymen under fire.
"Needless to say, we are proud of our son's actions but hurt so very much for what he is going through, praying that he'll pull through," said his father, Dan Armeni.
In an interview Monday, Hyneman said the fighting took place on the east and west sides of the Tigris River, which bisects the city, and at a hotel near the northernmost of the city's five major bridges. The insurgents also attacked a hospital and a power plant, and ambushed Stryker convoys as they rolled past multistory buildings on the way to the fight, according to other sources.
Insurgents in Mosul typically attack Iraqi authorities and American troops with car bombs, sporadic mortar fire into U.S. camps and small-scale ambushes with small arms and RPGs.
"Anti-Iraqi forces tried a pretty widespread offensive action, uncharacteristically," Hyneman said. "I think they were surprised by how the Iraqi National Guard and the coalition fought together as a team."
The official version as reported that evening in a news release by Task Force Olympia, the Fort Lewis-based command for northern Iraq, said "multinational forces served in a supporting role, providing additional support where and when the Iraqi leaders involved in the attacks requested it."
Hyneman and the task force spokesman, Lt. Col. Paul Hastings, said the fighting drew in virtually all the troops in the brigade's two infantry battalions in Mosul, as well as elements from other brigade units in the city.
One soldier described what it was like on his Web log on the Internet. The soldier, who identifies himself as CBFTW, is attracting readers with his absorbing, personal account of Army life in Mosul.
"We were driving there on that main street, when all of the sudden all hell came down all around on us, all these guys wearing all black ... a couple dozen on each side of the street, on rooftops, alleys, edge of buildings, out of windows, everywhere just came out of ... nowhere and started firing RPGs and AK-47s at us," he wrote.
CBFTW described how a bullet passed in one side of his buddy's helmet and out the other without hitting his buddy - he suffered a concussion, is all.
"Bullets were pinging off our armor all over our vehicle, and you could hear multiple RPGs being fired and flying through the air and impacting all around us. All sorts of crazy insane Hollywood explosions ... going on all around us," he wrote. "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."
"My platoon was stuck right smack dab in the middle of the ambush and we were in the kill zone," CBFTW wrote. "We shot our way out of it and drove right through the ambush."
Hyneman said about a dozen Strykers were damaged, mostly the tires and some sections of slat armor that protects the vehicles from RPGs. All were repaired and returned to service within two days, he said.
Chaplains and mental health counselors were sent around to check with soldiers the next day.
CBFTW said he and his buddies also spent much of the next day cleaning up the brass shell casings out of their vehicle, fixing broken parts and cleaning their weapons.
"I discovered the remains of a smashed up impacted 7.62 (mm) bullet that had my name on it by my hatch. I put that in my pocket," he wrote. "If I ever have kids, and I get all old and have grandkids, I could show them the bullet that al-Qaida tried to kill me with. Have them bring that in for show and tell at school."

• To read CBFTW's account of last week's Stryker brigade battle in Mosul, go to
Thursday, August 12, 2004

Sniper Fire (?)

The other day, we went somewhere, and did something
Tuesday, August 10, 2004

I'm Soo Fucked

"These words I write to keep me from total madness."
-Charles Bukowski
Saturday, August 07, 2004

"Green" Gunner

I recieved an e-mail from B Abell Jurus, the author of the book Men In Green Faces, which is about Navy Seals in Vietnam, and she forwarded me an e-mail she recieved from Ed Fitzgerald, one of the Original Green Berets. He read my Men In Black blog entry, and said some really interesting things, and double taps on the confusion that happens in a situation like that. Check out what he said about the blog:

That "green" gunner captured vividly the total confusion, the terror of that situation he was suddenly thrown into. He shows us clearly something that is very true--the fact that in the middle of a firefight like that, you only can track about 1/40th of what is happening.(Maybe 1/10th of what is going on for the most experienced and coolest guyson the scene, those with many previous firefights). So often in fiction (and in the bullshit tales told by people who were never in a real firefight) we read these accounts where the "hero" both "sees" andtells you you step by step in minute detail every single thing that is taking place--in a situation where he could easily be killed or horribly maimed. Mostly, that's just crap. The way this guy described it (with all the warts--not sure what he is hitting most of the time, shooting too closeto his own men, etc.)--that is indeed how it is in a situation like that.
Too often, even in otherwise very well-written action books, there is no hint of that confused desperation which hits people when they are suddenly in it up to their eyebrows, with death or serious injury an all too real possibility. Loved the way that "green" gunner captured the reality of that kind of firefight--he nailed it right on the money. Ed
Thursday, August 05, 2004

Men In Black

Quote of the day: "I just want this day to end."