Thursday, November 17, 2005


302: Strangers in a Strange Land

Show synopsis:
Someone once said, "if you're not willing to be changed by a place, there's no point in going." This week, stories about what happens when you land in a whole new world. We hear from including Colby Buzzell, reading from his war memoir, My War: Killing Time in Iraq, and Trueman Muhrer-Irwin who blogged under the name "Rebel Coyote." Broadcast the weekend of November 18-20 in most places.

Act Two. Johnny Get Your Mouse.

Lots of soldiers in Iraq are writing about their experiences online. Producer Amy O'Leary has read through dozens of them and talks about what the soldiers are writing. Then, we hear from three bloggers, reading their own journals, telling their stories from Iraq about the fighting, the locals, and why you subscribe to Details magazine. We hear from Captain Chuck Ziegenfuss, Trueman Muhrer-Irwin, and Colby Buzzell, who has recently compiled a book of his war writing called My War: Killing Time in Iraq. (32 minutes)
Monday, November 14, 2005

BANKSY: Artist of the Year

New article in Esquire.
Thursday, October 06, 2005


Earlier in the year I wrote two peices for Esquire magazine, Out now: The Making of the Twenty-First-Century Soldier, Part Three

"it's totally unlike any peice of nonfiction war writing I've ever seen. To find its literary ancestors, you'd have to go back to triumphs of comedic absudism like the novels MASH and Catch-22."
-David Granger
Esquire Editor in Cheif
Thursday, September 22, 2005

Newsweek Books

Updated: 8:21 p.m. PT Oct 27, 2006

Oct. 27, 2006 - Just one of the frightening things about Iraq is how fast the publishing industry has responded with a ballooning shelf of books on the war and related subjects. To help you cut through the chaff and get to the truly essential books on the subject, here’s a selection suggested by NEWSWEEK staffers.

My War: Killing Time in Iraq by Colby Buzzell (Putnam) A first-person account from a young soldier (and self admitted skate punk and wise ass) who was based in Mosul with a Stryker brigade. This book pulls together dispatches from Buzzell's blog, also called My War, which got him into a lot of trouble with Army superiors. A gritty, obnoxious and often hilarious account of what many soldiers go through on a daily basis in Iraq
Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Soldiers Weigh In on Iraq

September 17, 2005; Page P4

The Iraq War is coming to your local bookstore.

Readers who scooped up political fare last year are now being offered
accounts of the Iraq conflict by soldiers who were recently on the

Their memoirs offer a range of experience and perspective on the war, from
reformed slacker Colby Buzzell, who worries there's no end in sight, to
Dartmouth alumnus Nathaniel C. Fick, who sees peace on the horizon if more
troops are mobilized.

The tone in each is blunt. "The world hears war stories told by reporters
and retired generals who keep extensive notebooks and journals," writes
former National Guardsman John Crawford. "They carry pens as they walk,
whereas I carried a machine gun."

Publishers say these soldier memoirs complement books penned by journalists
about the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. "They put you further inside the
soldier's head and tell you what it's like to shoot at somebody, what it's
like to be shot at, and how they got there," says Ivan Held, president of
G.P. Putnam's Sons. "These books take you into Iraq and give you a
first-hand look."

Part of the appeal of the new battlefield memoirs is that they feature
ordinary people performing in extraordinary ways under pressure. "There are
significant numbers of readers out there who want to know what the
experience is really like," says David Steinberger, CEO of Perseus Books
LLC, a unit of Washington private-equity firm Perseus LLC.

These authors are little-known, but their stories are extraordinary. Below,
culled from interviews with five new writers, are descriptions of their
books and a taste of what they contain.


THE BOOK: "My War: Killing Time in Iraq," publishing in October.
The Author: A 26-year-old slacker feeling that life was passing him by,
Colby Buzzell was rejected by the Marines. He waited a couple of weeks to
ensure that he could pass an Army drug test.
The Plot: The inside story as told by Everyman. Mr. Buzzell arrived in Iraq
November 2003 and left the following October.
Behind the Scenes: In his eighth month in Iraq, Mr. Buzzell, now 29, started
Worst Moment: Getting his first leave canceled.
Take on the War: Mr. Buzzell is concerned that there is no end in sight.
"What is winning? Is it winning the global war on terrorism? Eliminating all
the insurgents in Iraq?"
Sunday, September 18, 2005

Library Journal Review

At age 25, Buzzell had already led a life that embraced alcohol, drugs, a minor criminal record, and a series of dead-end jobs. Enlisting in the U.S. Army, he set his focus on "Being All That You Can Be" as an infantryman, spending most of 2003 in Iraq assigned to the Stryker Brigade Combat Team. He began sharing his experiences through a blog, thus providing more truth than CNN or the army could or would. Here, Buzzell cleverly prepares a text that is part memoir, part diary entries, and part email messages. War veterans will understand the episodic nature of his narrative, the confusion of described battle, the brutality of his life, and the rawness of his prose. With Buzzell's return to the States and the close of an effective soldier's life, neither he nor the reader is sure that he has not come full circle and returned to his civilian life of loss. Recommended for public libraries.
Tuesday, September 06, 2005


US soldiers' Iraq books show humor, horror and anger
Sep 22, 2005 — By Claudia Parsons

Exerts from article:

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Journalists, generals, historians, Iraqis and a former hostage have told their stories about Iraq, but now more than two years after American troops invaded, the flood of books by U.S. soldiers has arrived.

From Roman emperor Julius Caesar to World War I poets, soldiers have written books, poems, diaries and letters home

Colby Buzzell recalls in "My War: Killing Time in Iraq" (published on October 20 by Putnam) how a recruiter gave him tips on passing a drugs test to enter the military.

...he is candid about soldiers' reactions to war: "I've developed that really disturbing, warped, sick war humor about everything," he writes in an August 2004 blog entry which appears in his book, describing how a gruesome photograph of a dead Iraqi prompted laughter.


His book also juxtaposes his own confused account of a dramatic clash with insurgents in Mosul with a CNN report and a military statement about the same event —the latter both dry and with no hint of the severity and extent of the fighting.

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

Buzzell said he was never punished for what he wrote, though he was "counseled" several times, and he made a point of changing names and details to avoid endangering other U.S. forces by giving away their tactics or location.

"A lot of my chain of command had never even heard of a blog," Buzzell told Reuters. "They were a little nervous about it … they didn't know quite how to handle it."

Buzzell said going to Iraq was the best thing he had ever done. "I do believe we were doing a lot of good but ... I have a lot of questions about what we're doing," he said.

'My War' -- a soldier's wild ride

by C.W. Nevius
San Francisco Chronicle

To say that Colby Buzzell was at loose ends when he left high school is an affront to the concept of loose ends.

At 26, he sat down and wrote out a list of the jobs he'd held: "flower delivery guy, valet guy, cash register at Orchard Supply guy, car washer guy, gift shop sales guy, telemarketing guy, 7-Eleven guy, record store guy, towel guy at the gym guy, and I worked seasonally at Toys 'R' Us."

"And that's not even a complete list," he said in a phone interview last week.

So it will be a bit of a surprise to his high school buddies to learn that he has a book -- "My War: Killing Time in Iraq" -- coming out Oct. 20. Even bigger if you add that he's working with a major publisher (Putnam) and that literary lion Kurt Vonnegut calls the book "... nothing less than the soul of an extremely interesting human being at war ..."

Good luck trying to figure it all out. Buzzell is still trying to decide if he is thrilled or mystified.

"I don't know what to make out of all of it," Buzzell says. "It just sort of happened. I'm just going to jump on the ride for a while."

The simple explanation is that one day Buzzell was sitting on a bar stool and the next he was behind an M240 Bravo machine gun in Iraq. Somewhere along the way he went over to the Internet café at his Army base camp in Mosul and posted his experiences on a blog.

And then all hell broke loose.

Buzzell's blog was discovered, and word spread. His blog began to get as many as 10,000 hits a day. His Army commanding officers began to take an interest, unable to decide if he was telling it like it was or undermining the American effort.
But by then, he was a sensation, and controlling his blog was proving to be very difficult. Interview requests began to come in from PBS and the Wall Street Journal. Pretty impressive for someone who wasn't clear on exactly where his words went when he shipped them out on the World Wide Web.

"I had never even heard the word, blog, before," he says now. "I didn't tell my parents about it because I was swearing and cussing and stuff and I didn't want them to trip out."

Buzzell's entries, which form the basis for his book, have moments that are too surreal to be anything but true. When his platoon drives up to a mosque in Mosul and they start to take fire, everyone opens up with automatic weapons -- except for the guys who pull out their new digital cameras for some authentic photos of combat. With the mosque covered in a cloud of dust kicked up from hundreds of rounds of fire, Buzzell looks over to see a machine-gunner "hysterically throwing up the heavy-metal devil horn hand signal like it was an Ozzy Osbourne concert."

But the centerpiece, called "Men in Black," is vivid enough to make you smell the gunpowder -- and the fear. Buzzell starts with a copy of the three paragraph wire service account of a "clash" between American troops and Iraqi insurgents. Then he says, "Now here's what really happened."

The account of the firefight that follows has become an Internet cult classic, linked and passed from reader to reader. It was eventually published in Esquire magazine and turned out to be the perfect pitch for a book deal. Not that he had anything like that in mind when he came back from the patrol, still amped.
"I didn't even think what I was doing," Buzzell says. "I remember I sat down and I closed my eyes for a second and then I thought, 'just go from the beginning.' The words just poured out. I couldn't type fast enough. I finished, posted up the blog, walked out, lit up a cigarette and had no idea what I had done."

Again the Army had conflicted feelings. Some of his commanding officers thought he'd captured the events to perfection and was providing a service. Some, even higher up, were uneasy.

His battalion commander, Lt. Col. Buck James, wrote in an e-mail that is quoted in the book that there was an inquiry "to determine if there was a breach of operational security anywhere in his blog."

Buzzell, no fool, got the message and eventually took down the blog and the "Men in Black" entry on his own.

"It was getting really crazy," he says now. "I was getting hammered with hundreds and hundreds of e-mails. It was a little overwhelming. I didn't join the Army to cause problems."

"My War" has bits like "Men in Black," but it isn't a print version of TV's "Over There." (Buzzell, by the way, watched one episode of the FX channel's show and hated it.) Beneath the layer of bravado and dust is the story of a young guy who was lost and looking for something to change his life.

"They say war is the great adventure," Buzzell says. "I just wanted to go on the great adventure. I thought I'll join the Army and if nothing else I can say I did something."

You have to wonder how many Colby Buzzell's there are, a lost generation of kids who don't buy into the route to college and no longer see the honor in a blue-collar job. Buzzell was a lost soul, waiting for a thunderbolt to blast him out of his dead-end existence. To his astonishment, it happened.

Today, he is well aware of how many writers struggle to get their work published and are unable to find an outlet. And here he is thinking about a book tour and a national release of his first effort.

"I guess," he shrugs, "the trick is not to try."
Monday, August 22, 2005

The New Ernie Pyles

By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 12, 2005; Page A01

At least one former military blogger, however, is channeling the publicity his blog earned in Iraq into a new career. Colby Buzzell, a soldier who during his 12-month tour of duty started a blog called "My War" ( , which stands for his initials plus an antiwar epithet), was eight months into his deployment when he read a magazine article about blogs and decided to give it a try. Within weeks, he said, his blog was receiving thousands of hits a day, and literary agents began peddling their services.

"It all happened at an alarming rate, basically overnight, after I wrote about a firefight. I have no idea how the heck people found out about it, they just did," said Buzzell, who got out of the military six months ago.

His book about his time in Iraq comes out in October. He has also written two articles for Esquire magazine. Now 29 and living in Los Angeles, he called blogging from the war zone "therapeutic."

"You go out on a mission or patrol, come back and sit down at a computer, and it was kind of a release," he said in a telephone interview. "I wasn't writing for a book deal, I was writing for myself. It was a way to deal with the madness and made the days go by a little faster."

Soldiers' Web sites vary from multimedia presentations of digital photos and videos to simple text written in journal form. Many bloggers say they do it to keep friends and family up to date or to counter what they consider the biases of the mainstream media.
Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Battle Blogs: My Life in Combat
Fed up with the coverage in Iraq, soldiers are penning their own blogs. Hollywood can't be far behind.

By Tara Pepper
Newsweek International

Dec. 5, 2005 issue - Colby Buzzell had spent nearly nine months as a U.S. infantry soldier based in Mosul, Iraq, when his battalion was involved in a ferocious gun battle that engulfed the city. Scrolling through news Web sites the next day, Buzzell found just four brief paragraphs about the siege on CNN, highlighting that Mosul would soon return to normal. The report, he said, looked like it had been lifted straight from a press release. Amazed, Buzzell copied the CNN report into the top of a blog entry, then began an 8,000-word essay describing the horror of what had happened that day. "I cannot put into words how scared I was ... My [platoon] was stuck right smack dab in the middle of the ambush ... We shot our way out of it and drove right through the ambush. The street we were driving down to escape, had 3 to 4 story high buildings all along each side, as we were driving away all you could see were 100's and 100's of bullets impacting all over these buildings." Word started to spread after that Aug. 4, 2004, entry, called "Men in Black," and soon Buzzell's two- month-old Web diary was getting 10,000 hits a day. And his wasn't the only one. Over the past year, the number of soldiers writing Internet diaries of their war experiences has mushroomed, with hundreds of eyewitness accounts transforming what we know about the war and undermining the efforts of the Pentagon and White House to manage information about the conflict. Buzzell's new book, "My War: Killing Time in Iraq," based on his blog, is one of nearly a dozen snapped up by publishers and released this fall. More are on the way. Over the past year, the U.S. Endowment for the Arts held writing workshops for returning soldiers and collected stories from 1,700 troops, some of which will be published in an anthology next year.

Since the Iliad, the heightened emotion of war and the compelling battlefield themes of courage, loyalty and comradeship have inspired great reportage. Journalists like Edward R. Murrow built their careers on eyewitness dispatches from the front. But soldiers themselves rarely wrote about their experiences. When they did, their accounts—like Anthony Swofford's best-selling "Jarhead," about the first Gulf War, recently released as a feature film starring Jake Gyllenhaal—were not published until years after the conflict. Now soldiers log accounts with gunshots still ringing in their ears; their stories hit bookstores while the conflict is still in the news. "You're getting an immediate, unedited take, a very raw feed of what's going on," says Mark Glaser, a columnist at the Online Journalism Review. "And you're not getting a journalist's report, you're seeing the personal aspect of it. That can't be overstated. It resonates with people."

Like Buzzell, many bloggers were inspired to provide a fresh perspective on the war because they found mainstream media reports inadequate. Writer Michael Yon went to Iraq in January 2005, after seeing a discrepancy between what he heard from soldier friends, and what he read in the newspapers. Speaking on the phone from Iraq, Yon says that since reporters often dip in and out of the country, they miss slower, more profound changes. "I've stayed long enough to see patterns [of interaction] emerge," says Yon. Nonetheless, Glaser cautions that, as many bloggers air their personal complaints anonymously, news consumers should be wary. "You have to read [the blog] on a regular basis, correspond with the blogger and learn who you can trust."
As the popularity of soldiers' blogs grows, the U.S. Army is keeping a close eye on this new information channel. Buzzell's "Men in Black" entry was later published in Esquire magazine, and became the pitch for his current book. But his blog also won him an official warning for compromising operations security.

Future entries, he was told, would have to be read and cleared by a platoon sergeant. "In this day and age where the enemy can get a great deal of information through open sources, commanders need to do everything they can to safeguard their information because lives and missions are at stake," explained Department of Defense spokesperson Lt. Col. Chris Conway. Despite the dangers, says Glaser, "military bloggers are offering a view that I don't think we've ever had of warbefore." And from these fresh-from-combat narratives, a Homer or a Hemingway might emerge for the Internet age.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Army Times

Blogs of War
March 04, 2005

Soldiers are trying to make sure their version of the truth from Iraq gets out.

Even though for many, that truth doesn’t include revealing their identities, their online diaries are becoming an increasingly popular way for anyone with an Internet connection to “listen in” on the war zone.

Blogs provide a vehicle for soldiers to speak their minds and tell their personal stories. But the information medium also poses new dangers that the Army is still trying to come to terms with.

Some soldiers have found that blogging can have great benefits, and others have discovered the hard way that there can be consequences for posting things their commanders don’t approve of. Nonetheless, the number of soldiers who blog continues to grow.

Read more about the military blogosphere in the March 14 issue of Army Times.

Here are links to some of the most-read, military-related blogs:

My War: Killing Time in Iraq

A site often credited with jump-starting the “MilBlog revolution.” Colby Buzzell, who recently left the Army as a specialist, built a fan base that ranges from soccer moms and truck drivers to Jello Biafra, the leader of a punk band called The Dead Kennedys. His uncomplicated accounts of his time in Iraq continue to garner him attention as he works on a book due out in the fall. Esquire Magazine wrote of Buzzell’s work: “The most extraordinary writing yet produced by a soldier of the Iraq war.”
Thursday, May 12, 2005

USA Today, today.

'Milbloggers' are typing their place in history
By Mark Memmott, USA TODAY

Imagine some of the soldiers who survived the Battle of Gettysburg stopping the next day to write their dramatic tales — and people around the world instantly reading them. If that battle had been fought today, no imagination would be necessary.
The number of Internet Web logs — or "blogs," as online diaries are known — by American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan is soaring, giving people everywhere unprecedented windows into servicemembers' lives.
From 50 or so a year ago, the number of their online journals is now about 200 and is expected to be near 1,000 by the year's end, say the bloggers themselves and experts who track the Web.
The growth means a historic phenomenon is gaining momentum: Anyone with access to the Internet can read many first-hand accounts of life in a war zone within seconds after they're finished.
And the blogs are "full of real substance and depth," says Jon Peede, director of the National Endowment for the Arts' Operation Homecoming program, which helps troops and their families write about their wartime experiences. "They're raw, powerful reflections on the war."
They also could be among a troop's last words. At least one "soldier blogger," Army Spc. Francisco G. Martinez, has been killed in action.

From the front lines
Many of the stories troops tell in the blogs are about everyday life at their bases. But some also show how terrifying, confusing and chaotic battle can be. Among the most gripping stories told so far: Army Spc. Colby Buzzell's Aug. 5, 2004, account in his blog My War of a battle in Mosul, Iraq, the day before. "I saw 2 guys creeping around this corner ... (and) hiding behind a stack of truck tires," he wrote. "I saw another guy come out of that corner with an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) in his hands. I freaked ... I gathered my composure as fast as I could, put the cross hairs (of a gun) on them and engaged them. ... I didn't see anybody move from behind those tires after that."

Buzzell is now home in Brooklyn, N.Y. He says the number of people reading My War, which he'd only started a few weeks before that entry and was writing anonymously as "cbftw," soared to several thousand a day after that account.
About a month later, he was done blogging. Commanders had figured out who the writer was and ordered him to have his entries reviewed by an officer before he posted them. There was some concern his detailed reports might have divulged too much information about Army tactics. Buzzell stopped blogging and removed most of his stories from the site.
But his writing hasn't disappeared. Since being discharged in December, Buzzell has published two stories about his experiences in Esquire magazine. G.P. Putnam's Sons will publish a book by Buzzell, also about his experiences, this fall.

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.”
Monday, January 24, 2005

Private Murphy

Here are a couple cartoons that artist Mark Baker e-mailed to me which he said was inspired by this blog, for his Pvt Murphy's Law comic.