MAJ Bruhl has a rather interesting blog which explores specifically how milblogging effects public perception, how it can be best employed, and what policies should be implemented to do so. He seemed to be a bit taken aback when I previously described his blog as "semi-official." It is an important discussion, and a place to discuss it, even if I seem to be unable to post there.
Let me clarify that he has encouraged posting, to include myself in the discussion there, but the settings for blogger he currently uses and my own technological capabilities clash in a manner that set up a challenge to me commenting there. This is an issue on my end, not his, as far as I can ascertain, so please don't go flaming the good Major for squelching my speech. He's practically begging us to weigh in.
His discussions are important and we should weigh in, particularly Milbloggers, and particularly those bloggers still in the Military. I can't call his blog exciting, but it is important. The Majors of today are the Generals of tomorrow, well, some of them are.
I find it particularly interesting that his blog began
as a directive as part of a research project of the Air Command and Staff College. This means to me that someone above gets it on some level, they understand that milblogging is here and that it is important. Or as I was told on the range once: "You've got it, now you just have to figure out what to do with it." Now that they've realized the importance of MilBlogs and its effectiveness, they have to figure out how to use it.
Officers simply see things in a different light than do NCO's than do Privates. Officers need to hear
from NCO's and Privates and better understand what they think and how they think. Milblogs afford Officers an opportunity to sneak a peak into these thoughts, that they still may not understand.
Officers are often weary of the Troops acting like teenagers or publically embarrassing themselves and hence their command and the Military itself, but it is often the Commander as well as the Private that ends up chastised for the mistake. NCO's implement the policies, even when they disagree with them.
But the Troops will rise to the expectations of their leaders. If leaders expect the Troops to act maturely, they will. If the leaders treat the Troops like kids, they'll act like kids. In both cases, someone will break the rules, someone will screw the pooch, and someone will get in trouble, but it is a LOT easier to lead mature Troops empowered to make decisions and trusted to make decisions, that understand the boundaries, than kids that must be told when and what to do at every turn.
Milblogging is no exception to this and it has gone through several changes in command perception and policy. There was no such animal in Desert Storm or Kosovo. During Desert Storm, Troops were lucky to find a phone and I don't know of any Soldier that had a personal computer, even before deployment.
When Soldiers began blogging about Iraq and Afghanistan, the Military Command had a collective heart attack. The fear that Troops would violate OPSEC or embarrass the Military were realized with the advent of you tube videos by Jesse MacBeth and blogs by Beauchamp and the IVAW. Old rules concerning publication in "old media" were dusted off and the command scrambled for a way to save Soldiers from themselves by shutting down the "new media." Myspace and other sites were banned from access through a military server.
"Joe will find a way." And he did. Joe was as unhappy with the lies perpetuated against his honorable profession and service by frauds as was the command. "Joe" found Yahoo Answers, new services not yet banned, Typepad, Multiply, Facebook and other outlets to post anonymously the corrections. "Joe" found a work around, i.e. the posting of his work through Veteran surrogates, their Uncles, Cousins, Brothers, Sisters, and Fathers and Mothers who had either preceded them on the battlefield or supported their efforts. Our Viet Nam era brothers stepped up to defend Our Current Troops from the attacks of whacked out protestors.
"Joe" was tired of being misportrayed in the press and began telling the rest of the story. The Command began searching for OPSEC violations and was embarrassed to find that the official websites were biggest violators. "Joe" had a vested interest in his own safety and was much more careful about providing information that could be used against him than the Senior Command had believed likely.
Commanders should understand that there is often a collective grunt from the Troops following an OPSEC brief as they rehash the Press Release they know is pending about their unit being deployed in a 5W format. It seems to come on the heels of every OPSEC brief. "Joe" sees hypocrisy when he is told not to divulge the same information that the Command later posts in the regional press.
One part of maintaining OPSEC in MilBlogs is to prevent identification of to what unit the blogger is assigned, hence where he is assigned, hence what his duties are. This is achieved by a "pen name," i.e. anonymity. If "Joe Soldier," (a one time contributor here) were to blog about an operation he was on "somewhere in Iraq" or even "somewhere in Anbar," it would still be possible to research and dig in to find out who he was or where, but it would take a lot more work than if he listed those in his about page. Witnesses to the events and those knowledgeable of the person would likely figure out who he was but the casual reader and even the dedicated reader might not be able to recognize him even if they walked past him.
Further, it is important for the Troops to protect their families from potential threats. It is simply too easy in today's world of information and technology to take a few details and figure out where and who a person is. With Troops being on the front lines, their families are at risk not only from terrorism but from identity theft and criminals. There is no way that I would tell the world where my family was one less observer down or tell "Jody" where a lonely wife was. "Jody" and criminals are good enough at figuring those things out without my help. Hometown news releases already help them.
As the Military realized that "Joe" was telling the story in a positive light, that the American people were interested and positively effected by the personal and personable stories "Joe" was telling, the Command became more accepting of MilBlogs. Or perhaps they just realized that they couldn't stop it and hence were better off monitoring for blatant problems, such as the lying Beauchamp.
But what if Beauchamp had been telling the truth? What if he really had been walking around with a "skullcap" as a hat? Then the command would have been able to identify a serious issue and moved in to correct it. As it was a complete fabrication, it was the MilBloggers who first moved in to correct the problem, to correct the record. And it was only after the MilBlog backlash that the Military Command even realized the fictions of Beauchamp were out there.
The results of thousands of milbloggers on the few miscreants is somewhat akin to a verbal "blanket party." A blanket party occurs seldomly in today's Military but was in days past a "normal" part of and command accepted method Military Life. In those days, if one Soldier was screwing up and causing problems or potential problems for the unit, his comrades would sneak in under the cover of darkness, with full anonymity and physically remind the offending Soldier to correct his errant ways. Today, MilBlogs by anonymous Troops provide a written free speech blanket party to prove that Jesse MacBeth was no Ranger and had no part in Iraq.
And while the more recent accounts of MacBeth claim that he was the subject of a real blanket party of the highest magnitude and seriousness during his few short weeks of Basic Training (before he was kicked out), it is unlikely that he received even the most minor versions of what would be characterized by many as hazing and no longer accepted as a way to change the behaviors of errant Troops. He was indeed the subject (and continues to be) of the MilBlog blanket party.
And for good reason; he besmirched the character and slandered the good names and honor of Men better than himself, men of character, men that risked their lives in defense of this Nation and fighting for the freedom of others. MacBeth earned every swipe made against him by MilBloggers.
But to get back on topic, the official, the "semi-official," and the anonymous blogs of Troops all have their place. Commanders need to demonstrate some trust in their Soldiers but not direct them in what to type. As I've said in other places, if the Troops don't understand why they are serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, then that is a failure of the Chain of Command.
Commanders should understand the Mission and explain why it is important to the Troops who are risking their lives in far off lands. A Soldier doesn't have to agree with policies of the President or his Commander, but he does have to implement them. A Soldier doesn't have to agree with the reasons but to implement the policy, he must understand it. It is the Commander's responsibility to provide that understanding.
If that Commander cannot explain the Mission, then he needs to remove himself from that position. A Commander must understand not only the Missions he assigns, but the Missions assigned him and the intentions of the Commanders above him. He not only has to understand those Missions, but the intentions of those Missions.
And if the Commander has provided the Why then the Soldier will be able to communicate that without "talking points." The Soldier then need only be monitored for violations of policy rather than be dictated the subjects of discussion.
Words are much like bullets; once fired, they cannot be taken back. If they hit the wrong target, it may require medical care and triage. The Soldier may even require discipline or punishment for carelessness or wrongdoing. But the Commander can only control his own trigger and must trust his Troops to fire only at actual enemy. If the Commander requires permission before each bullet is fired, he puts his Troops at risk of death for the sake of complete control.
In conclusion, the Military needs to implement a "Rules of Engagement" type policy for Troops actively serving while blogging, but the Command must understand that Our Troops have earned their right to free speech hence the policy should be fairly liberal. It should not require topics, nor names, but rather restrict Soldiers from OPSEC violations and UCMJ violations.
It should respect the privacy of the individual Soldiers as well as that of their teammates and fellow Soldiers. It might restrict publication of APO addresses and be more restrictive of those that choose to publish their Name or Unit than those that do not, but it certainly should not attempt to require such publication.
And given that the Troops are dependent on the Military for lodging, communication, meals, and the basic necessities while in far off lands, the Military should restrict acccess only on government owned computers, not privately owned computers accessing government owned servers. When a Soldier is forced to live in an open barracks, certain rules must be implemented for sake of respect of fellow Soldiers, but when the situation allows for Troops to live in private or semi-private accomodations, the Command needs to remember that that is "their home," and that in either case, the Military is the landlord and "company store" out of necessity and "good of the service."
"Joe" is a Soldier, any Soldier, every Soldier. Joe is one Soldier and no particular Soldier. Joe has a tendency to bend the rules, break the rules, break things, and generally get himself in trouble. Joe complains but when he stops complaining, that is when things are seriously wrong. Generally speaking, Joe is a Private or Specialist.
(Not used) "Joe Proof" means something is unbreakable, but Joe will still find a way to break it, even though no civilian could do so.
"Jody" is Joe's nemesis. Jody is a sneaky little bastard trying to steal Joe's girl while Joe is gone. Jody may want her for one night or he may want to woo her away for life, but Jody will do anything to get her, including mowing the lawn and taking out the trash or buying her flowers and drinks.
Jody is behind many "Dear John" letters that Joe gets at all the wrong times. Both Joe and Jody live a life of risk and sometimes Joe is Jody.
"Blanket Party" is a term derived for covering the offending Soldier with a blanket in his bunk at night while his unknown and unnamed teammates use soap in socks to pummel his stomach. This was portrayed in the movie "Platoon" when "Joker" could not learn to adapt to military life. It had a high rate of success when all other methods of encouragement to reform had failed. At one time, this was an encouraged method of teaching valuable lessons to individuals that made life difficult for everyone, but can result in serious punishment in today's military.
"Rules of Engagement" provide the guidelines for when a Soldier should fire his weapon, and how to act in a combat zone. Examples include Somalia where the ROE stated that Soldiers could shoot ONLY when they were being shot at, but not until the enemy had first fired at them. This prevented our Troops from legally shooting militants that were aiming at them and even from shooting at militants that were attacking Somali civilians. Contrast this with the ROE under the Bush Administration that stated that "Soldiers always have the right to act in self-defense to protect the lives of themselves, their fellow Soldiers and unarmed civilians" but that an appropriate level of force would be used. In other words, deadly force could be used if deadly force was being threatened but it was not authorized if an Afghan civilian were beating his wife (though physical force and restraint might be warranted and authorized) with a closed fist.
Rules of Engagement differ depending on the Commanders understanding of the situation on the ground. A Soldier in Europe may not be authorized to carry weapons whereas a Soldier in Afghanistan may be required to sleep with a weapon in arm's reach and ready to engage enemy fighters.
NCO: Non-Commissioned Officer or Sergeant (Petty Officer in the Navy). These are the career Soldiers who started out as Privates and have learned from experience and been promoted to ever increasing responsibility. A Senior NCO is tasked with not only leading the Troops and training them, but also in training new Officers or Lieutenants/Ensigns fresh out of college.