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November 11, 2005
A Brief History of MilBlogsBy Greyhawk
Veteran's Day 2005 marks the second anniversary of the formation of the MilBlogs Ring, a group that has since had over 500 members join (some, unfortunately, no longer online). For good or bad, the past two years has seen an explosion in first-person accounts of life on the front lines and life on the home front told by those who live it. Besides that notable contribution, in just a few years time military bloggers - whether a part of the ring or not - have helped raise funds for Iraqi children and wounded veterans alike, brought attention to efforts to support the troops, inspired songs, helped launch film projects, and signed book deals.
Still, most simply want to tell the story of their war. But by design or happenstance, in doing so they've written their part of the history of these times, documenting a war that many feel the traditional media has failed to capture, denying others the opportunity to speak falsely "for the troops" without concern of being exposed.
None of that has come without controversy. As the military struggles with the idea of open and instant communication from the battlefield the number of milbloggers choosing to shut down their sites is growing almost as swiftly as the number of those starting new ones. As might be expected, the Army's scrutiny of the bloggers in their midst has resulted in attention to them from other sources - media coverage of milblogs has exploded worldwide.
This Veteran's Day seems an appropriate time to begin documenting the history of the milblogs. I'm proud to have played a part in the above story, but although I was on the scene fairly early Mudville was by no means the first. Several got started before me, and two of those fine folks recently took some time out to help me set the record straight. Sgt Mom of The Daily Brief - the first widely read milblog (originally known as "Sgt Stryker's Daily Brief"), and Smash from Citizen Smash, the first widely read milblog from the war zone (then known as "LT Smash"), graciously contributed their stories to launch this effort.
This is just the start. This history will grow, and will find it's place on the original milblogs page - the page linked via the milblogs banner by every member of the ring. If you're a milblogger, I'll be contacting you.
More about that later, for now, here's Sgt Mom on the early days of The Daily Brief:
Sgt Stryker did an interview about how he got started; basically, he was a Star Wars geek, and liked to play around with the up and coming thing, and after 9/11 got so annoyed with the way the military was portrayed in the media, that he began blogging about it.
Like I said, it was initially supposed to be about Star Wars, but after September 11th, it changed. I was disappointed by the media coverage, and especially the opinion I was hearing, because it seemed anachronistic compared to what had just happened. As I was surfing the web, I happened upon Instapundit. I figured I could do what he was doing, so my blog changed from a Star Wars geek site to Sgt. Stryker's Daily Briefing. I created Stryker to be a purposefully over-the-top character reminiscent of a few people I had seen on Usenet and in the movies. I thought most people would get the joke (and they did), but some actually took it seriously. They didn't realize that the whole Stryker persona was intentionally made to make fun of the mouth-breather types in the military who couldn't rub two brain cells together to spark the fire of intellect. Given that, the content of what I was saying was close to what I actually felt, because I was angry and disappointed at how these professional opinion people, and the media itself, kept going through the same motions as if nothing had happened.Four years--- it makes it seem like ancient history, doesn't it?
I've only been in it for three years, and I am not a techno geek, in the least. Computers and the internet are tools for me. I'm a writer, with a background in public affairs, (and a total news junkie); I use the tools available. I didn't even know about blogging, or usenet or any of the other internet fora. I started going to the internet for news on 9/11. I spent all day at work reading the updated postings at Slate and Salon, and wandering amongst the comment threads. I started to notice that the Slate "fray" took about six comments before descending into name-calling, inanity or just plain insanity. I think there was a regular commenter who I really thought to be insightful, and he posted that he was starting his own web log, and gave a link... which led to Instapundit...which had Stryker on his blogroll... which I began reading because he was as funny as hell, and wrote about all the stuff that I had put up with for 20 years. After I had been following for a couple of months, Stryker put out an audition call early in August 2002, and I posted for the first time on 8/16/2002. Sparkey, Lionel Mandrake (who already had a blog, and still does) Grognard and a couple of others signed on. Kevin Connors liked my nostalgia stuff about growing up in California, and he asked to be a contributor, six or eight months after that. I looked back in the archives, at who was on our blogroll then as a military blog: DavidMSC, Citizen Smash, Lionel Mandrake (now at Across the Atlantic) and Weck Up To Thees (Fusilier-Pundit).
I carry on with it, because I think the military world has been too insulated from the various media and political elites, and the larger American scene is too damn ignorant about what the military is like. Do you remember what it was like to be in the military in the mid-80ies--- it was like we were freaking invisible. It was even worse in the 1970ies. Ah, well, I think we're making a difference, now!
Anyone who's been around the blogosphere a while needs no introduction to Citizen Smash. In the weeks leading up to the invasion of Iraq and for quite a while thereafter he was the information pipeline for those who were plugged in to blogs. Take it away, Smash:
Was I the first? No. Sgt. Stryker's Daily Briefing was around long before "LT SMASH." There were others, as well.
I haven't verified this, but I've heard that others were blogging from Afghanistan as early as 2002. Military LiveJournals have been around for a while. And before the blogging explosion, many military folks had simple do-it-yourself personal websites.
Prior to that, mass e-mails were circulated. I had a mailing list that included about 25 people when I served on the Nimitz '97-'98. My father forwarded my messages to probably 50 or so of his active duty friends, and they made the rounds at the Pentagon.
So it's not really a new thing, so much as an evolution of publishing technology. But I think LT SMASH was the first widely-read blog from a war zone -- which is somewhat ironic, because I was really "back in the rear with the gear." Yeah, we had some close calls with a few Iraqi missiles, but basically we had it pretty easy where I was living.
Here's a basic outline of how I got started. I discovered the world of blogging via Glenn Reynold's "Instapundit" in May of 2002, while surfing through some Internet bulletin boards. I immediately thought, "what a cool site!" Which was quickly followed by, "Hey, I could do this!"
With some help from my wife, we launched "The Indepundit" in June, 2002. It enjoyed a moderate degree of popularity, maybe 500 readers per day. I got a big boost early on when I broke a story about Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney receiving a big influx of campaign contributions on 9/11. But I mostly avoided mentioning my affiliation with the Navy Reserves.
Around November of that year, we started hearing rumors that my unit might get mobilized for an overseas mission. Of course, we all knew that meant we were getting geared up for a possible invasion in Iraq, but nobody said as much in public -- and I certainly didn't mention it on my blog.
We got word in early December that we would be receiving orders soon. A fellow military blogger, Kevin of "Primary Main Objective," volunteered to join our unit for the deployment, but we didn't have an open billet for him.
Kevin and I did talk, however, about whether we should continue our blogs if we went on deployment. There were obvious OPSEC issues, of course. I had to be particularly circumspect, as our unit's primary mission was anti-terrorism, and I didn't want any terrorists to be able to use my blog as an intelligence asset to plan a strike against the port we would be protecting. But I had been blogging for six months under my real name, so I was faced with a real dilemma.
When the orders to mobilize came down, I decided to put "The Indepundit" on hiatus. My "farewell post" made no mention that I was being mobilized, but only hinted at it in a very subtle way:
"MY EMPLOYER has offered me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take on a leadership role in a major international venture. This project would bring a significant increase in pay and benefits, but would also involve incredibly long working hours and extensive travel; in other words, I would be 'living out of my luggage' for the next several months."
The entire post can be found here:
Surprisingly, the only person who guessed what was going on was Meryl Yourish. She would later become my primary "confidential" lifeline to the blogging world.
Within a few days of learning that we definitely would be mobilized, we had a new site up and running. I kept it basic, for a quick upload. I stole the name "L.T. SMASH" from a Simpsons episode, featuring an unscrupulous Navy recruiter/musical producer who sticks subliminal messages into the tracks of a boy-band fronted by Bart.
Once I got into the Sandbox, however, I ran into a sticky problem: extremely limited Internet access. For the first month, I basically had nothing. Then we set up a headquarters building, where I was able to piggy-back off of their network drops.
Since the military didn't have any regulations that specifically addressed blogs, I decided to set up my own very strict guidelines. I didn't use real names. I didn't name my unit, describe our mission, or even say what branch of the service I was in. I didn't say what country I was in, although it wasn't hard to guess. Mostly, I wrote about day-to-day life in a military camp.
My "fame" happened very quickly. I sent a note to Meryl, saying that my new blog was up and running. Glenn saw the post at Meryl's site, and linked to me. He was quickly followed by CNN, MSNBC, Reuters, the Washington Post, Time, etc. Rush Limbaugh crashed the server -- over 200,000 hits in a single day.
It was, in a word, unreal.
Most people assumed that I was a Marine. I refused to answer requests for more information about myself, and would not talk to the media at all. From this, some people accused me of being a fraud, perhaps in an effort to get more information about my identity. I didn't bite.
Early on, my Dad told me that Mom worried when I didn't post for a day or two, so I promised him that I would post every day, if I could. That helped to keep my readership up, and my popularity high. Sometimes I only had time for a couple of lines, but that was usually enough to keep them coming back.
Eventually, things calmed down for me when I moved from a watch officer position to a staff job. Then I was able to really start writing longer stuff. Blogging was a good way for me to maintain a lifeline with the world back home.
It wasn't long before other people started following my lead. Some of them were less careful about violating OPSEC, and got shut down rather abruptly. But most managed to walk the fine line between telling a good story and giving away valuable information.
When I came home, I decided to keep the "SMASH" persona, but go back to my old "Indepundit" format. Thus, "Citizen SMASH" was conceived.
Thanks again to Smash and Sgt Mom - two trailblazers who still lead the way.
Andrew Olmsted, 19 Mar 2003, Stateside: It would appear that the liberation of Iraq has begun.
Greyhawk, 18 Mar 2003, Germany: A united world could have, just maybe, brought down Saddam without firing a shot. We will never know. 19 Mar: We'll never know what a united world could have achieved... the UN could not agree on anything, the situation degenerated, and here we are. Status quo was not working. The French were too desperate for oil and trade at any cost. Well-intentioned Americans were led into the streets by Communists (and others) with an agenda. The media distorted the split. Many in America and abroad thought they could manipulate the situation to their personal gain. They miscalculated. The fire is lit.
Pontifx ex Machina, 18 Mar, undisclosed location: Rolling out the gate, the guard gets a quick "hook-em, horns" sign as we weave through the barricades. Then we're off, cruising through the desert in a battered-up SUV. On the eve of war, only one thing passes through our minds: is there going to be any appropriate music on the radio?
Lt Smash, 19 Mar, undisclosed location: Read the President's speech today. The clock is ticking.
Chief Wiggles, 22 Mar, Kuwait: The war started Wednesday morning for us right after the president gave a speech to the American people that lasted about 4 minutes. We were all very anxious for this whole thing to be either over or get it on its way.
Will, 22 Mar, en route: I am going to Baghdad to personally shoot that paper hanging son of a bitch!
Lt Smash 20 Mar, undisclosed location:
Sgt Stryker, 20 Mar, Stateside: Iraq to File U.N. Complaint About Attack
Primary Main Objective, 30 Mar, undisclosed location I Dare Kofi to Come Get Me.
(The following tribute to deployed milbloggers from the first year of OIF was originally posted in August, 2004. Some may have since vanished from the web.)
The Ghost Battalions
A reminder found while housecleaning the blog this weekend: Just Another Soldier. Interesting in light of this week's discussion on the fate of military blogs in general.
Closing Blogs is nothing new. So many site's owners just give up on their own. They come and go, you know, these MilBloggers do. Like any other sort of blogger. Many post in the lonely down hours far from home, spill their guts for the world, then abandon their spots when the tour of duty is up. They have lives again somewhere in the world, and no need to share the details. So it goes.
Many are truly gone - no site left at all. "The page cannot be found." Other blogs remain, like abandoned defensive positions in shifting desert sands. Once some bold soldier was here, now no more. The ghost battalions of the web. How you doin', Major Pain? And look, here was Thor. And here stood Moja. Farewell, Will.
They are more than the thoughts they left behind, but now only those orphaned thoughts remain, left for any to see. Museum pieces, like tombs, offering something to the scholar or the scavenger, or enjoyed in passing by the casual traveler.
Zeros and ones you know. On one level that's all they ever were. Enjoy them while you can.
(The following acknowledgement of the earliest members of the MilBlogs Ring is from April, 2005. Some may have since joined the Ghost Battalions... or vanished altogether.)
The First Platoon
Looking back at the earliest days (and by the way, we're still in the early days) I'm happy to note the number of folks who are still going at it. I tend to focus on new blogs and newly deployed bloggers here these days, but I want to take a minute and acknowledge the early adopters that made the MilBlogs Ring what it is today. The Ring started on Veteran's Day 2003 - and now without further ado, here's the gang that joined in the first month of ops (and who continue blogging to this day):
Chromedomezone (hurry - going fast!)
Countercolumn (formerly Iraq Now)
All in all, a pretty good start. Thanks gang.
As noted, this is a growing document. If you're a milblogger you're invited to contribute - whether you're in the ring or not, you've already earned your way into history. Send me your blog's name, date began, and what blogs inspired you to begin. Tell us where you've been; Iraq, Afghanistan, elsewhere - especially if you've blogged from there. Include a couple links to posts that you think best represent your work. Format it all in an html pragraph or two - it will be my pleasure to add it here.
Posted by Greyhawk / November 11, 2005 8:39 PM | Permalink
Greyhawk at Mudville Gazette has marked the 2nd anniversary of the MilBlogs Ring by posting "A Brief History of MilBlogs". I joined the Ring back in April, which surprisingly puts me in the "oldest" half of the current members. Read More
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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