Frustrated by the media's coverage of the war in Iraq, which they felt left out the good and instead focused on grim body counts and gory car bombings, two brothers from Texas decided to put out the message they thought wasn't getting through in the form of a blog, TankerBrothers.com.
"Master Gunner" and his younger brother "Cav Tanker," who prefer not to use their real names, are two soldiers from Texas serving in tank divisions in the U.S. Army and running one of the hundreds of military blogs, or milblogs, maintained by service men and women.
The blogs offer people back home a view of the war zone through the soldiers' eyes. For Master Gunner, the milblog movement is a vital tool in keeping the public accurately informed.
"After every war, we celebrate the letters and words of American soldiers sent back to their families," he wrote in an e-mail. "Movies and documentaries are made about them. This is the first war where you can see our thoughts and words right in front of you, in near real-time. You can read about the schools we helped open last week or the graduation of hundreds of Iraqi policemen that we'll patrol with. And you can read it from the words of the guys that are right there."
But while the blogs serve an important public relations function, they also represent a source of great concern for the Army. Fearful of operational security, or OPSEC, violations that could even inadvertently disseminate sensitive information to the enemy, the Pentagon has ordered some blogs to shut down and other milbloggers are calling it quits for fear their sites might get them in trouble.
Ten members of the Virginia National Guard have a new mission: keeping an eye on their peers. Under the banner of the World War I warning, "Loose Lips Sink Ships," the team's job is to monitor milblogs.
Under the direction of the Army Web Risk Assessment Cell, Army Office of Information Assurance and Compliance, the team scans the blogs for classified or sensitive information that could put soldiers' lives at risk and jeopardize military missions on the ground.
"This is a real fumble on the one-yard line -- the military is really shooting themselves in the foot," said Noah Shachtman, editor-in-chief of DefenseTech.org. "Rumsfeld is complaining that the American media doesn't' get enough positive stories out about Iraq. But here you have 150,000 soldiers, most of whom are very positive about their mission, think they're doing good work and most would like to talk about that further."
But a spokesperson for the Army says that while commanding officers in theaters of war around the world may choose to tighten some restrictions on these blogs for soldiers under their command, there is no overarching push to censor the milblogs or prevent them from being read.
"We do understand that the blogs are a way for soldiers to contact families, to document some of their experiences and we're not doing anything on the Amy level to discourage that," said Eric Horin, a spokesperson for the Army. "But a soldier could be posting what he thinks is a very innocuous picture, but something in the background may show the enemy a vulnerability."
Master Gunner says the rules are pretty clear for soldiers who want to blog. In an interview with The Associated Press, he offered up this list of questions he asks himself before posting anything to his site: