Military Blogger Speaks His Mind

ByABC News

Oct. 31, 2006 — -- There are hundreds of blogs maintained by U.S. soldiers in the world's war zones known as milblogs.

As the military works hard to ensure that service men and women have the ability to express themselves in this way, it's also a concern that sensitive or classified information could inadvertently be disseminated to the enemy.

Finding a balance between the two isn't always easy, and Army policies about milblogs have generated some strong opinions from those who think they're too restrictive and those who think they're an absolute necessity.

Here's an interview with "Master Gunner," an armored cavalryman and one of the two brothers who run and blog on TankBrothers.com:

Interviewer: Why and how did you start TankerBrothers.com?

Master Gunner: We started Tanker Brothers back when we were deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom 2. It was right around the 2004 elections, and we were starting to get a little concerned that the American public was starting to show a drop in morale for the War effort, while soldiers' morale was way up. We saw the mainstream media starting to look the other way when we had good news to report to the American Public, but literally jump on any "bad news." The part that really set me off was the morbid "count" of American casualties. The Associated Press, in particular, would give daily updates on how many soldiers we were away from a set milestone. 1000, 1500, 2000, etc. … We saw what happened to our Dad back in Vietnam, and that led to his request for a second tour. He told us: "At least in Vietnam, you could shoot the people that were trying to get you killed." We have some of the same factors in common with that war: a hostile media, a rabid anti-war movement, a violent insurgency that targets civilians, and some members of the American public that try to aid and abet the bad guys. Just like back in Vietnam, we would make so much more progress in the country that we're fighting in, if we didn't have to win the hearts and minds of the people right here in our own country. But even if there are many similarities, there are some pretty significant factors that are in stark contrast: an all-volunteer Army, new tactics, better equipment, etc.

Interviewer: Tell me a bit about yourself and your brother -- interests, what you want to do in the future, and why you joined the military.

Master Gunner: We are both Texans. We're both Hispanic, grew up comfortable middle class. Both went to private schools, we both played sports, as well as academic extracurricular activities. I joined up when I was 17 -- I needed my Mom and Dad's permission. I wasn't ready to go to college, and turned my back on a national Hispanic scholarship. I wanted to not only read about History, I wanted to live it. I wanted to make history. I enlisted as an M1 Tanker. In the 14 years I've been in, I've done just that: I've deployed all over the world, spent 10 years stationed in Germany, and got a chest full of ribbons to go with all my experiences. My brother was a little bit older when he joined, just as things were starting to heat up in the lead-up to the War in Iraq. He'd seen what I'd done, and he wanted to be a part of that. So he turned his back on a lucrative job in Dallas, and joined up as an M1 Tanker like his big brother. We deployed to OIF 2 together, and we're going to deploy together again. To be honest, I wouldn't want it any other way.

As for what we want to do in the future. … I want to stay in the Army as long as the Army will have me. I love what I do. We both do. We are both 100 percent committed to retiring from the U.S. Army.

Interviewer: Are blogs like yours important? Why?

Master Gunner: I'm not going to tell you that our Blog is "important," because it's much bigger than that. TankerBrothers.com could go away for ever, and there will still be hundreds, thousands, of soldiers who will work tirelessly to get the real story of the Iraq war out. They'll tell the American Public about the different projects we're working on to bring comfort and security to the Iraqi people, and they will tell you about the thousands of dad guys that they are responsible for killing or capturing. But most importantly, they will tell you about the deep sense of frustration we all feel when we get slapped in the face when all the good news is ignored. I've been called a warmonger, I've been insulted, etc. … But I don't care. Because if just one person gets informed, then I've done what I set out to do.

So in that sense, no individual milblog is "important." But the Milblog movement, THAT is what is important. After every war, we celebrate the letters and words of American Soldiers sent back to their families. 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. You don't read the polished words of some MSM [mainstream media] reporter who is scared to get out of his Green Zone hotel room, and pays the Iraqis to bring him news (and yes, Sir, I've seen it. It happens, more often than your industry cares to admit -- how about an expose on THAT?) You read the actual words, misspellings and grammar errors, of the guys who are actually kicking in doors and hauling bad guys off to jail. That is the type of knowledge and experience that is crucial to getting the truth out.

Interviewer: It's been said that the best PR people to promote the military and the war are soldiers. Why do you think the Pentagon is clamping down on milbloggers?

Master Gunner: Honestly? Because of a few people who post things that may be sensitive in nature, and of intelligence value to the bad guys. Here are some considerations, for example, that I follow when I post [edit]:

http://mikegulf.blogspot.com/2006/10/opsec-ap-and-cya.html

and especially this:

http://mikegulf.blogspot.com/2006/10/another-fine-mess-youve-gotten-us-into.html

Here's an excerpt:

I have not found clear-cut guidance in terms of Milblogs as to what constitutes an OPSEC violation.

But. … This is not necessarily a bad thing. With our current Army structure, a huge amount of responsibility and tactical freedom is given to the commanders on the ground to accomplish their missions. This is crucial in an asymmetrical warfare situation. We fight on a 360 degree battlefield, unlike previous conflicts (where we fought a linear battle, along clear physical lines). The danger is all around U.S. forces: on the ground, in the air, on the airwaves, and on the Internet. The Internet is perhaps the best intelligence-gathering asset the enemy has. So OPSEC is crucial when posting to and publishing personal Web sites. In an era of Google and Yahoo search, anything is literally at the fingertips of a bad guy who is looking for some info.

That is why Command oversight is so crucial.

Do I think clear-cut guidance is important? Yes. However, that guidance should serve as a starting point for the tactical commander to make his assessment, and then adjust accordingly according to the immediate threat and the amount of information that is being made available.

Now, [edited name] completely ignored this entire statement, and made it seem like milbloggers are rising in revolt. That simply is not true. In terms of this Blog, my first loyalty is always to my Army, my mission, and my fellow soldiers. If something I write is detrimental to any of those three, then I won't post it, or I'll delete the entire Blog. And I won't have any problem with it.

Interviewer: Do you think milblogs can help fill in the holes left by mainstream media in painting a more complete picture in how things are going in Iraq?

Master Gunner: Yes. Most definitely. Because the MSM [mainstream media] doesn't even paint a picture. Y'all (And I'm not speaking of you specifically) just paint everything Red, and leave it at that. "If it bleeds, it leads," right?

Interviewer: Many people outside of the military see soldiers are being trained to be somewhat robotic and not free thinkers, and [think] that a blog is not an appropriate way for a soldier to express himself or herself. Do you agree or disagree and why?

Master Gunner: I completely disagree. And anyone who has that point of view is not only outside of the military, but completely clueless. Our Leaders in the U.S. Military, from the lowest Team Leader (Corporal or Sergeant) all the way up to Four-Star General, have an incredible amount of tactical responsibility and freedom. They have the ability to make tough decisions when it comes to preserving the lives of the Soldiers under their Command, and the accomplishment of the missions they are assigned. Leaders in a 360-degree battlefield don't have the time to call up for every single little decision they have to make: They must act. That's where training comes in. Our officers and noncommissioned officers are the absolute best in the world. They are more informed, more situationally aware, and more competent than any other Soldier or Leader in the history of Warfare. The U.S. Military does not train robots. The U.S. Military trains Soldiers.

Interviewer: What's your opinion about the mission in Iraq and how it's going?

Master Gunner: The mission in Iraq is a righteous mission. The average Private in the U.S. Army has a better understanding of the reason we are there than 99.9 percent of the American Public. I believe that a democratic and stable Iraq is crucial to victory in the Global War on Terror. Democracy in a region where the people are kept destitute by regimes who seek to only enrich themselves would lead to the empowerment of the citizens of those regimes. A Free Iraq would someday lead to a free Syria and a free Iran. If we can prove to the people in those countries that Democracy works, and free-market economies and a good relationship with the West would increase the standard of living, I think you would see a huge increase in the quality of life for the entire region. I invite you to read "The Crisis of Islam" by Bernard Lewis, and take a look at the literacy rates for Iraq, Iraq and Syria. Compare them to the United States. Look at figures like GDP, per capita income, and especially factors like infant mortality and life expectancy. Compare them to the West. Do you realize that more books have been published and translated in Spain in the last five years, than have ever been published or translated in the entire Middle East (with the exception of Israel), ever? Doesn't that raise some red flags in Liberal-Land?

Depots and tyrants use religion to keep the common people down. Enrich yourself and rattle your saber to the West, while telling your people that it's Allah's will, and you will have no problem doing whatever you please.

I think the mission in Iraq will be successful, if we are allowed to fight the war the way we need to. I think that with the support of the American people, and the support of our government, we can win this war, and help the Iraqi government stand up a capable and effective police and security force, in the model of the United States. We will win, because our culture can't afford us to lose. We will win, because we are Americans, Brits, Australians, and a host of other nations that have the strength and tenacity to do the right thing. We will win, because we're on the right side of this war. And I am proud to fight in it. Again and again.

Interviewer: You said your brother has deployed, can you explain and give any details on his job? What about yours?

Master Gunner: It's best to just say that we are two M1A2 SEP Tankers (Armored Cavalrymen).

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