By Kevin Anderson
Soldiers' blogs are opening up a new window on warfare
The war in Vietnam is often referred to as the first war on television, and the wars in Afghanistan and now in Iraq will be known as the first wars to be blogged.
A new generation of soldier bloggers in the US, known as milbloggers, are both fighting in the field and writing about their experiences.
It is opening up a new window on modern warfare and is creating a new genre of war-time writing.
However, some of these pioneering frontline bloggers fear that the golden age of milblogging has already passed as military officials begin to clamp down on the unfettered online writing.
Rise of the milblogger
The first milblogs appeared in late 2002, according to Matt, the author of the popular BlackFive blog.
Greyhawk, an active duty serviceman currently stationed in Germany and the anonymous writer behind the Mudville Gazette blog, coined the term milblog and started making contacts with other servicemen and women who blogged.
Greyhawk started commenting himself on blogs in late 2002, and then started the Mudville Gazette when he found out how easy it is to blog.
"For years I'd seen others 'speak for the troops', or choose which actual voices would be heard," he said, and wanted to communicate the thoughts of "one GI in an interesting time - the build-up to the war in Iraq".
"I don't claim to speak for anyone but myself, but there's the appeal of blogging. I don't need anyone to speak for me," he said.
Greyhawk and other early pioneers like Lt Smash, Sergeant Hook and Sergeant Stryker have inspired hundreds of soldiers, pilots, marines and sailors to blog around the world.
He keeps a web ring of milbloggers, which links to about 400 active milblogs.
Many of the milbloggers began writing to counter what they see as an anti-war, anti-Bush administration bias in the media.
But milbloggers write for different reasons, says Matt of Blackfive.
"Many blog to keep their families and friends appraised of their life in a war zone, others do it as an exercise of reflection, and others are just great writers looking for an outlet for their thoughts and feelings," he said.
CJ Graham decided to publish a war journal he kept in Iraq online only earlier this year.
"I did it to inform the public about what was really happening in Iraq because it was my belief (and still is) that the media isn't doing a good job of being unbiased in its reporting," he said.
But he had other reasons as well.
He decided to keep a journal while he was fighting in Iraq because he grew up reading his grandfather's diary from World War II.
He did not blog when he was there. Internet access was not available to his unit as they fought their way north.
"I didn't have the time either as I was lucky to work less than 18 hours a day. Anything left over was dedicated to eating and sleeping," he said.
However, he wrote detailed entries on his laptop and then decided to publish them in a blog when he returned.
Brian Kennedy, aka Howdy, is a Marine and has done two tours of duty in Iraq as the pilot of an AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter gunship.
He and fellow pilot, Hurl, decided to write a blog during their recent tour after learning about them from conservative commentator and blogger Hugh Hewitt.
"Writing was really therapy and allowed me to tell about how the conflict made me feel, not just fighting but the politics and opposition movement that made the war an anti-president issue," he said.
"I felt less guilt and less stress the more I wrote," he said. He even wrote about returning in July from Iraq to face a divorce.
It has given rise to some of the most riveting writing about the war.
Milbloggers Jason Christopher Hartley, author of Just Another Soldier, and Colby Buzzell, author of My War: Killing Time in Iraq, have already gone on to write books based on their blogs and their time in Iraq.
What comes through often is an unfiltered, unsanitised view of war not from embedded reporters or press conferences in the rear but from the frontline fighters themselves.
It has also led to some bloggers being disciplined for releasing sensitive information or breaking other military rules in their blogs.
Greyhawk advises fellow milbloggers to think how a post will be received by his or her mother, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Osama bin Laden.
"Not everyone can approach a keyboard with that kind of responsibility over their heads," he said.
A very small number have been shut down, but he said even more milbloggers have simply stopped due to operational security concerns.
Brian Kennedy hopes that service members are allowed to continue to blog as a link back to family and friends.
But he adds: "I can see where the military will need to at the very least 'regulate' the information."