Milblog conference review: Don't blame public affairs
I have received a slew of emails asking for a milblog conference review. Sorry for the delay. First, it was a true honor to be invited on a panel and to have been alongside these guys: Moderator -- Colonel David Hunt; Panelists -- One Marine's View, The Fourth Rail, Dadmanly and Fire and Ice.
For the first time, I learned people don’t think too highly of the Army Public Affairs. Here’s what people had to say:
“The Army needs to do a better job of informing the public,” one man said. My answer was to go to http://www.dvidshub.net/ or http://www.army.mil/. But another lady contended, “We are not who you should be telling this. They (Army) can’t expect normal citizens to search for the good news.” Then somebody said: “The only press releases I ever get from the Army are of soldier casualties.”
Well, it’s like I said at the conference: Would you compare an Army Ranger Battalion with 10 years of experience to a National Guard Infantry Battalion with zero combat experience? Hell no. For you non-military folks, that’s like comparing Angelina Jolie to your best friend’s grandma. There’s just no comparison. My point is, here’s what my (139 MPAD) public affairs unit did in Iraq:
- produced a monthly T.V. show which aired at Fort Lewis
- produced four 30-page magazines for soldiers about their tours
- produced a weekly field newsletter for 48 straight weeks
- handled the media fiasco after Marez suicide bombing incident
- placed General Ham on network television dozens of times
- spammed thousands of stories and photos to a list of 2,000 media members
- ran a radio station
- and sent daily Arabic press releases to the Iraqi media
The result of this toil was Mosul received more positive coverage than any other city. And when something bad happened, like the Marez attack, we found good stories and disseminated them to the media, which had about a 2 percent pick up rate. We returned home in January 2005 and were replaced by a bunch of fat, unmotivated soldiers. Here’s what they accomplished:
- ate chow every day
- managed to not die
Of course, my unit also earned the highest award for a unit of our size and the fat replacements received butter in the chow halls. But our momentum was not followed and that was a disservice to the U.S. people and the soldiers' families. With that said, public affairs does a fine job trying to get the good stories out. Sure, public affairs has its weaknesses like every leg of an organization.
However, we risked our lives to cover school openings and Iraqi forces raids. But the news organizations rejected our stories most of the time. We would have asked them why, but we were too busy moving on to the next mission.
“Well send the news directly to the people,” a lady recommended.
You know what kind of impact that will have? People can barely stand to hear President Bush speak. Do you think they want to read a government newsletter? And besides, after being home for awhile, I’ve noticed people don’t care about Iraq… unless they are somehow affected by the war. The best way to hit these people who don’t care is through milblogs because the writing does not speak for the entire government or military, which brings me to my next point.
If it weren’t for Colby Buzzell and My War, milblogs may have never taken off. People can say what they want about who was first the first milblogger, (and believe me at the conference, a few people did), but My War was so raw and real that it made New York gay democrats and Montana goat farmers care about Iraq. But Colby’s work was “too inappropriate,” an officer said at the time and he was banned from blogging.
Then the Army came out with a policy for blogging from theater. And the uncensored milbloggers began dropping like flies. Now the Army is considering shutting down blogs, period, because of “operational security concerns.” This is a bunch of crap. Most of the time, the really good information that the enemy wants is in the hands of captains, sergeants and generals… not the specialists and privates who are blogging.
The real reason the Army wants to police blogging is it doesn’t like the idea of a bunch of uncontrolled messages entering the never-ending Internet, where a post can become hot news in a matter of seconds.
But without milblogs, I fear the real story may never be told.