In Iraq for 365

About my experiences in Iraq... the frustrations, the missions and this country... and the journey home

Friday, May 05, 2006

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.

12 Comments:

At 6:37 PM, Blogger Army Wife said...

"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),"

first off....you have caused a sideache.

second, I thought you conducted yourself with great candor on the panel.

oh and people don't dislike the PAO, just the bad ones. I swear the DOD ought to use your long haired hippie self to train folks. I swear I heard it from the heavens...

 
At 8:24 AM, Blogger BostonMaggie said...

I thought you were wonderful. My criticism was of the Pentagon for not doing more to get your stories out there. It was not meant as any kind of criticism of you or your work. I know if I look for your work or similar work, I can find it. My point was the Pentagon and the Administration need to be more aggressive in reaching the 70% of Americans who are getting all their info from the MSM. That's what I meant when I said that we were not who you needed to worry about.

I love you. Thank you for referring to me as a lady, lol.

 
At 8:26 AM, Blogger BostonMaggie said...

Also remember what the ad lady had to say about sexing up your stories and I pointed out the shower post was a good start.

Looking forward to future posts.

Kisses....love, Maggie

 
At 10:24 AM, Blogger dadmanly said...

Smink,

I thought you did a great job too. Our PAO with the 42nd ID did pretty well, probably not as good as you guys though...

Keep plugging away. The CENTCOM guy I KNOW was paying close attention. The PAO doing his stint with FoxNews.com and headingback to Iraq, HE gets it and I know he will try to keep up the fight.

I just reached out to ours, now that I'm back, and I believe even demobilized and back to a Guard mission, there's more we can do here. He knows what blgos can do, and is also on board.

The IO War is the war that will make or break us long term. Your input is invaluable. Stay connected, man.

You did a great job, I think you handled COL Hunt better than I, that's for sure.

Hope to see you next year!

 
At 11:04 AM, Blogger Sminklemeyer said...

dadmanly,

i meant to add a note about your son. i was so impressed with him and his knowledge. that boy should be a politician!

 
At 9:05 PM, Blogger kbug said...

You're right about milblogging being important to getting the real story out, Casanova. Milblogs cover everything, while the news only tells us how many new U.S. casualties there are. I remember how frustrated you were during your deployment when none of the big newspapers would pick up your stories. I felt the same frustration when I tried to get my friends to read yours and other milblogs from Iraq, but they just couldn't seem to find the time or make the effort. The truth is, you can only do so much to get the news out...kind of like the old saying, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." So what can be done to get the truth out there to more people? I don't know the whole answer, but I do think that milblogs are part of the answer...at least they have been for me.

About the debate over who had the first milblog... yours was the first milblog I ever read, and the one that got me hooked on them. I'd never heard of Colby Buzzell's blog until you wrote about it in one of your posts. So, to me, you WERE the first milblogger...at least you were MY first...and you're still my favorite.... :)

Oh, and your MPAD unit definitely earned that award...you guys rocked!!!

 
At 10:08 AM, Blogger Julie said...

Thanks for the update. From the comments already posted it sounds like you did a great job. But of course I always knew you would ;) If the DoD ever decides to turn to the old hippies for training I'd be glad to join you. Rock on!

 
At 4:08 PM, Blogger Original_Jeff said...

Actually, the mainstream media make stories out of 100% of Army press releases--100% of those that reflect badly on the Army or soldiers.

I have observed this countless times. Any time there is an Army /military press release that is NEGATIVE in nature, it will hit the mainstream newswires in minutes. i.e. death of an Iraqi in US custody, etc.

If, on the other hand, the press release is about defeating terrorists, construction projects, civil progress, etc, it is COMPLETELY ignored.

And, if the mainstream media ever does a "good news" story about Iraq, the reporter will ALWAYS feel compelled to "balance" the good news with the bad. For example, if they would cover a reconstruction project, then would always point to other "failed" projects, the existing state of the Iraqi infrastructure, whatever.

In a bad news story, however, the reporter's desire to have "balance" disappears. Bad news stories always contain bad news without any sense of the good.

 
At 9:29 PM, Blogger AFSister said...

CB is the reason I started reading and commenting on blogs. He's the reason "AFSister" exists, because I had to create a blogger profile in order to comment on a post. He's a doll, and I really love his writing.

Like KBug said, and as I told you at the conference... you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make 'em drink. I know the stories are being covered by the PAO's, but they aren't getting picked up by the MSM unless it includes a body count. It's sick, and it pisses me off. You did an AWESOME job handling Hunt (he REALLY got on my nerves. *shudder*) and the people who spoke out so freely about the "bad job" being done by the MPAD units. I was amazed by that- really, truly amazed. I expect the general public to whaa-whaa about the lack of good news coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan, but I was NOT prepared for the attacks by the milblogging community. I'm sure you weren't ready for that either, but you handled it with class and honor.

Just what I would expect from you, Smink. Class and honor. What a concept.

 
At 8:24 AM, Blogger Buffbabe220 said...

And don't forget the replies we got back from the civilian media saying that their audience just wasn't interested in our good news stories...

 
At 3:44 PM, Blogger kbug said...

buffbabe!!!! your back!!! How goes motherhood and civilian life??? And how's your Marine????

 
At 1:39 PM, Blogger Carmina said...

I was so lucky I was in milblog conference and from my point of view, the conference was pretty good, the panelists did a good job and the topics they talked about were intriguing, especially the Sildenafil protocol

 

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