Tuesday, October 25, 2005

 

Conclusion: The New War Correspondent

(This is the first of a multi-part series I introduced, entitled "Conclusion.")

In some ways, I'm a War Correspondent.

Not that that's what I set out to be, but that's in effect what role I've taken on, trying to communicate sense and sensibility from the middle of a combat zone. Now for near-real time combat action, readers will need to go elsewhere (Ma Deuce Gunner, Thunder6 at 365 and a Wake-up, Michael Yon). My work at Dadmanly is more in the manner of Features rather than news, and perhaps aggravatingly for those who oppose our efforts, Opinion/Editorial (OP/ED).

But a correspondent on this war in Iraq, all the same.

I haven't seen mention of it specifically, rather than by comparison, but I conclude that Military Bloggers (MILBLOGGERs) are a new breed of War Correspondent. Talk about embedded, these men and women are a part of the very armed forces that serve America's national interests in the Global War on Terror (GWOT).

Throughout modern history, War Correspondents have taken on most of the risks and hardships that are likewise endured by the men and women who are the subjects of their reporting. They have been those voices closest to the fight, often the only means that their fellow citizens back home can learn anything meaningful about wars, and the people called upon to fight them. They capture the spirit of the fighting man or woman. They convey purpose, they articulate a larger mission, in human terms, even if they must shy away from operational details.

Often they become as attached to their subjects as they often are dependent upon them for their safety. The War Correspondent embodies the First Amendment placed in harm's way. He or she serves our country as much as if they signed an enlistment contract, took on a weapon, and followed the order to war.

Where are the War Correspondents today? Outside of Michael Yon and perhaps a bare handful of others, mostly in the Green Zone in Baghdad, more often than not, posted to the Hotel Bar. (Is it folly or wisdom that now causes Al Qaeda to now target the media at their places of employment?

I can't say I blame those reporters who seek safe haven. I'd rather serve my time there, too, if that had to be my mission (\irony off).

Which brings me to my point. I moonlight as a War Correspondent, an Army Journalist as it were, in addition to my day job as a Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC) First Sergeant. My Commander, key leaders, and some interested soldiers know what I do, but for the most part, I remain anonymous even within my own unit. I serve alongside those I may write about, and I write incidentally in the course of my serving here. For me, I rarely mention specific events -- out of Operational Security (OPSEC) concerns and an avoidance of any facts that might help enemy battle damage assessments (BDA) -- but more often, impressions and reflections.

One of the Army's great experiments with OIF, is allowing MILBLOGGERS to operate without censor or command control, with only the lightest of directives and proactivity, given the potential risk involved. Sure, in recent months military commanders at higher levels are beginning to express concern, clarifications were issued, some Blogs voluntary closed up shop. (See my earlier reports here, here, and here.)

But for the most part, the military has every reason to view the MILBLOG phenomena as a qualified success, with an overwhelming net gain in Public Affairs and media relations. The vast majority of MILBLOGS effectively self regulate operational details, at least sufficient to greatly degrade any possible exploitation by enemy intelligence agents or services.

Likewise, the MILBLOGS speak almost in unanimity, supportive of our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Global War on Terror more generally. Of even greater significance, MILBLOGS came on the scene precisely when the American public was most hungry for some good news about our military, wholly supportive of our troops, and at the point of lowest public regard for an obviously biased and sometimes hostile mainstream media (MSM).

They were the right forces, at the right time, for the right mission. I'm proud to have been a small part in that effort. And I'd like to suggest an idea to the military brass no doubt mulling over MILBLOGS, what to do with them, what to do about them, and whether their obvious value is worth the potential risk in losing control of the military "staying on point."

The Army has a program whereby NCOs and Officers are identified as potential Army Trainers. They are given a Basic Instructor Training Course (BITC, but the name and acronym may have changed since I went through the program). Once trained in instructional technique (course preparation and teaching), a soldier is awarded an "H" designator after their military occupational specialty (MOS) designator. That makes me a 96B5H and 98C5H, which indicates that I am an Army qualified instructor at the rank of Master Sergeant in the MOS fields 98C and 96B.

These designations, and the requirement for most Army schools that only H qualified instructors be allowed to teach, ensures a professionalized Instructor base for critical Army education, especially MOS job training, but also non-commissioned officer (NCO) education system (NCOES) professional development courses.

I have this thought, that one of the ways the military can help professionalize blogging is to offer any soldier who shows aptitude and is willing to abide by some straightforward guidelines, training in blogging, writing, journalism, and OPSEC. The training would.be made available, with a certification that then would provide some enhanced access to military sources and information. The military could allow "B" (for Blogger) designated soldiers, for instance, display a logo as military certified (for example, thnat they are who they allude to be, role and assignment wise), to have a feed from press releases, to be invited to military events and press conferences, mission permitting, and could be part of the overall Information Operations (IO) effort.

Now some bloggers would no doubt object to being that tightly linked to the military, or fear that would limit their ability to speak their mind. These are valid concerns, and those bloggers could remain unaffiliated and independent, as they are now. But others, who don't mind a bit being part of the military's public relations campaign, and eager to further credential themselves as military reporters, observers, etc., would provide a capability for the military to enhance their communications plan within the overall GWOT.

Now it may be that the military will eventually want to professionalize bloggers, and re-establish and expand long-dormant MOS positions like Army Journalist, and create formal positions at higher levels of command.

In the meantime, I can imagine a day, when a Division sized unit might have several dozen "B" qualified Bloggers, assisted by the military in getting their message out, and giving the citizens back home ready access to military voices. While they are in the combat zone, as they conduct their missions.

The new War Correspondent: an Army Skill Designator? I know it sounds crazy, but who knows? Maybe that's where all this is headed. Soldiers will communicate, and the technology is expanding and improving in quantum leaps, providing capabilities to the average Joe and Jane that would never have been imagined even a few short years ago.

And if the Army is smart, rather than try to stop the trend, might want to seriously consider buying in and taking maximum opportunity to the best media relations men and women the military has: the MILBLOGGER.

Links: Jo's Cafe, Outside the Beltway, BRight & Early, Mudville Gazette, Indepundit, Dawn Patrol at Mudville, Cao's Blog



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