There are better ways to spend your Saturday morning than getting up early to go to a conference of Internet bloggers at a hotel in Virginia. But this wasn’t just any group of bloggers – these were the military bloggers who had come to town and I was very curious to know what they were all about. Just moments after the 2007 Milblog Conference kicked off, a room full of people with their laptops open were totally shocked to see a very recognizable face appearing on two giant screens: President George W. Bush.
Here’s an excerpt from the President’s salutation to the Milbloggers:
America's military bloggers are also an important voice for the cause of freedom. You understand that our Nation is fighting the war on terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, and many other fronts. And you understand that defeating the terrorists requires us to defeat their ideology of hatred and death with a more powerful vision - a vision of human liberty.
And immediately I realized something – the military blogging community had arrived. It’s not an official litmus test really, but I tend to think that when the President tapes a special message to your group, you have a lot of newfound clout.
Military bloggers are made up of three types of people: active duty troops who write and report directly from the battlefield, former military persons who may or may not have spent time “in theater” and military spouses or family.
What was the burning issue of the conference, you ask?
On April 19, the Army issued new regulations on “operational security” that many bloggers perceived as a threat to their right to blog from the war zone.
Remember the old saying, “Loose Lips Sink Ships.” This is apparently the digital age’s version of that same concern that sensitive information might get out that could put troops at greater risk.
And there’s certainly good reason behind that concern given the fact that we know Al Qaeda and America’s enemies use the web as their primary source of communication.
I spoke with one of the most popular Milbloggers Matthew Currier Burden of www.blackfive.net. Burden said that he was concerned with the new regulations but believed that the Army’s policy was most likely a “mistake” and not intended to clamp down on blogging from the war zone because the milblogs are the best source of what’s really happening on the battlefield.
“We’re losing the information war and milblogs are probably one of the last aspects of the success we are having,” Burden said.
Burden also gave me a good example too of what he meant by “success.” He told me about a running gun battle soldiers had with over 100 insurgents on Nov 5th – the same day Saddam had been sentenced. Milblogs wrote extensively about the heroism of that battle for which numerous soldiers had been submitted for medals – but the mainstream media had totally missed the story because of the Saddam sentence.
FOX News’ Pentagon producer Nick Simeone spoke last week with Army Major Ray Ceralde, the Army’s OPSEC (Operational Security) Manager. Here’s some of what Maj Ceralde had to say:
Not every blog entry needs to be cleared for content. But to establish a blog, the soldier needs approval. The supervisor could order them to stop posting if the soldier has put out info that is critical… We want to protect First Amendment rights but we also want to protect operational security.
Having been embedded in Iraq on three separate occasions, I am reminded of the security embed rules for the media. You are allowed to report anything and everything you see fit to report – but if you give out operational security information, then they reserve the right to kick you out.
And aside from the battlefield citizen journalism, the spousal blogs appear to be the primary source for spouses and family members to remain connected to their loved ones in far away dangerous places.
Which is why it should come as no surprise that a military wife named Andi Hurley of www.spousebuzz.com was the organizer of the 2007 Milblog Conference. And she was more than thrilled that a VIP like President Bush had agreed to videotape a message to her group.
I can be reached for questions or comments at Griffsnotes@foxnews.com.