'Milblogs' Present Iraq War From Military Point of View

As the war in Iraq and the national debate over it continue, military-themed American bloggers have been voicing their support for U.S. troops and, in most cases, the war itself.

"We're not only fighting a physical war, we're fighting an information war as well," said "Andi C.," organizer of the first annual MilBlog Conference, which took place last month in Washington.

"The Bush administration and the DoD [Department of Defense] have not been very effective in the information war," explained Andi C., who, like many "milbloggers," prefers not to use her full name. "Milblogs have been doing the heavy lifting. Both entities could learn a thing or two from milbloggers."

At the conference, more than 1,000 milbloggers from around the world came together, both online and in person, to discuss issues affecting their community and the nation as a whole.

"The best count we have is about 150 attendees at the conference — the rest participated online," said Andi C., whose Andi's World blog is at http://andisworld.typepad.com. "We did have some troops from Iraq participate."

Milbloggers are generally associated to the military in some way, either as active-duty or retired service members, reservists or members of their families.

Active-duty milbloggers point out that they are not speaking — or blogging — in any official capacity. Since April 2005, all blogging service members on duty in Iraq have been required to register their blogs and allow their content to be monitored.

"[Active-duty] bloggers are free to discuss a fairly broad range of topics, give their opinions on virtually anything, as long as they don't violate obvious security/personal info concerns," according to Mudville Gazette's "Greyhawk," one of the best-established milbloggers.

"Greyhawk," who is on active duty in Germany, and his wife and co-blogger, "Mrs. Greyhawk," were the online moderators for the MilBlog Conference.

Most milbloggers, but not all, support President Bush's Iraq war effort, and virtually all say they are pro-military. Many feel that "the truth" about operations in Iraq and Afghanistan has been distorted by what they deem the "mainstream media," or "MSM" in blogging terminology

In many cases, attendees at the conference got to meet others they had known only online. Jeff Nuding encountered friends who more than two years ago encouraged him to begin his Dadmanly blog, which is at http://www.dadmanly.blogspot.com.

"This is such a cooperative effort, and because my passion is for bloggers, I feel closer to some milbloggers than I feel to many others," he said. "These were the people who got me started, motivated me to do it, and, in many ways, it's like meeting your long-lost parent."

Andi C. explained how the conference came about.

"Last August I had an idea [to] get some milbloggers together and discuss the concept of milblogging," she said. "I thought the milblog scene was growing and expanding, and it was time, particularly in the middle of a War on Terror, for us to get together in a formal setting. I also wanted a forum where we could meet and discuss issues that are important and sometimes unique to us."

The Veterans Foundation Inc. of North Carolina, a charity that supports the North Carolina branch of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, sponsored the conference, according to Tara Sue Clark, the foundation's executive director.

Clark said that the sponsorship was in cooperation with the Hidden Heroes Foundation, a non-profit organization that aids families of reservists and National Guard members deployed overseas.

She said the foundation was already planning the 2007 milblogging conference, and she expected it would become an annual event.

Conference supporters included the USO, the VFW and Military.com, a social-networking and job-placement Web site for people with "military affinity," owned by Monster.com.

Military.com sponsored the luncheon, while Miltarywebcom.org, which is operated by the VFW, hosted the online forum and obtained the meeting space. Panelists and moderators paid their own travel expenses.

Many milbloggers, including some on active duty, expressed frustration with war coverage by "the mainstream media."

"[I] started reading the milbloggers and their accounts of what was going on over in theater, and I was thinking to myself, 'What a contrast to what you read every day,'" explained ThreatsWatch blogger Steve Schippert. "It was such a bad difference that it really started to get me angry."

Several milbloggers said they thought the media doubts there is any prospect of military success in Iraq. As an example, they cited Time Magazine's April 7, 2003, cover, which asked: "What will it take to win?"

One participant pointed out that the famous toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad's Firdos Square took place two days after the magazine's cover date.

Not all participants agreed that good news wasn't getting out.

"It's out there," said Nuding. "You can find it on Yahoo, [on the War on Terror discussion blog] Winds of Change and other places."

"People have to understand that there's a difference between having the news 'out there' and making people read it," he continued. "The mainstream media's real issue is one of reporting and analyzing in the context of some sort of bigger picture ... That's where the bloggers come in. It's really more about balance."

Conference panelists said they saw milblogging as a way for ordinary people to provide that balance.

"Technology is allowing ordinary people who are experts to get their message out much more efficiently," according to "Charlie", who along with his colleague, "John," runs a blog called "OPFOR." Both preferred to use only their first names.

Andi agreed with that assessment.

"Milblogs tell the good news, the progress on the ground," she said. "They also do a good job of introducing readers to heroic people that you might not get the chance to meet otherwise. Blackfive does an excellent job of this with his 'Someone you should know' series. Milblogs also keep the mainstream media in check, something badly needed."

Ward Carroll, news editor of Military.com, said that a good milblog "reads with a sincerity and an import that no mainstream media outlet can capture."

Not only do milbloggers use their blogs to tell "the good news," but they also use their networks to rally and organize in support of causes they favor, which can run from the fairly benign to the highly political.

Conference attendee Scott Swett, operator of the anti-John Kerry presidential candidacy Web site http://www.wintersoldier.com, and president of New American Media Online Services, was also involved in the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth organization that aired ads against Kerry during the 2004 election campaign.

Swett knows firsthand how quickly the blogging community can organize.

"There were thousands of Web sites that had links to the Swift Vets," during the height of the 2004 campaign, he said. "We were running four dedicated servers and we were processing terabytes per day of information. ... [There were] certainly in excess of a million people going to that site per day."

Both John Donovan, whose milblog is at http://www.thedonovan.com, and "Beth," who runs Fuzzilicious Thinking, point out that connectivity is the key.

Not all milblogs get large volumes of traffic, but even the seldom-read are often connected to other blogs that have larger readerships or are in turn read by those with access to a greater audience.

Beth calls herself the "idea person" behind Project Valour IT, which provides voice-activated laptop computers to wounded military personnel unable to use regular PCs.

Her own blog gets "around 40 hits a day" and she credits her success to Donovan's contacts.

"He brought in people like The Indepundit... and Blackfive," she said. "It was John that made them take me seriously. I'm not a big milblogger, but I know the biggies."

"My daily traffic is less than that of my local newspaper, but my daily traffic includes people who read the National Review, who read Slate," said Donovan. "So when they come to my Web site and see Fuzzy's post and I chop it off to Jonah, and [others] ... you got 43,000 visits for that post."

Milbloggers often make a distinction between supporting the troops and supporting the Iraq war, to the point where some completely shun terms such as "pro-war."

"I'm anti-war in the sense that any active-duty military person is anti-war," said Mudville Gazette's "Greyhawk." "I'm 'anti-war' up to the moment the shooting starts. I use quotes around the phrases 'anti-war' and 'pro-war' because 90 percent of the time, neither phrase is used appropriately when applied to the folks they are applied to these days."

One serviceman on duty in Iraq, stridently anti-war Arizona Army National Guardsman Spc. Leonard A. Clark, was demoted to private first class in 2005 for unspecified comments on his blog, which has since been deactivated.

The military would not specify what got Clark in trouble, other than to say he failed to obey orders and placed other service members in jeopardy.

Clark, championed by prominent left-wing blogger "Daily Kos," himself a veteran, is now running for U.S. Senator Jon Kyl's seat as a Democrat.

Carroll, who said Military.com is attracted to blogs because of their "killer content," thinks that the next four years will see some thinning in the ranks of milbloggers.

"There will be a natural attrition and caste system that will happen," he said. "Your 'rock stars' will grow in import, and the people who aren't there will shrink. There will be no middle class in milblogs. ... Every once in a while, one of those who's in the shadows will be discovered."

Carroll thinks that money will become a real difference between today's blogs and the blogs of the future.

"There should be a lot more revenue potential just from a strict business model for the bloggers themselves," he said. "Advertisers are starting to embrace the idea of blogs ... businesses are getting smarter about what a blog can do."

Charlie, whose OPFOR site has just ventured into podcasting, wants the military of the future to embrace bloggers more closely and make its content accessible over a wide variety of platforms.

"I would like to see a unit blogger," he explained, "some sort of central Web site where we get to see the combined blogs of each brigade combat team ... that can go out over podcasts, the Internet, etc."

For now, milblogs seem to be gaining in popularity because, in John from OPFOR's words, "The military art is largely a language, and there is a tremendous appetite in America for people who are fluent in that language."

Michael Lawhorn is an active-duty Army major with nearly 20 years of service. He will be soon be deploying to Korea. His blog can be found at www.kosovodad.blogspot.com.

FOXNews.com's Kelly Beaucar Vlahos contributed to this report.