Soldier Blog Shutdown? Stryker Diarist Stops Posting
By Nathan Hodge
Sometimes success can spoil a good thing.
A soldier with the Stryker brigade in Iraq who posted riveting online accounts of combat in Iraq has apparently made his last post, abruptly closing a Website that drew an untold number of readers.
CBFTW—the pseudonym of the online diarist, an enlisted soldier with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division Stryker Brigade Combat Team—won a following for his frank, profane and often funny take on the life of a soldier in Iraq. He chronicled the tedium of a lengthy deployment and the occasional moments of sheer terror, including a vicious, but largely unpublicized, firefight the Fort Lewis-based unit was involved in earlier this month.
His intense, first-person account of that battle was quoted extensively in an article by Tacoma, Wash., News Tribune reporter Michael Gilbert, who traveled with the Stryker Brigade to Iraq and has closely followed their deployment. More recently, CBFTW was profiled in a story on NPR's "Day to Day" radio program.
Visitors to CBFTW's Weblog (cbftw.blogspot.com), however, can now find only one entry, posted Friday, that quotes Johnny Rotten, front man for the legendary punk act the Sex Pistols: "Ever Get the Feeling You've Been Cheated?"
The caption on the main page (posted over a black-and-white image of of Picasso's Guernica) reads: "OVER AND OUT."
In recent posts, CBFTW had hinted that he was under threat of reprimand from his superiors; the NPR story noted that he had been lectured by his commanders for possible violations of operational security, or OPSEC. A spokesman for CBFTW's unit told NPR his blog entries would be reviewed by a platoon sergeant and superior officer before they were posted.
Before the NPR story, CBFTW posted a note that cryptically advised readers to "stay tuned," followed with the full text of the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ...").
If his commanders indeed have ordered him to shut down his blog, it won't be the first time. In October 2002, Defense Week reported on a Website run by soldiers of a medical logistics battalion stationed in Afghanistan. They launched the blog to keep friends and family informed, but enthusiastic strangers linked to the site; when the members of the battalion were swamped with fan mail, they decided to shut the site down.
Blogs are, in some way, a defining cultural phenomenon of the war in Iraq, much as psychedelic music provided the soundtrack to the Vietnam War. There are dozens of Iraq blogs, posted by ordinary Iraqis, civilian administrators living in the Green Zone, rear-echelon soldiers and combat infantrymen. One Iraqi blogger, known by the nom de plume Salam Pax, even saw his Web diary published as a book, The Baghdad Blog.
Families of deployed soldiers maintain their own informal support networks through blogs, and soldiers—who have access to Internet cafes—kill the boredom of deployment by posting their own thoughts online.
Some blogs are patriotic, others are personal rants. CBFTW—a native of the San Francisco Bay Area who listed his interests, variously, as "drinking, skateboarding, reading, [and] 7.62 fully automatic weapons" along with punk rock and barroom poet Charles Bukowski—favored the rant, his long posts unencumbered by spelling and standard punctuation. He was also an avid reader, peppering his posts with literary allusions as well as references to punk and metal classics (the title of his blog—"My War"—comes from a Black Flag song). In some respects, CBFTW's irreverent blog echoed the spirit of Dave Rabbit, an enlisted man who ran a pirate radio in South Vietnam called Radio First Termer.
CBFTW is not the only military blogger who has won notoriety. Army Capt. Eric Magnell, an Army lawyer in Iraq, also was profiled in the NPR story. On Thursday, he posted a few thoughts on the interview, as well as on the case of CBFTW, on his blog (daggerjag.blogspot.com).
It's worth quoting at length:
"On Monday I spoke with Eric Niiler from NPR about my blog and how the army is treating bloggers. ... I think the story perfectly illustrates one of the reasons why soldiers may want to tell their story on their own blog rather than leaving it to the mainstream media. I don't think that Eric was misleading or twisted our words but he definitely wanted to give the impression that soldiers are being persecuted by their leaders over blogs and that their free speech rights are being infringed by a command that doesn't want their stories told. I would disagree with this thesis on several grounds.
"As I said in the story, the information environment has changed so much and is so different than in any previous war or conflict. Here in Iraq we have access to so much new communications capabilities it really is mind-boggling when you think about it. When my father was in Vietnam he wrote letters and mailed home cassettes or reel-to-reel tapes to keep in touch with my mom and his family. Even thirteen years ago, during Desert Storm, the soldiers still wrote letters and had very, very few opportunities to call their families in the States. With these new capabilities come some very real concerns over operational security. ... We know that our enemies are computer `savvy' and may have the ability to intercept e-mails or other communications over the Internet. Every soldier has to be aware and concerned about saying or writing anything that could potentially give our enemies information. Even potentially innocent statements which, by themselves, mean nothing can provide intelligence for our opponents when matched with other innocuous open source information."
Magnell, however, puts in a word of support for CBFTW:
"I've read SPC Buzzell's blog and, while I'm not a security manager, I haven't seen anything that clearly is prohibited but I can understand his chain of command's concerns."
The Army, Magnell concludes, "isn't a sinister organization looking to trample invidivual freedoms but, as any large bureaucracy, it can be slow to react to new situations and changes in the environment."
An e-mail to CBFTW went unanswered.
Soldier Blog Shutdown? Stryker Diarist Stops Posting