Communication Currents

Military Blogs: Altering the Image of the Iraqi War

June 1, 2007
Critical and Cultural Studies, Digital Communication & Gaming

From the Civil War through the Vietnam War, American soldiers have been narrating events of war, in the vernacular of the era through personal letters sent via the US Postal Service. Writing was a crucial means of communication making war letters a primary source of news from the front. With the onset of the Digital Age, interpersonal communication has undergone a remarkable change. Computer-mediated communication (CMC), namely e-mail and online journals called blogs, has effectively replaced traditional letter writing. Of particular significance is the influence CMC has had on communication methods used by soldiers in the field.

Military blogs, or milblogs, are personal narratives written by active military personnel who share their experiences from the front lines on Internet websites, enabling the public to experience the war intimately through their impassioned words and photographs. There is some political analysis, much social commentary, but mostly a wide range of stories about a personalized humanitarian effort from the men and women who share firsthand how the U.S. role in the Middle East directly influences the lives of ordinary Iraqi citizens. Examination of these websites has unearthed some remarkable blogs authored by soldiers who have a unique story to tell.

Sgt. Ron Long is a US Army Medic with the 278th RTC. His blogs speak of training the Iraqi Army (IA). Although there are language issues, he speaks about how the IA is becoming increasingly involved in “not only the combat and security patrols, but also the humanitarian missions.” Later that week, he writes, “I may be frustrated at times, but when I sit down to actually reflect on what most of us . . . are doing . . . it blows my mind. We've already made our mark in history by supporting Iraq's elections . . . but by training the IA, we have the opportunity to make a difference in the future of an entire nation of people”.

His blogs introduce individual Iraqi people with whom he has crossed paths, some patients and some medics. He enhances his site with photographs of U.S. and Iraqi medics working and laughing together, the elders of the town, and children who they heal and entertain. He shows a deep respect for life and diversity, and portrays a heartwarming depiction of his time in Iraq.

Just Another Soldier's depicts its author, Jason Christopher Hartley, standing in the rubble of the World Trade Center. He conveys his reason for enlisting in the Army. “I'm no better then anyone else. I chose to enlist . . . and re-enlist. Hell, I volunteered to go to Iraq . . . I want to contribute to something bigger and more meaningful than myself. I want to give back to my country. I want to physically contribute something positive to solving a problem rather then acting like I can solve all the world's problems from my couch.” His patriotism is clear, as is his humility. He left college and entered the military as a direct result of the 9/11 attack.

In, A Soldiers Perspective, SFC C.J. Grisham writes, “I hope that you will take my comments for what they are - first person accounts. The Americans cannot even begin to understand the successes we're making there without ever setting foot in Iraq.” He shares a story of a Blackhawk helicopter mission in the Sunni Triangle. “Alone in a field there's an unkempt child of about twelve. The boy, acting on everything his father has told him, looks up at the chopper with hatred in his eyes, picks up a rock and cocks his arm, ready to throw. But the gunner in the Blackhawk has something in his hand too, and he's a bit quicker. Whoosh! A soccer ball flies out of the door of the chopper. The boy stands in disbelief for a moment, and then collects himself enough to run after the ball. Once he retrieves it, he looks up and with a smile from ear to ear, and excitedly waves to the American soldiers in the Blackhawk.” This entry includes a photograph of U.S. soldiers, in full battle gear armed with rifles, playing soccer in the street with a group of young Iraqi boys who now have a different perspective of Americans.

In 365 and a Wake UpDanjel Bout, Commander of A Co, 1-184 IN, 3ID tells a heartrending story of stray insurgent gunfire penetrating the home of a nearby Iraqi family, hitting a young girl in the head causing life threatening injuries. Her distraught father carried her out to the streets where Danjel's battalion was securing the area. The company medics rushed the girl into a nearby helicopter and to a hospital, not expecting her to make it. He tells of ‘A' Company waiting for a follow up on the girl's condition at the hospital and learning that she survived. Danjel closed his blog that day with the following, “Ten years from now our unit will have long since passed out of local memory, the desert swallowing any physical trace of our year in the Land of the Two Rivers.But there will be one living, beating heart that will bear testament to our company's mission and the good we tried to do.And right now that somehow seems enough.”

On his site Lag in Iraq, Army Sergeant Matt Lagrone sums up the reasons blogging is popular among the military. “People, particularly of my generation want to know what ‘real' people think. You can read what a ‘real' soldier thinks about Iraq or how policies made in Washington affect an individual in Louisiana or Afghanistan on a personal level. I truly believe that blogging will revolutionize the way people communicate faster than we know it.”

Blogging is an outlet for soldiers to tell their side of the story in real time. These narratives take us into the encampments to share in the play, the boredom, the humor, and the tragedy of life in Iraq from dawn through their sleepless nights. They take us into the streets of the cities and towns, where the citizens of Iraq interact with our soldiers.

There is a multilayered theme in the blogs--pride in the United States, pride in the job they are doing, and belief that making a difference in the life of one Iraqi makes a positive assertion about the US. Analogous to the rare, narrative value of the Civil War letters, this non-media perspective makes milblogs an invaluable tool for historical evaluation of the War on Terror.