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Fallen Soldiers

Remember those seven Soldiers I wrote about earlier who spoke out against the war in Iraq in a New York Times op-ed?

Two of them won’t be coming home.

The Pentagon has announced that Yance Gray and Omar Mora from the 82d Airborne Division died in a vehicle accident on Monday.

These men were true patriots — fighting and dying for their country in a war that they personally questioned. Putting country above self is the ultimate sacrifice.

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If you aren’t a rabid news hound, you might have passed over yesterday’s op-ed in the New York Times penned by seven men — Buddhika Jayamaha, Wesley D. Smith, Jeremy Roebuck, Omar Mora, Edward Sandmeier, Yance T. Gray and Jeremy A. Murphy.

What isn’t stated in the byline (but is noted at the end of the article) is that these seven men are Soldiers in the 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg, N.C., and are on the tail end of a 15-month deployment to Iraq.

What is immediately obvious? These men are critical of the recent media reports that have suggested a rosier picture in Iraq, saying it runs counter to their experience.

These men are no Beauchamps — they are open about who they are, give their full names and are identified by rank (they are all enlisted, none ranked higher than E-6).

In the op-ed, they note that they are expressing their personal opinion and not acting in an official capacity as members of the Armed services. Still, they identify their ranks and their unit — this identification is what gives their claims about lack of progress in Iraq a certain level of authority.

The million dollar question, then, is whether or not it is right for Soldiers to be doing this. Does the right (and obligation) to share your beliefs trump your commitment to your chain of command and the mission? Do Soldiers really have an “out of uniform” public existence, or are you always in uniform when your name is splattered across the pages of the Times?

What are your thoughts? Sound off.

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NETCOM, the Army command responsible for the maintenance and preservation of the military’s online network, has blocked access to Blogger, Google’s popular blogging platform, from government computers, according to Army employees.

Sources tell The D-Ring that Blogger blogs (which can easily be identified because they have the word “blogspot” in their Web address) were blocked for “security reasons” — there was concern about “malicious code” associated with Blogger blogs. A spokesman for NETCOM denies that they are blocking Blogger.

A public affairs representative for Joint Task Force – Global Network Operations, which oversees the global information grid, also said that Blogger was not one of the sites that was being blocked, and suggested that the problem might be due to local network restrictions.

Despite the official insistence that Blogger is not being screened, a D-Ring investigation found that Army employees at various installations on the East and West coasts, as well as the Midwest, could not access Blogger blogs, suggesting that the problem extends beyond network restrictions imposed locally by installation commanders.

In May, I defended the Army’s updated blogger policy by saying that it would not lead to a significant chilling of military bloggers.

This, however, is a different story.

If true, the decision to block Blogger amounts to a backdoor ban on blogging. By eliminating access to this blogging platform, the Army is removing the opportunity for Soldiers to blog.

Even if regulation allows Soldier the right to blog, without access, that right is meaningless.

The Blogger decision is especially disconcerting because many Soldier bloggers who had maintained MySpace blogs migrated to other platforms like Blogger after U.S. Strategic Command decided to ban MySpace. If one by one, the military starts blocking blogging platforms, it will eventually leave Soldiers no place where they can blog unless they buy their own blogging software — a step that I believe most Soldiers will not be willing to take.

And we wonder why we are losing the war of ideas. Maybe it is because our best spokespeople — our men and women in uniform — are being gagged. Let them share their ideas and their stories with the world.

Is Blogger blocked from government computers at your installation? Whether it is or not, leave a comment. The D-Ring wants to know. I’ll update as I get more information from NETCOM, US STRATCOM and folks from the field.

Update: A public affairs specialist in the National Capital Region just let me know he still has access to Blogger. I’d still like to hear from other folks outside of the public affairs community, since many computers belonging to public affairs have requested exemptions from the site blocks (especially in the case of MySpace and YouTube, which were blocked a few months ago).

Update 2: From the comments, it looks like blogger blogs are being blocked in Europe and Carlise Barracks. Anywhere esle?

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A while ago, I was pointed to the new (unofficial) site created to promote the news and events of U.S. Pacific Command. It was created by enterprising folks from AFN Hawaii, probably because the command’s official position was to fear new media and not embrace it.

afn-hawaii.jpg

The site takes advantage of multi-media in an incredibly successful way — hosting text, photos and video in an easy to navigate format. Overall, the design is sleek and inviting, save the video archives, which could be presented better. (I don’t fault them too much though since this is an unofficial site that I am sure was created in spare time). The news content is even published in a blog format with links to related audio and video content, as well as a comments section.

If you haven’t yet, subscribe to the RSS feed here.

The Web site is a strong group effort, but I am pretty sure I can guess who was the brains behind this creation. Well done.

To the other DOD PAOs, take notice. These guys are kicking your butts. Unofficially.

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I have gotten a second pitch from New Media Strategies about Discovery Channel’s My War Diary series (disclosure: NMS is a PR firm that does online communications work for various clients. I also work at a PR firm doing online communications).

The pitch wasn’t bad (although the guy pitching me didn’t disclose the fact that he was working at a PR firm being paid by Discovery Communications), and I think the concept for My War Diary (a television program completely made up of organic video from theater submitted by Soldiers) is very cool.

So I’m biting. They are looking for more submissions. Videos can be submitted online or by mail.

My open question to NMS though — this is the second pitch for the series I have received in 4 months. Are Soldiers not submitting video?

If you have more questions about My War Diary, e-mail Discovery Communications.

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From Mashable:

The Military ban of YouTube and twelve other sites including MySpace, Metacafe, MTV, Pandora, Photobucket, and Blackplanet has caused quite a stir in the press, in the military and with the banned social networks themselves. YouTube now wants to meet with Pentagon officials in order to convince them to reverse their decision to block its site for use from troops that use the Defense Department’s computer network.

The Military has insisted that for security purposes as well s the necessity to boost network efficiency, the heavy bandwidth sites must be blocked from use, though the ban bars no reflection on how the military regards such social networks as YouTube and MySpace. The biggest point of discussion regarding the ban was the ironic fact that the military is quick to leverage such networks for their own marketing purposes while insisting that their own troops cannot access these sites. Equally important is the fact that some sites on the banned list, especially Blackplanet, are small in comparison to YouTube, and do not take up nearly as many resources from the Defense Department’s network. Ben Sun, CEO of Community Connect, which operates Blackplanet, is seeking a reversal by the Pentagon for this reason.

Whether or not officials from the Pentagon have agreed to meet with YouTube or BlackPlanet is yet to be seen, but it does leave us all scratching our heads as to the real reasons for banning the sites in the first place.

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Noah Shachtman has done it again — drawn the interest of the blogosphere (here, here and here to name a few) and the scorn of the Pentagon.

Readers of the D-Ring know that I have been known to lavish praise on Shachtman. He is probably my favorite milblogger.

But you got it wrong, this time, Noah. You chased the story that you wanted to write, not the one that was there.

Today, I had a phone conversation with Maj. Ray Ceralde, the officer interviewed by Noah for the article.

The apocalyptic first line of the article reads as follows:

The U.S. Army has ordered soldiers to stop posting to blogs or sending personal e-mail messages, without first clearing the content with a superior officer, Wired News has learned.

Maj. Ceralde said that this is categorically untrue. Personal e-mails are not subject to the regulation, the policy only applies to public statements made online. With regard to blogs, the new policy does not order soldiers to stop posting; rather, it requires the Soldier to consult with his immediate supervisor and his OPSEC officer, and only if that blog is being published in a public forum (i.e., not behind a firewall or other private settings).

The goal of the policy, Ceralde said, is to strike a balance between the free expression by Soldiers and the protection of the Soldier and his or her unit. It is not, he said, meant to silence and hinder speech.

Having been inside the Pentagon, I believe him. The military brass might not understand new media, and might be a bit afraid of it, but their knee-jerk response is not to squash it. Blackfive even notes that GEN Patraeus has praised the “Muddy Boots Milbogger” solution.

To Noah’s credit, he did find a major flaw in the implementation of the new policy, namely that it wasn’t accessible on AKO by spouses and contractors. While Ceralde claimed that anyone with an AKO account should be able to see it, a D-Ring source with a spouse AKO account sent me the following screenshot of her browser when trying to access the new regulation on AKO:

ako.jpg

MAJ Ceralde, if this policy impacts spouses and contractors, it MUST be accessible to them as well.

In the words of the spouse:

Family members must have access to this policy, especially if they are overseas and command-sponsored. Spouses cannot be punished under UCMJ but if they are command-sponsored, the Army can take away that sponsorship which means the active-duty member loses housing allowance or family housing and the extra “with family” allowances often assigned to COLA.

This isn’t easy folks. Balancing OPSEC with milblogging isn’t simple stuff. But both sides should be able to prevail.

Throwing your hands in the air and yelling that the sky is falling may make for a good story, but it doesn’t help the lives military leadership and the Soldiers who follow their orders any easier.

Lets keep our eye on the ball and work on creating a balance, rather than a riot.

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