Blackfive Blackout: MilBloggers Supporting CJ Grisham (UPDATED CONSTANTLY)
Hackers grab drone footage

An Open Letter to Secretary Gates, Joint Chiefs, and Senior Leadership

The following is an edited version of a letter I sent yesterday to someone in the DC area, who wanted to know more.  They were seeking specifics on the text that said:

"First, milblogs are facing an increasingly hostile environment from within the military.  While senior leadership has embraced blogging and social media, many field grade officers and senior NCOs do not embrace the concept.  From general apathy in not wanting to deal with the issue to outright hostility to it, many commands are not only failing to support such activities, but are aggressively acting against active duty milbloggers, milspouses, and others.  The number of such incidents appears to be growing, with milbloggers receiving reprimands, verbal and written, not only for their activities but those of spouses and supporters."

Given that I was not going to provide specifics, I am unsure the letter will get too far beyond the recipient despite the fact that I authorized them to share.  Further, I am not sure that the recipient has some of the addresses required.  So, I am editing and redacting a bit, and posting it here so that I have some hope that the people who need to read this will be able to do so. 

HINT:  If you missed the sentence above, I have edited the letter (needed it in general, was dashed off in a hurry), and modified it to protect the recipient and others. 

I hope the following may be of help to you.  It will not be the specifics you want, but will give you some information I think you need, and of which higher needs to be aware.

Perhaps it is because I am a civilian, and outside the normal chains (almost like a good XO), people sometimes will share things with me.  In particular, they share with me some of the problems they face or have.  While I am not at liberty to share specifics, I can share some general thoughts that will give you some insights and some avenues for exploration. 

Let's start with spouse blogs.  Let's say you are a spouse who writes about matters of interest to other milspouses, and more importantly help share and explain events and processes to a more public but interested audience.  Now, so long as it is party line, life is good.  No problems with command, no problems for you and your spouse.  However, one day, you write about something either controversial or that might not be considered happy news, such as about a problem with how things are done or even just a suggestion that things might could be done better to better help those left behind.  Nothing disrespectful or nasty, just an observation.  Or, you write about an enemy attack in the news.  This is an event in the news, and what is posted is not in violation of OPSEC, but does give an account of what yor spouse experienced, in combat or in support, written well within OPSEC.  Now, in any of these cases, imagine that the home command looks at that post and demands that you take it down because they don't like it.  Imagine that said command insinuates that unless you do so, there will be repercussions to your spouse.  What do you do in any of these cases?  Go public or to higher, knowing that embarrassed people are more prone to retaliation?  

Let's say you are a support blog of some type, and are dependent upon the goodwill of local field grade commands for news, for base access, and to help get items to dependents as well as deployed.  One such local command doesn't like something you've written, and without their support you and your efforts are dead in the water.  What do you do when they complain about a post or demand removal or revisions? 

Or, let's say there's been a fire and troops have lost all their personal gear.  The great military supply system groans to life to begin the process of replacing the military gear issued.  What about personal gear, which most likely isn't covered in a barracks?  A company steps up and helps replace those items.  The local command, and the PAO, suddenly say at the last minute that the spouses and dependents can't be at the planned event, even if held on post, and there is even some word given that said people are not to talk about the event/donation in person or in the media or online.  What do you do when given that illegal command?  Go run to the media and draw down fire from on high to you (if active) or to your spouse? 

Another hypothetical, let's say an active duty milblogger writes something that some sensitive soul thinks is out of line.  It might have used a harsh word, been critical of a political position, or, heaven's forbid, expressed a political opinion.  Command is notified, and someone (possibly even the offended party) demands or decides that a letter of reprimand is required.  With luck and maybe even some help, the blogger gets said letter made local, so that when the assignment is over so is the life of the letter.  What do you think the odds of that letter being made a permanent letter of reprimand, thus ending career, are if the blogger complains or lets anyone at the senior level know of it and the issue behind it? 

Or, finally, what happens if someone is deployed.  They may have blogged before, or may not, but the new command has their hands full with the deployment.  While said command is aware of the support of higher for blogging and social media, they have their hands full.  For door number one, let's say that such is the extent of it.  Do they let the person blog and spend yet additional time monitoring or even reviewing and approving what is posted, or do they simply discourage it so as not spend more time.  For door number two, let's say that either the commander in question or the senior NCO don't care what higher thinks, they don't get it, don't care to get it, and frankly the person wanting to blog can go suck a lemon, because they ain't putting up with that shit on their watch.  Door number three is similar, but let's say that command, officer and NCO, know higher is supportive but that if anything goes wrong and becomes controversial, it could have a negative or strongly negative impact on their career plans and a spotless record.  Door number four should be familiar:  someone is blogging or doing social media out of the war zone, and says something that some gentle soul finds offensive, and complains.  Doesn't matter if it is within or without, the result often is -- especially when command is hectic enough as it is dealing with real issues of combat and results -- to simply shut down the activity as the easiest way to deal with the situation. 

My own opinion is that in this area, a quarter or less of the field grade are truly onboard.  They understand that all is not happy face, and that even problems reported can be a positive.  They understand that good comes with bad, and are prepared to deal with it.  Of the remainder, I would say that probably the majority are onboard for happy news and faces, and not the rest.  Some portion is adamantly opposed.  My own take, based on anecdotal evidence (as I doubt a real good study is possible given the very real and justifiable fear of retaliation) is that a number of the problems come from people who have either never deployed and/or are not combat arms (even if technically a part of a combat command).  That may well be biased both on my part and by the fact of who might be willing to say anything, but it is what I see. 

Don't bother asking, as I will not be more specific than I have been here.  The people who have talked with me have a real and valid fear of retaliation, and on having their careers ended. 

On the one specific I am willing to discuss, has anyone at command and senior command level even stopped to think about what the troops are seeing in regards CJ and PTSD?  The troops hear the words from Gates, the chiefs, and such about how they need to get help, they realize it's a problem, trust us we won't use it against you.  They know that admitting such and getting help can be a career ender for combat arms, particularly if there is even a hint of depression or suicide. That if they admit to some of it they will be on desk duty well away from weapons in a hearbeat, and have no chance to ever go back (perception if not reality).  They hear more words from on high.  Then, they see what happens when CJ stepped up and admitted to his men and on his blog that he had PTSD and was getting treatment.  They see that used to hammer him, and then they see field grade command (officer and NCO) not only fail to challenge same but apparently agree with said use by lack of public challenge.  They hear words, they have concerns about assignment and career, and they see action. 

What do you think the result is going to be towards getting the troops to get help?  For all intents and purposes, the troops have just seen Pastorelli and Cooper effectively call the SecDef and Joint Chiefs out as liars. The damage, which I think could be very bad, is a matter of perception (and regardless of the facts of the case, the perception is damned bad), and a demonstration that actions speak far louder than words. 

Go look at the number of combat blogs out there.  Now look at how many there were a few years ago.  Admittedly Afghanistan is a very different situation from Iraq, but for any to claim that such accounts for all would be mere rug sweeping.  Go look at the number of spouse blogs out there, and while doing that look at the number that have reduced or even effectively stopped blogging, or changed their area of interest, even as the spouse is still deployed.  Same for support blogs.

One of the largest damages is not the loss of blogs, but the self-censorship that is creeping in.  If you can't count on these people to give you the good, the bad, and the ugly, higher has no way to know there is an issue, about new and social media or serious problems within commands, policies, or actions.  There are no easy answers, and simply pointing you to a few specifics will not solve the larger problems that lie below.  Address the problems, and you will learn more about the specifics. 

Don't try to read too much into the generalities I've given.  I've tried to change things up a bit to protect those who talked with me, from gender to situations.  You have enough to get the problems, but hopefully not enough to expose individuals.  I can say confidently that if you or anyone else approaches anyone on an official level, you will hear that there are no problems, that they don't know of any, don't know what you are talking about.  Find a way to get information unofficially or with real anonymity, and you might get more than you want.
While CJ deserves support and was the poster child for yesterday's effort, we also tried to make clear that it was about much more than CJ.  His case is simply a symptom of the larger problems. 

I hope this letter reaches those it needs to in civilian and military leadership.  I hope the hypotheticals here give some ideas on the problems, and doesn't spark a witch hunt to identify the blogs and bloggers who might or might not have been the potential source of any of the above.  The individuals, while important, are merely signals of the larger problems. 

Address and treat the problems.  Forget the rest.  If you really do feel that milblogs and the social media activities are a positive and needed attribute, address the problems.  The rest will then be able to take care of itself.