In the last month or so I have written several blog posts about my good friend CJ and the issues he had in Alabama with both the local school administration, PTA, and his chain of command. I won’t rehash the entire postings here, but you can find them by clicking HERE, HERE and HERE. Well as a result of all of that, many in and out of the milblog world bonded together in a show of solidarity with CJ and to highlight the fact that many milblogs have been silenced, threatened or just never got off the ground because of a change and attitude towards milbloggers by Army mid-level leadership around the world. This Day of Silence was mentioned HERE and the hundreds of blogs that observed it or just wrote about it can be found HERE.
Now to respond to this enormous outpouring of support for not only CJ but all the milbloggers in the world that have faced unnecessary harassment, threats, or shutdowns, the official Army blog responded. More specifically was that it was a dear friend of mine, CJs and many in the milblogging community, Mrs. Lindy Kyzer. Now let just say I think the world of Lindy and I love her to death. She is one of the most bubbly, positive, and outgoing people I know. She brings sunshine into the room anytime she enters it. She is very passionate about what she does and she believes in it 100%.
That is partially why I am writing this post, because I think she may be just so positive that she either does not see the negatives that happen in the military towards bloggers or she just refuses to believe it. I think that is what led her to write the posting she did at http://armylive.dodlive.mil/index.php/2009/12/a-message-to-milbloggers/
So I am writing this blog entry to respond to Lindy and to point out some issues I have with what was said in her response.
Lindy states that commanders are free to set localized policy, and this is no different than any policy or SOP that is set by a higher authority. However, when Commanders approve of their subordinates to blog as long as the subordinates follow the loosely established Army regulations about OPSEC, etc. but then if the subordinate writes something that is true but maybe hurts the commandâ€™s feelings it makes the Commander a hypocrite. If a Commander likes and supports blogging as long as â€œgood news storiesâ€ are told, but punishes (either directly or indirectly) the blogger when a factual but not so â€œgoodâ€ story is told then Commander does not posses the trait of ethical leadership.
The first tip that is offered is to â€œconsider a pseudonymâ€. The biggest issue I have with this is the validity of the blogger.
“..I concur with those who view pen names as a hindrance to authenticity. But I think too many discard the idea without giving it full consideration.”
As stated above, it does distract from the authenticity. There are people in this country who parade around in front of civilians with a chest full of medals and a mouth full of stories whom are complete fakes. What keeps unethical people like that from blogging online as a supposed war veteran and say whatever they want with an impression of experience? Nothing does. They can be complete left wing, military hating nutbags that portray themselves as veterans who have earned a right to be heard as experts. Now I am not saying all who blog under monikers like that are not valid. I know many in the milblog world whom are valid veterans. People like OldBlue, Vampire6, WOTN and Mr. Wolf all come to mind. They all have very good reasons to stay private and I respect that. However, when someone is open on whom they are it tends to attract readers and believers a lot faster. I know many people whom told me they were amazed that I blogged as a First Sergeant in a combat theater under my real name, never hiding anything. Lucky for me, I knew what was safe to blog and what wasn’t and I had the full support of my command several levels up. In fact one BDE CDR and CSM I got part-way through my tour looked at me when they first met me and said, “are you Bouhammer?”. When I told them yes with some nervousness and apprehension, then then responded with “great to meet you, we have been following your blog through our mobilization training”. I was instant rock-star to them, and it helped with their first impressions of me.Â Â Even though I have friends that milblog under pen-names I think it is wrong to suggest that as method to blog safely. Unless you have a good reason (your full time job, sensitivity of your job, etc) then blog under your name. Be honest, blog with common sense, and follow the rules. If you want to start out blogging under a pen-name to see how it goes and to see how your command reacts, and then reveal yourself I think that would be fine too.
The second tip is “Little brother is watching”. Lindy explains that here;
“…you have to consider how what you write will be looked at by not just your commander, but those in the ranks underneath you, as well. If Private Johnny notes that you just wrote a scathing post about some military issue or that youâ€™re writing things about your personal life that will make it difficult to see you in a professional light, think twice…”
It is easy to get around that, do as CJ did and don’t advertise your blog to your subordinates. If they stumble across it on the web and find you, great. But don’t show up to summer picnics with your website displayed across your T-shirt or have things in your office that show it. It is a free world and we are all human. If you write under your own name about how you and your wife are swingers, then you should be prepared for Private Johnny and his wife to show up at the front door on a Friday night. What is the difference between writing your opinion on a military topic or decision on your blog versus writing a letter to the editor of the Army Times? There is none, yet I have never heard of anyone punished for doing that. Now, if you write how your Commander or Sergeant Major is an A-hole and you have your name on the blog, and you publicize that blog to everyone in your unit then you will get what comes to you. That does undermine good military order and discipline and could leave you to legal ramifications in a civil court. As a Sr. NCO if I had problems with another NCO or officer, I did the right thing and took it to them directly and did not air it in front of my subordinate soldiers. Blogging does not relieve you of that integrity.
The third tip is “Donâ€™t get political”. I read the following and litteraly dropped a WTF?
“..avoid too much political speech in my professional interactions â€“ to include posts on my Facebook wall and tweets I send from my personal account.”
Your professional life is exactly that. I was an American Citizen 18 years before I became a Soldier. I earned and live under the same Constitution and Bill of Rights as any other American Citizen does. No where in my Army contract as an Enlisted soldier did it say I could not express my political opinion. There are Army regs about doing it on duty and in uniform which are understandable. Of course officers are also governed by regulations that prohibit them from speaking bad about the President, VP, SecState and others. Sucks to be them.
As long as I follow the regulations about not being political on duty or in uniform, then I am free to get political. Hell if anyone should have the right to air their opinion on politics, it is the ones who have risked life and limb for the freedoms of this country. This is the main reason behind why CJ and I started www.militarypundits.com. As the About Military Pundits page says itself;
we wanted to open it up to any and all military or past military members to also have a place to vent, unload, share or whatever they wanted to do about political matters. We have put together a group of milbloggers who represent both sides of the â€œaisleâ€, who belong to very different political parties, but most importantly who have all raised their hands and swore to defend this country against all enemies foreign and domestic.
Like with the earlier example, if you get radical and start blogging about some crazy stuff and make your fellow soldiers aware of what you are saying, be prepared. Politics drives our everyday lives as Americans, not even counting those that serve in the military. You have an opinion and you have earned a right to voice it. In addition, if you have a personal myspace, facebook, twitter or whatever account, it is exactly that…PERSONAL. Unless the Army provides you the time and resources to maintain that site, then it is yours to do with what you wish.
The last point in the entry is “Donâ€™t diss the boss.” This seems like common sense to me. I mean, there are things that can happen to you and they can be within the regs and rules. So you need to consider that. If you think your boss is going to take factual and un-slandering comments that you post and use them to be unethical and biased in his interactions with you, well chalk that up to “we are all human”. Lindy pretty much says the same thing in her posting, so I guess I agree with her here;
Itâ€™s just better for our job security that we donâ€™t talk negatively about our boss or other coworkers online. In the military, itâ€™s not just a good idea, itâ€™s crucial to the proper operating of the chain of command.
Good order and discipline in the military is critical. If you go around talking smack about your boss or peers in the motor pool or mess hall, then be prepared that someone could hear you and either have more loyalty to that other person or just want to score points with them. It isn’t hard to setup a google alert on you name and then get emails anytime your name is mentioned on the web. They are called vanity searches, and I have several for combinations of my name along with my blog sites. So if you start naming people, be prepared to deal with the fall out.
To Lindy’s credit, she works with some great people. Her co-workers, her bosses and those that wear ACUs around her “get it”. They understand the importance and significance of milblogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc. I have said it before and I will say it again, for the most part those at the top Two Star Generals and above and those at the bottom Lieutenants and some Captains get it. Thanks to great leaders like LTG Caldwell many more Majors “get it” today than they did a couple years ago. They are not the problem. It is many of the Sr. NCOs (usually Sergeant Majors) and mid level officers in the LTC to One Star General level that have issue with it. Just go back and read some of CJ’s story to see how his post Command Sergeant Major and COL reacted as a prime example. Look at how the IG office used his blog against him. Look at how the PTA President used his admission of suffering PTSD against him. Look at how his Commander also used his PTSD admission against him to remove him as a First Sergeant. Unfortunately there are thousands more of those that “don’t get it” which the everyday soldier has to deal with, than there are of those that “do get it”. Until that ratio changes milbloggers will still feel persecuted and harassed.