Blogging in Iraq

There are a few more things that I’d like to say about the deployment to Iraq, so this blog will keep going for a few more months, maybe even longer.   The topic for today is blogging itself.

 When I started this blog, it was for two reasons.  First, to keep my family and friends informed about what was going on for me in Iraq.  It’s easier to do the blog than to try to explain everything to every one of my friends, and the blog allows the sharing of photos and other files very easily, which makes it a great way to keep in contact with folks back home.  So from time to time I’d email my friends and let them know to check on my blog, and kept a link to this blog on my Facebook page.

 The second reason I created this blog was to let the world know the truth about what life is really like in Iraq, which is a job that the media in general is not doing well.  I show pictures and descriptions of real life at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.  You can judge for yourself how well I’ve done this. 

 One idea I don’t think I’ve conveyed adequately is just how safe it is in Iraq for US personnel.  About 95% of the folks in Iraq never leave the base, even on a convoy.  The base itself is very well protected.  There is a 15-foot high fence surrounding the perimeter with motion sensors, and guard towers.  Nothing gets into our out of the base unless it’s carefully checked by some good security forces.  The entire year, I never heard of anything like a ground attack on any base anywhere in Iraq.  The only threat was the occasional mortar or rocket attack, perhaps once every week or two.  Most of these missed the base entirely, and those that hit usually hit the middle of a gravel yard somewhere.  So aside from the occasional mortar or rocket attack, being on Joint Base Balad is about as safe as you can be in the USA, really!  The entire year, nobody on my base died from enemy action, although some died from suicide, accidents, or medical conditions (e.g. heart attack).  I believe being in Iraq is just as safe for any soldier as being in any US city.  This is something you’ll never hear about in the mainstream media.  I also believe that the Iraqis generally like us, and look at US Forces as a source of stability, economic growth, and an honest broker in the reconstruction of their country.

 This blog has been a lot more popular than I thought it would ever be.  So far, it’s gotten over 50,000 hits.  It still gets 200 to 300 hits per day, over a month after I’ve left Iraq.  This is a great source of information on Joint Base Balad, which is why people keep checking it out.  This is the place to go if you want to see what a salad bar looks like at a JBB DFAC, or see the dance at the rec center, see an MRAP, or many other things.  Google Images lists my photos of the movie theater and pool as some of the most popular depictions of JBB.  Apparently I’m also one of the few places on the web to describe Camp Buehring, and that page gets a steady stream of hits.  I’ve also been pleased to get some favorable press, including this recent article in my hometown newspaper:

 http://www.thecamarilloacorn.com/news/2009-10-23/Neighbors/Blog_sheds_light_on_Army_life_in_Iraq.html

 So if anyone else in Iraq is interested in blogging, I hope that this blog provides some inspiration.  Bloggers are doing a fine job of showing the American people what is really going on in Iraq.

 Now onto the topic of some critics of this blog.  All year long, I’ve gotten the occasional negative email from someone wishing to attack the blog.  The most common reason is that the critic takes issue with the “OPSEC” (operational security) of the blog, a military way of saying that I have been giving away military secrets, or that this blog is otherwise illegal.

 Any discussion of this topic should begin with reference to Army Regulation 530-1, AR 25-2, and also U.S. Army Public Affairs Fact Sheet dated 2 May 2007, interpreting AR 530-1.  In addition the military command in Iraq has published MNCI Policy #9 regarding blogs (I’m posting all of these public documents here  AR 25_2; AR 530_1MNCI Policy #9; USA PA Fact Sheet on Blogging). 

 The main rules regarding a blog are:

 1.         A soldier should inform his or her OPSEC officer and immediate supervisor when establishing a blog.  Army Regulation 530-1. (I have done this).

2.         In no way will every blog post/update a Soldier makes on his or her blog need to be monitored or first approved by an immediate supervisor and Operations Security (OPSEC) officer.  America’s Army respects every Soldier’s First Amendment rights while also adhering to Operations Security (OPSEC) considerations.

3.         “Prevent disclosure of critical and sensitive information in any public domain” (AR 530-1, para. 2-1(c)(1).  Specifically, “Do not publicly disseminate, or publish photographs displaying critical or sensitive information. Examples include but are not limited to Improvised Explosive Device (IED) strikes, battle scenes, casualties, destroyed or damaged equipment, personnel killed in action (KIA), both friendly and adversary, and the protective measures of military facilities.” 

 If anyone cares to take the time to review these references, and then review my blog, I am convinced you will not find a single violation of any rule or policy in this blog. 

 Despite my adherence to the above, I still get emails like this one:

 ———————————————-

Author : Melinda Patterson

Comment:

Hi Brian.  Just a quick message.  I think it is really great that you kept a running journal on your stay and happenings in Iraq.  Unfortunately, I also think that it was meant to be private.  There are certain things that just shouldn’t be shared with others.  Sending comments to your wife to discuss things on how it is going for you and to get support is one thing.  Announcing it to the world is totally different.  As you should know being a soldier.  To release information on crashes and being under fire is uncalled for and may cause terrible thoughts and findings for family members.  Which is not your place or your job.  That is why we have family readiness groups.  It is also my opinion that you are putting your fellow soldiers in danger by some of the things you have said.  Especially to display maps of the camps.  That is like saying here is an open invitation.  You may be leaving, but there are others still serving, in which my husband being one of those soldiers still there.  So for you to compromise him or any other soldier is pure stupidity!  How you have gotten away with this is beyond me.  You should be reprimanded for this.  In closing, I do hope that you have a safe return to your home and family.  Every soldier deserves that!!!

———————————————-

 The email takes issue with me for several things, including:

1.  Talking about a helicopter crash on the base — I blogged about this two days after the incident was published in the newspapers, and disclosed nothing beyond what the newspapers already included.  Hard to see how one could possibly compromise anything by referring to something already in the newspapers.

2.  Describing being under fire   — Point taken, in that describing battle scenes and the protective measures of military facilities is prohibited.  The bottom line is that EVERYONE knows that we get rocket and mortar attacks, and this information is so widely known, that I don’t see how any reasonable person could take issue with my writing something like “The only threat was the occasional mortar or rocket attack, perhaps once every week or two. . . . ”  This is such a general report on the attacks, that I believe freedom of the press clearly takes precedence in this case.

3.  Displaying maps of the camps.  The maps I’ve posted are either taken from Google Earth (a public source of information), or are maps that are so out of scale that they could not reasonably be used for any attack on the base.  Bear in mind that we let thousands of Iraqis onto our bases, and the general location of most facilities is very well known to these folks.  The secrecy factor of these maps is extremely low, inasmuch as they are given to foreign nationals as well, and I see no realistic security threat caused by my posting the maps that are on this website.

I believe that the blog is 100% legal, and 100% proper.  Nothing on this blog is a threat to the lives or safety of US personnel anywhere.   Anyone taking issue with this is welcome to challenge this assertion, and my email address and contact information is prominently posted on this blog for you to do so. 

 There were several other emails written to criticize the blog, most of which were not nearly as articulate or constructive as Ms. Peterson’s.  I’m not sure what would motivate someone to write a nasty email to me, but hey, it’s the internet and anonymity makes people do weird things.

 The worst thing that can be said is that I posted some photos from the JBB airfield, and unknown to me there is some Air Force rule prohibiting any pictures from the airfield.  Even the Air Force folks who saw my pictures realized that there was no threat from the photos I posted, and so they did not take issue with my blog.  The bottom line is that nowhere in this blog, anywhere, is there any information that could be used to threaten American lives, or compromise sensitive information.  I invite others to take issue with this, and you are welcome to contact me with any concerns after viewing this blog.

 I was pleased to get several positive responses.  A few days after I got back, I received a lovely letter from Leah Ritter, whose husband was in the unit that replaced mine.  The letter stated “Thank you for your very wonderful Joint Base Balad blog.  The time, energy, and detail put into it has served as an invaluable resource for my family here. …  Searching for info on Balad, I came upon your blog.  Now I know what T-walls looked like.  It quickly became a resource for the kids and me to see what life was like at JBB – even reptile, bird & plant life….  Last night my 9-year old was tickled by the photos you posted of the Christmas Parade and the one of you on Santa’s lap…  Even the video of the Maine Troop Greeters at 2AM was great – Mark had told me he felt so appreciated by them in Bangor.  And now I’ve experienced what that was like for him.  My family appreciates your service to our country, your sacrifice of a year away from home and family, and your dedication in writing and sharing your experiences.”

 WOW!  Thank you very much Leah!!  I’ve gotten dozens of similar emails with similar thoughts, but this was the first actual letter, and it says it all so very well.  Ms. Ritter’s letter even included a nice family photo.  Anyway, I am glad to have done the blog, and I hope it helps others to understand life in Iraq.

 The above topics are very valid concerns, and anyone blogging in Iraq should be aware of the above discussion.  If you are ready to start blogging, I highly recommend WordPress (www.wp.com).  It is great, because you can put your text, photos, and other files including even video, all on the blog for the world to see.  Let other sites like Milblogging.com and the Thunder Run have a link to your blog, they are great at promoting military blogs.  Go ahead and get started, and let me know if you do!!

11 Responses

  1. “I see no realistic security threat caused by my posting the maps that are on this website.”

    That doesn’t mean the threat doesn’t exist. It just means you don’t think like a terrorist/insurgent.

    OPSEC isn’t about eliminating the obvious threats — it’s about minimizing our security risks as much as possible. You have unfortunately not done that in your blog, especially when it comes to maps, airfield photos, and photos of guarded entry control points.

    You also should ask yourself what the benefit of those photos would be.

    Do your blog readers really need to see a map of a U.S. base in the AOR? No. The people who could benefit from that map will get their own copy when they arrive.

    Is there something gained by a blog audience knowing the general layout of airfield areas? Again, nothing gained, so the risk of giving information to the enemy is pointless.

    Lastly, posting photos of MRAP vehicles just isn’t a good idea. I know there are plenty of photos out there already, but why add to it? The MRAPs have saved countless lives (and limbs) since their implementation; I know I personally wouldn’t want to be the guy who somehow helped IED-makers defeat them.

    • JAR, I really appreciate you taking the time to comment as you have done. My basic reply is that the public has a right to know, and that is the benefit to the info in this blog. If you have been ‘over there’ as I have, I think you’d agree there is no security risk of any measurable amount caused by the info disclosed. But thanks for your criticism, it is well taken!

      • And I appreciate your blog, in general. It’s great information for a lot of people — but you could have accomplished that same objective without the OPSEC concerns.

        I’m actually “over here” right now (at JBB), but I don’t agree. I’m in a field where I frequently hear about how the enemy uses seemingly mundane OPSEC slips to hurt us or our allies.

        As a lawyer, you should understand that the public does not have a “right to know” the exact layout of an American military base or how many guards stand at entry control points or where our aircraft assets are placed on the airfield.

        Sorry, major — from an OPSEC standpoint, you’re still wrong. It’s up to you whether you want to allow your missteps to stain an otherwise very good addition to public knowledge.

  2. God bless you. It was very nice to read your blog. Our country is blessed to have such fine men as you and others. As a old fart who served from the 50′s. I salute
    you. CARRY ON

  3. I had no idea that your unit was the one being replaced by the 90th. Mark told our children that he had to do this tour in part to allow some other soldier to return home to his/her family. And now we have seen photos of your homecoming–small world!—Leah

  4. Brian,
    I’m one of the people that keeps coming back. Thank you for your service to our country. If anyone has any issues with your blog, I’m sure with a Google search I can pull up information just as much or more detailed than what you showed on your blog.
    Good luck in the future!
    Justin

    • Yes, I agree 100%. There’s nothing on this blog that would help Al Qaeda, or even the Muslim Brotherhood of Iraq. Most of what is listed here is already all over the web anyway, it’s just put into perspective in this blog. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Major, I am the person quoted in your hometown newspaper. The writer contacted me after seeing a reply I had to you in August.

    I was in Iraq all of 2005 (Mosul) and will deploy there again (JBB) sometime next year. I am also a Public Affairs Supervisor. You already know this, but wanted others to know, that you are correct. Everything you posted over your year would have been OK’d through Public Affairs. My suggestion for anyone who had issues was to look at your links regarding PA and JBB…informative and to the point. Some people are simply never happy! God bless you and your family, thanks for your service, and a big “hooah” from a 21 year still serving vet!

  6. Hi there,

    I have a very good friend leaving for JBB in a week. Since I know nothing about anything going on there, I of course turned to google to see what the base is like, what its like over there, etc. I found your blog, and just browsed through it. I want to say thank you for writing it. It helped put me at ease. I appreciate the detail and the ordinary! And thank you for serving our country!

  7. Brian,

    I too have blogged during my time in Kuwait, Iraq, and in the coming weeks, Afghanistan.

    I have been concerned about OPSEC as well, but there is something that I believe a lot of your detractors haven’t considered. They have fallen into the trap of believing that our enemies are stupid or dumber than us. Al Qaeda has all of the information that you have shown on your blog. Nothing that you have posted has endangered American lives.

    contractmedicevans.blogspot.com

    Brian Evans

  8. Reading your blog put me at ease about my husband deploying to JBB(will arrive this week). Thanks.

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