Immediate and intimate, revealing and raw: For firsthand, unflinching accounts of life in a war zone, look no further than milblogs.
Short for military blogs, milblogs are personal online journals being kept by hundreds, if not thousands of soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Milblogs have proliferated in a massive way,” said Christopher Michel, president of military.com, the nation’s largest military membership organization at 4 million strong.
“These (bloggers) really are the most embedded journalists.”
In this tech-savvy generation’s war, a grunt’s kit bag often includes a camera phone, video games and a laptop computer. Free and easy-to-use Web page software and ubiquitous Internet access make creating a blog a cinch.
E-mail is a fast and still-popular way to keep in touch, but many soldiers are finding that blogs are a more efficient way to share the intensity of their experience.
“It was an easy, automated way of staying in touch with friends and family, instead of sending the same e-mail over and over again,” said Jason Hartley, whose blog, justanothersoldier.com, was just published as a memoir by HarperCollins.
During World War II, V-Mail was an innovative solution to the six weeks it took for letters home to arrive; by photographing a letter, putting it on film, flying it to its destination and enlarging it, transit time was cut to 12 days, saving valuable cargo space in the bargain.
In the Vietnam War era, communication was still limited to slow-moving, often censored letters and the occasional, precious phone call.
Today, anxious friends and relatives receive candid e-mails just seconds after the “send” button is clicked on the other side of the globe.
“With a blog, you can go on a mission in the morning and post a story with photographs that evening,” said Colby Buzzell, a self-described Army “trigger puller” whose caustic blog, My War, has also been published.
Milblogs range from wildly popular to obscure. Some have thousands of readers daily; others use blogging technology to strictly limit access to close friends and family members.
Marine Sgt. Brian Dunlap of Carmichael had a handful of devoted readers on his MySpace blog. After he was killed by a roadside bomb Sept. 24, his blog drew hundreds of readers, who left tributes to his sacrifice.
“Thank you!” wrote a reader named Chris. “Thanks for being man enough to join, train, and take a bullet for me. i wish you could read this … I’m grateful for your actions.”
John Upperman, an officer in the Texas Army National Guard, has blogged since arriving in Iraq in January.
His blog _ Who’s Your Baghdaddy? _ began as a way to keep his wife, four children and friends posted on his activities.
“Within a month I noticed I was getting a lot of traffic so I expanded my stories and have since attempted to relay stories that most Americans will never hear about … especially the good ones,” Upperman said in an e-mail from his post 45 miles south of Baghdad.
“There is no way the media can cover the story to the same extent that bloggers do,” Upperman said. “We live it every day and therefore bring a very unique perspective.”
Hartley was never much of a writer, but his war experience unleashed a hidden talent.
“It was the first thing I’ve done in my life that was interesting enough to write about,” said Hartley, who made his living as a freelance Web designer.
Using the do-it-yourself Blogger service and his tech savvy, he launched justanothersoldier.com, a no-holds-barred account of his tour.
His brutally honest posts veered from sentimental to sarcastic, from graphic to guffaw-worthy, and soon, his site was receiving thousands of visits a day.
After returning home in January, Hartley sold his account to publisher HarperCollins. The result, “Just Another Soldier: A Year on the Ground in Iraq” was released last week.
A movie deal is also in the works, Hartley said.