20. April 2010 · Comments Off on Continuing Interesting Stuff at the Milblogger Conference · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, History, Military, Technology, Veteran's Affairs

Yes, it was a week ago last weekend, but I have several jobs, four books to market, two more to write . . . oh, and a tax bill to pay. So, forgive me for dishing out the good bloggy ice cream in small dishes, ‘kay?

One of the unexpected highlights of the conference was a late addition to the morning panel lineup; this man was almost a proto-blogger: Major Norman Hatch, who as a young NCO and combat cameraman in the Pacific during World War II oversaw the filming of the battle for Tarawa. Greyhawk provided a short version of this video, with the audio turned down, and Major Hatch gave us a live commentary – a sort of directors’ cut.

Anyway, as I have pointed out many times, the military is its whole ‘nother world. I swear, I’ve been convinced for years that most civilians get their ideas about it – not from a genu-wine military person, but from some (usually self-appointed) expert, anointed by the cultural powers that be. Which usually makes those of us who have long been domiciled in the military world just roll our eyes and laugh behind our hands. Or throw something heavy at the television – it all depends. BTW, really perversely-humored military members often amuse themselves by feeding tall tales to said self-appointed experts, just to see if they are going to bite on the tall tale, hook line and sinker. I know they do this – I’ve always called it the Wister Effect.*
Trying to put across something of what the military experience is really like to the average normal civilian is what got me started in mil-blogging, back in the Dark Ages of blogging. And sham-wow! Did Sgt. Stryker’s Daily Brief suddenly have a lot of readers! On one notable occasion just about the time that the drive into Kuwait began, CNN linked to our home page – and the resulting traffic crashed the server. We were included in a short list of mil-blogs listed in a short (is there any other sort?) article in Time Magazine, and Yours Truly was interviewed a couple of times by reporters for national newspapers, who were putting together a story about the Great E-Mail/Milblogging Adventure, and how it was possible for the deployed military to be in such very close contact with their families and friends. All very heady and amusing stuff, this was – but I kept thinking how odd it was that the official military Public Affairs offices seemed to be completely clueless.

Having worked in an airbase PA office, I knew very well that part of the PA staff’s duties was to scan print media for any mention of the service, the particular base, or the military in general. I didn’t think it likely, in other words, that the official military could NOT know about mil-blogs in 2003 – especially since I made a special effort to visit a local PA office and offer to blog about any particular needs the local command had, with regard to deployed troops from that post, or for any casualties they might be caring for. I talked to a civilian in the office – who seemed quite keen, and left my name, email addy and URL for his commander, and never heard another word. Eh – no skin off mine, as the saying goes. But at the first afternoon panel of the Milblog Conference, we had a full brace of commanders – including Admiral J.C. Harvey, Commander U.S. Fleet Forces Command, who is an enthusiastic blogger, and Col. Gregory Breazile, who blogs for the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan.

Obviously, the official blog has arrived; the technology has been embraced by the higher levels. I did get up and asked, precisely when and what event precipitated this interest, when we early bloggers were treated as if we smelled bad, early on. Eh – the answer seemed to be that the very high ranks realized the value of social media fairly early on. One does not achieve the high command rank in the military by being an idiot, by the way. I’ve met some colonels who were dumber than a box of hammers, but every general I ever met personally seemed to be pretty sharp. At the other end of the scale, the very sharpest of the junior ranks had embraced social media, blogging, twittering and youtube almost at once. It was just the intermediate level, or so the Admiral explained, who weren’t quite sure what to do with or about it. This tracked pretty well with my experience, being as the Daily Brief’s founding blogger was a smart-ass Air Force enlisted mechanic who loved to spend his nights on the intertubules. (He also got bored easily, which is why he recruited other writers for his blog after a year.) I have to admit, there is a decidedly different feel to a blog which is there because it’s essential to communicating about the mission, and one that’s a volunteer effort and done for sheer enthusiasm.

Final wrap up tomorrow – stay tuned, sportsfans.

* The Wister Effect: so called after Owen Wister, the writer of The Virginian, who related a story about some cowboys in a small Western town. When some traveling Easterners came to town on the train, and began hyperventilating about the violence and danger in the Wild West, the cowboys obligingly staged a mock-lynching for their edification. Wear your expections too openly – and very likely someone with a perverse sense of humor will make a special effort and arrange to deliver what you were expecting.

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