Archive for the 'Military Blogging' Category

Why I Am A Milblogger

BY Herschel Smith
12 years, 1 month ago

Occasionally I receive a note from someone or read something that confirms my hard work as a Milblogger and gives me the energy to move forward.  That recently happened, but more on that in a moment.  I began blogging (and arbitrarily selected a name for my blog) just before my youngest son entered the U.S. Marine Corps.  But after my son’s decision, I began to focus on different things than politics.  I have recently taken to writing about guns, second amendment rights, the militarization of police tactics, the Southern border with Mexico and other things.  But I will always write about the military in one form or another.

It has been a rocky road.  The Milblogger community is a rough bunch, easily drawn into a fight.  So am I, I guess.  I cannot even begin to share the obscenities and ugly names I have been called in both comments and e-mail (some of it over my interactions with and support of Michael Yon), or share the accusations or charges that have been leveled against me (from “stolen valor” because of the name of my blog given that my son served but I didn’t, to violating OPSEC due to my work on trying to change the ROE).  The contact page currently doesn’t work, causing the ugliness to abate a bit.  I have had physical threats (not that I am concerned about those), and one exchange of e-mail with a prominent blogger and writer that to this day, after 32 years in business and industry and 53 years living remains the most bizarre, strange, inexplicable and indiscernible exchange with anyone over anything in my entire life.  I finally inquired into whether the individual had been consuming alcohol, and shared the notes with friend Joshua Foust (to which Foust recommended giving this individual a wide berth).

While the Marines were in the Anbar Province I followed their hard work even on a personal basis.  The U.S. Marines lost just over 1000 men, and I knew many (or most) of their names.  I knew how they had perished, oftentimes, and from press reports I knew how their families reacted.  I wept over many of the lost Marines, and also over many of them who had lost limbs.  Over the years it became so emotionally difficult and taxing that I had to disconnect a little in order to remain sane.  On the other hand, perhaps blogging kept me sane while my son was deployed to Fallujah in 2007.

So why have I done this?  Well, while I know that the standing rules of engagement of the JCS have not changed, or even the theater-specific rules of engagement, I do know that the manner and temperament with which they were applied by JAGs at the unit level was modified over the years in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I would like to think that my work on the ROE added in some small fashion to the feedback to command, both civilian and military.

While General McChrystal’s downfall was his having surrounded himself with adolescents rather than adults, and I’m sure that I didn’t add to his demise in command over the campaign in Afghanistan, I hope that I helped to catalyze the ejection of the Army officers who denied fire support to the Marines and Soldiers at Ganjgal.  McChrystal’s directive was immoral.  But the application of it by officers who should have known better was equally immoral.  In the end, if I didn’t persuade the Army to eject these defective officers, at least I gave the grieving fathers, mothers and wives a chance to express their grief.  The comments in response to Reprimands in Marine Deaths in Ganjgal Engagement are stunning and breathtaking.

I have also been able to make wonderful friends with a man far better than I, and had to watch while he grieved his lost son.  I have grown to know a man whose opinion on Afghanistan (and many other things) I would trust above all others and who has probably been in Afghanistan longer than any English-speaking man alive.  But just when I grow weary of this, someone sends me refreshment to keep me going.  In response to Enemy Sniper at COP Pirtle-King in Kunar I recently received two letters from a friend, summarized below.

I spoke with you months ago but I wanted to attach some photos of the kind of terrain that we had to battle. Granted my unit was mounted most of the deployment but I wanted to illustrate by showing you pictures some of the dismount patrols we did and also mounted patrols. Being on a PRT allowed us the opportunity to travel most of the province so we had to deal with humps up mountains, and traversing one lane roads surrounded by mountains.

I also wanted to attach pictures of what an OP looks. OP Bullrun (the pictures that looked like a bunker) which we manned (I was up there every other week for approx 7 days with a 8 man crew including myself) was a relay station to Camp Wright (or asadabad as some of the saltier guys call it) and also the trip flare if the indians came over the mountain to hit Camp Wright. We were an hour and a half away hump from Camp Wright and we had to rely on ourselves and fires if we came on contact. I currently don’t know if it’s being manned or if it’s an ANA post now.

I’ve also attached pictures that at the time was OP Nevada was an ANA OP across the Asmar/Kunar River from Wright. That was also a two hour hump. Now a lot has changed in two years so I couldn’t tell you it’s current status but I hope the terrain and some of the conditions that you see will further illustrate why in this particular province holding the high ground is a motherf***** (pardon my langauge).

I’m sorry if some of the pictures were “cool guy” pictures. I also wanted to point out that the individuals in most of the pics were my two buddies who I got recalled off IRR with for Obama’s half assed surge. They are [names deleted] from the 82nd Airborne and Spc. [name deleted] from 1st Ranger Battalion. A lot of infantryman got recalled to active duty for the surge to support the national guard operating as manuever elements in RC-East. That’s another story for another time.

I am a big proponent of your blog. I actually discovered your blog October 2009 at the MWR at Ft. Benning when I was recalled to active duty and I was trying to get info on Afghanistan. You actually published an article where my future Squadron Commander (1/221 Cav NV National Guard were the battle space owners for Laghman and provided the manuever element for PRTs Kunar, Nuristan, and Khost) about fighting the taliban. I was originally with 1/221 Cav manuever element that was assigned to PRT Kunar from December 09 to March 2010 and due to man power issues OP Bullrun was originally a 4 man OP. When the boys  went home (I actually moved to Las Vegas from Phoenix when I got back from Afghanistan in Oct 2010 and joined the unit so I can still serve while I go to school full time) PA National Guard and the New PRT took over. Because PA Guard’s manuever element was larger, myself and my three recall buddies pressed the issue to plus the OP to 8 guys.

The reason why we did this is from actually reading your reporting on Wanat, Keating, and various COPs and OPs getting hit in the AO. Because we had increased manpower we made it a point to work on the OP everyday by reinforcing bunkers, adding more C wire and razor wire, filling sandbags, placing claymores with breadth and depth (That was my dad’s advice. He was an Infantry Company Commander in Vietnam with the 101st), getting our Terp fired (we had issues with Claymores being cut and the previous PRT commander stated we needed to catch him in the act but with the new PRT I was able to convince higher to get rid of him), and daily patrols walking the perimeter (we did that to let whoever was watching us know we were active)

Now in terms of OPSEC (Editorial note: In an intervening e-mail we discussed issues of OPSEC) upon further reflection I don’t think that would be an issue because these photos are over 2 years old. From what I’ve heard through the grape vine OP Nevada is run by Americans now and OP Bullrun is an ANA OP now (which means it’s worthless) and apparently Camp Wright is getting shut down in the next 4-6 months.

In terms of losing all the hard work we did to be honest I really don’t care anymore. If there’s no will to secure victory and do it the correct way I see no point in being there. I don’t want anymore of my friends to die because of an incoherent strategy. Myself and countless others busted our ass and we did it for nothing. The only thing that helps me sleep easy at night the fact that I brought all my soldiers home.

And I thank you sir!

UPDATE: Thanks to Michael Yon for the link.

Friends, Relationships and Changes

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 1 month ago

Tim Lynch gives us some bad news.

This will be my last post.  I’m afraid the blog has become too popular raising my personal profile too high.  We have had to change everything in order to continue working.  How we move, how we live, our security methodology;  all of it has been fine tuned.   Part of that change is allowing the FRI blog to go dark.  I have no choice; my colleagues and I signed contracts, gave our word, and have thousands of Afghan families who have bet their futures on our promises.  If we are going to remain on the job we have to maintain a low profile and that is hard to do with this blog.

This is hard news for me to hear.  While I understand the decision, I sincerely regret that Tim has come to this fork in the road.  Tim’s honesty, integrity, wisdom, insight, experience and knowledge of the situation makes his web site one of the very few must reads for those who follow Afghanistan.  Tim continues:

As is always the case the outside the wire internationals are catching it from all sides.  In Kabul the Afghans have jailed the country manager of Global Security over having four unregistered weapons in the company armory.   When the endemic corruption in Afghanistan makes the news or the pressure about it is applied diplomatically the Afghans always respond by throwing a few Expat security contractors in jail.  Remember that the next time our legacy media tries to spin a yarn about “unaccountable” security companies and the “1000 dollar a day” security contractor business both of which are now fictions of the liberal media imagination.

With time comes progress; especially on the big box FOB’s; but progress has served us quiet the dilemma.  We depend on our two fixed wing planes for transportation around the country.  Sometimes we are forced to overnight on one of the big box FOB’s where random searches for contraband in contractor billeting is routine.  All electronic recording equipment; cell phones, PDA’s laptops, cameras, etc… are all supposed to be registered in base with the security departments. But we aren’t assigned to these bases and cannot register our equipment.  Being caught with it means it could confiscated, being caught with a weapon would result in arrest by base MP’s.  Weapons license’s from the Government of Afghanistan aren’t recognized by ISAF; at least not on the big bases.

I’m not bitching because I understand why things are the way they are.  The military has had serious problems with shootings in secure areas.  Not one of those has been committed by an armed Expat but that fact is irrelevant.  Both the British and Americans have armed contractors working for them who have gone through specified pre-deployment  training and have official “arming authority”.  Afghan based international security types may or may not have any training and they certainly do not have DoD or MoD arming authority.  A legally licensed and registered weapon is no more welcomed on a military base in Afghanistan then it would be on a base in America.  Try walking around one with a legally concealed weapon and see what happens if you’re detected.  Just because you have a concealed carry permit doesn’t mean you’re welcomed to carry a loaded weapon onto a military installation in America.

But it should.  Having a concealed weapon permit should in fact mean that you can legally carry on military installations in the U.S.  If concealed carry was allowed Major Hasan might not have been able to pull off the carnage that he did.  Furthermore, regular readers know that I have advocated that Marines and Soldiers (other than just SAW gunners) carry side arms.  But even if I disagree with the policy, Tim is working within the system.  Continuing:

So it is time for me to go from blogsphere. After this contract it will be time for me to physically go.  I have a childlike faith in the ability of Gen Allen to come in and make the best of the situation he finds on the ground.  Maybe I’ll stick around to see it for myself – we have a long summer ahead and much can change.  But staying here means going back to Ghost Team mode.

I want to thank all of the folks who have participated in the comments section, bloggers Matt from Feral Jundi, Old Blue from Afghan Quest, Michael Yon, Joshua Foust from, Herschel Smith from The Captains Journal and Kanani from The Kitchen Dispatch for their support and kind email exchanges.  Baba Ken of the Synergy Strike Force for hosting me, Jules who recently stepped in to provide much needed editing, and Amy Sun from the MIT Fab Lab for getting me started and encouraging me along the way.  Your support meant an awful lot to me; I’m going to miss not being part of the conversation.

This is an interesting list of journalists, analysts and bloggers.  There are other admirable and prolific journalists whom I follow, e.g., Sebastian Junger and C. J. Chivers.  But none of the other journalists have contacted me, nor have any others answered my e-mails (Bing West, Tony Perry, David Wood, etc.) .  Many journalists make themselves highly inaccessible.

Not so for analyst and blogger Joshua Foust, and certainly not so for Michael Yon.  I have developed a relationship with both Michael Yon and Tim Lynch that means a lot to me, and it isn’t necessarily I who have contributed most of the work.  That’s what’s so significant about this.  Tim and those on his list are genuinely good guys.

I truly want Tim not to be a stranger, and I am honored that he made mention of me in his last post.  I will cherish that.  Take note that Michael Yon begins another embed on June 2 or thereabouts.  But there is one more person whom I want to mention.  I am embarrassed to say that it wasn’t until well into his captivity that I learned that James Foley (who writes for the Global Post) had been kidnapped in Libya.  Jim has now been released, and I am thankful for his safe return.  Jim is also a genuinely good guy, and I used his work in The Five Hundred Meter War (as well as other work by Jim in other posts).  Jim was eager to strike up a relationship with me via e-mail, and offered up kind words to me from day one.

I expect (and hope) that my friends stay in touch with me, and I also appreciate my readers.  I believe that I have some of the best on the web.  I appreciate your following my musings and analysis even as I evolve the web site into coverage and commentary on firearms and second amendment rights, as well as political observations.  But I will always cover and analyze military affairs, and especially the Marine Corps.  Ten years from now, when others have forgotten about Iraq and Afghanistan, I will still be following them, God willing, and if I’m still alive and writing.  And the Lance Corporal in the field under fire will always have an advocate in me.

Soldiers’ Voices, War Reporting and Context

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 9 months ago

In The Five Hundred Meter War I linked a report at Global Post by James Foley, who also blogs at A World of Troubles.  Please spend the time to read my analysis as context for my criticism of another article below, and also visit Jim’s web site.  His prose is current, salient, well-informed and well written.

Citing the same report at Global Post by Jim, Pia de Solenni writing at National Review Online’s Corner weighs in quite differently from my analysis.

Two years ago today, my brother Bruno was killed while serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. Before going to Afghanistan, he’d done two other tours, including Iraq. I think just about every family member of a deployed soldier surveys the news with trepidation, worrying that it could be their loved one who’s the latest casualty or, worse, fatality.

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of my brother and, naturally, there’s a poignancy around certain dates like holidays, birthdays, and today. But last Friday, as I was watching the PBS NewsHour, I was completely unprepared for the footage of soldiers in Afghanistan. Viewers were warned that the segment would contain graphic images and graphic language. That warning didn’t begin to describe the content.

Footage included a soldier getting shot in the head; fortunately his helmet slowed down the bullet. Another soldier lost part of his arm. It was as if this were just a segment from an action film or a so-called reality show. But this is real life. The wounds are not special effects. They won’t go away when the cameras are turned off. The families of these soldiers could see them in danger and being wounded. And somehow, it’s all right to expose audiences, including families, to this very real brutality being done to U.S. soldiers; but the same audiences are too fragile to hear the f-bombs that, in such circumstances, are very understandable. Real life amputations and wounds, but no profanities.

Most soldiers are far more comfortable with people hearing them use profanity than they are with having their families caused any additional worry about their safety.

The journalists who prepared the segment would argue that they’re just reporting the facts. Ah, but these are selective facts. Did they show footage asking the soldiers whether they have any positive interactions with the Afghans? Did they ask the soldiers what they think of their mission? No, and they didn’t even allow them the expression of an f-bomb. So much for hearing the soldiers in their own voices. Instead, they were exploited by the graphic images of their activities. As the saying goes, if it bleeds, it leads. But if an audience is too fragile to hear certain words, surely it’s too fragile to see real life casualties.

Segments like this convey nothing but fear and futility. They give no context to the situation. To me it seems that they undermine the concerns of our soldiers insofar as they create greater fear and anxiety for families, precisely what the soldiers don’t want, all in the name of journalism so slanted that it looks more like propaganda aiding the enemy.

Yes, I am emotionally vested. But I’ve seen very little news coverage that represents the experiences of the soldiers I’ve known, including my brother. (Our hometown newspaper was one of the few exceptions I’ve seen. They even published a letter from Bruno, written just a few days before he died, explaining why he was serving in the Army.) I have an aunt who has organized an impressive local network of volunteers to send care packages to numerous troops. Frequently, she forwards their e-mails with their stories, which are so very different from most of what the media presents.*

Regardless of what one thinks of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, most people agree that those who serve in the military deserve our support. They’re already risking, even giving up, their lives for our country. If certain commentators and media outlets don’t agree with this, they only have that right because we have a long tradition of military men and women who have fought and died to protect that right for them. All I’m asking is that the soldiers themselves not be exploited, whether in the broadcasting of their injuries or by causing additional anxiety and suffering to their families.

Thanks to Pia de Solenni for the heavy sacrifice of a loved one.  Having deployed a son to Operation Iraqi Freedom in Fallujah at the very height of the violence in 2007, I know first hand what a heavy burden it is to bear up under the ubiquitous darkness of knowing that your flesh and blood  is under fire.  Friend and fellow Marine father Michael Ledeen signed his book The Iranian Time Bomb to me with these words: “To a fellow suffering father.”

I have suffered through having a son under fire, but not losing him in battle.  Losing a family member qualifies one, my my opinion, to have almost any view of the particular war, and seldom do I weigh in on the griefs or even views of others who have lost loved ones, even when they disagree with my own.  Andrew Bacevich is a good example.  Michael Ledeen and I have discussed Andrew, and while I am certain that he seldom writes anything with which I am in complete agreement, Andrew is qualified to speak his mind.  He lost a Marine son in the Anbar Province.

But Pia de Solenni’s opinion rings differently that mere commentary on a particular engagement or the overall campaign.  The commentary seems to be tilting towards self censorship of certain types of coverage and commentary of the war.  If something is too gruesome, too graphic, without enough prose or pictures of Soldiers and Marines walking hand in hand with indigenous peoples, then the coverage and commentary is without context.

Jim Foley is an embedded reporter who has been in theater since March.  According to his most recent communication to me, he is currently in Kandahar continuing to try to get a sense of things in that AO.  A quick survey of his blogroll and a longer survey of his prose shows him to be a well rounded reporter and analyst who is reporting with passion but also with balance.

No regular reader of my own posts over the last four years could possibly charge me with any sort of failure to provide context or lack of support for the troops.  But I have been critical when I felt that command or strategy deserved criticism, and for this I have been dropped from blogrolls, lost traffic, and received very tersely worded letters from various readers, including some military readers (usually in the NCO ranks, and usually among those who have yet to come to terms with blogs knowing anything about the detailed goings-on within the military).

If I comment on overall strategy, that should be left to the generals in the Pentagon.  If I link and comment on the rules of engagement, I am endangering the troops, regardless of the fact that they have previously been released on other web sites.  If I convey original reporting because of some contact I have within the military, I am cast into the same category as the military-hating main stream media if the reporting doesn’t have that jingoistic bent to it.

But war is violence, and so that I don’t rehearse the exploits of my son, I will refer to comments made by an Army officer in Iraq.

One thing that I think many people forget about Iraq (or maybe it wasn’t reported?) is that in 2007 and 2008 we were killing and capturing lots of people on a nightly basis. Protecting the populace was A priority. When speaking to the folks back home, in order to sell the war, perhaps we said that it was the priority. But on the ground, I do not recall a single Commander’s Update Brief spending any time at all discussing what we had done to protect anyone. We were focused on punching al-Qaeda in the nuts at every opportunity and dismantling their networks. The reconcilables got the message loud and clear that they could take money and jobs in return for cooperation, or they would die a swift death when we came knocking down their doors in the middle of the night. The rest of the populace made it clear to them that they should take the offer. The only protection that the population got from us was good fire discipline so that we did not kill non-combatants. We made it clear that the government intended to win this thing and we did not send that message by delivering governance or digging wells. We shot motherf******s in the face.  Pop-COIN blasphemers, your scripture is false teaching. Here is some truth:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; – Ecclesiastes 3:1-3 (KJV)

It’s time to kill.

There are many experiences, many examples, and a huge amount of context to deal with in any analysis.  It isn’t possible to address all of it all of the time.  On the other hand, I have repeatedly addressed the lack of force projection in the Provinces of Nuristan and Kunar, the failures at Wanat and Kamdesh, and the hard work of the men who fought in the Korengal Valley, while still calling out the bravery of the men who did our fighting in Eastern Afghanistan and covering my Marines in Helmand.  Soldiers who have written me have felt the love, as well as agreed with me on many occasions as I argued for more force projection, more distributed operations, and enemy-centric tactics such as chasing the insurgents rather than just focusing on population centers.

In the case in point, I have observed that it makes little sense to send troops on patrols to be shot at, blown up, and dismembered, while the insurgents roam the hills unmolested.  The insurgents aren’t being killed and the population isn’t being protected.  More troops are required, and then a different set of tactics.  This observation doesn’t detract from the bravery of the Soldiers who went on this particular patrol.  In fact, this observation does indeed set the correct context.

Honesty and advocacy for their needs is the best context that can be given to the story.  Sometimes this involves glowing reports about giving cows to widows of the war so that their sons don’t turn to the insurgency.  At other times this involves saying that some tactic, strategy or doctrine doesn’t suit the need of the moment.  The former is routinely accepted by those who lean right of center.  The same right of center folk must learn to accept the later without calling it out as disloyalty or lack of full context.  It’s what honest reporters and good military bloggers do.

Michael Yon, Chambered Rounds, and Cassandra

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 1 month ago

Regarding U.S. Troops in Afghanistan Patrolling with no Rounds Chambered in Weapons, and also Followup on Patrolling Without Rounds Chambered in Weapons, I received this communication:

I approved a frontrunner on this written by my associate editor who had seen Michael post about it on his dispatch thread on Facebook.

As a journalist who has earned a living for many years as an indie, I’d like to let you know I vetted this story via Michael, via a soldier who had to by necessity remain anonymous, and by doing exhaustive searches on military message boards wherein the claim was documented.

My editor and I had multiple phone conversations about everything from the title (I insisted on specificity) to the exact claims, one reason I parsed the title as “Some soldiers in Afghanistan may patrol with no rounds chambered in weapons.”

In the end we ran the story because not for the first time we felt concern about the politics affecting the prosecution of this war. My own concern involved the wellbeing of our men and women in the war zone.

What dismayed me, aside from some rather unpleasant comments, was the inaccuracy of some in the media who memed the story, yet failed to hold the line on the claims. Some simply did not even read the story accurately and I believe we were careful and truthful in our claims.

I do not know the writer Cassandra. I do know that, having glanced at her compositions, she would be better served by working in a fast food restaurant. I am assuming she really is a she. Those who do not fully identify themselves leave the door open as to their actual identity.

I stand by the story we ran. It is accurate. I have worked for wire services and written for Pulitzer prize winning publications as an independent for more than two decades.

There is not a editor in the land who would not have approved our original story because it was true.

I’d also like to say that of all the journalists and war correspondents I interact with and there are many, Michael Yon has my utmost respect.

I just wanted you to  know that.

best regards,
Kay B. Day, editor
The US Report

Cassandra should take notice.  In never pays to compose prose in a hysterical rant.  It also pays to assume that you know nothing when you must assume that you know something.  Just because Cassandra didn’t know that this report was vetted doesn’t mean that it wasn’t.  Not all writers call her for approval before running a report.

Send Andrew Lubin Back to Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 2 months ago

I have looked into embedding as an independent journalist, but for those who have a mortgage and children in college, as Bill Ardolino and Michael Totten told me once, it’s financially always a losing proposition to embed.  Always.  When I had a button for donations on the web site I didn’t receive a single penny.  But Andrew Lubin is braving the odds again.  I received this from him.

I’m looking to raise money to fund a trip (my 5th) to Afghanistan. I’m an author, journalist, and independent foreign correspondent who writes on current events, which in the last few years has brought me to Beirut, Iraq (4 times), GTMO, Afghanistan (4 times), and I’ve recently returned from Haiti.

I’ve already been accepted to embed with the 1st MEF (Marine Expeditionary Force) Fwd to write a “boots-on-the-ground” series – they’ll be pushing me out into Helmand-Nimroz-Farah Provinces where are young Marines will be located.

This is a critical time in the war. President Obama has tripled American troop strength, most of it Marine, and the troops are fighting with and training Afghan forces as well as dealing with Afghan leaders. It’s important to chronicle and document how our troops are performing.

With my prior embed experience, I’ll be out on the front lines as our Marines deal with Taliban, locals, and Afghan government officials. My writing is totally non-political. I’ll be writing two to three stories weekly, plus gathering info for a piece on U.S. military counterinsurgency tactics.

Funds are needed for round-trip airfare and miscellaneous expenses in Afghanistan.

Length of the embed is approximately six weeks — mid-May through the end of June. I already own my own flak, kevlar, boondockers, and other equipment.

But the first step is getting there, and corporate and other sponsorship has dried up. I need your help in traveling to Afghanistan in order to document what our brave young men and women are doing!

Send Andrew Back to Afghanistan

Please click on the above link to contribute! And feel welcome to email me with any questions or comments you might have at

Thank you for your support!!

Andrew is a top notch journalist.  Donate if you can.

In Defense of Michael Yon: An Open Letter to Milbloggers

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 2 months ago

My friend Michael Yon has had some difficulties of late.  From his Facebook page, an embed has been halted.  He has also expressed deep reservations about the senior leadership in Afghanistan, weighing in with some fairly hard hitting prose (pieced together from Facebook and NRO):

Today, I do not trust McChrystal anymore than some people trust the New York Times, Obama or Bush. If McChrystal could be trusted, I would go back to my better life. McChrystal is a great killer but this war is above his head. He must be watched … Crazy Monkeys: Senior Public Affairs people often make me think of crazy monkeys. (Like some monkeys I’ve seen in India.) They break into the cockpit and start flipping switches with no idea what the switches do. They keep doing it until something breaks or you beat them back. And just when you think you’ve beaten …them all back, another monkey slips in. (This time by name of Admiral Smith.)

The disembed from McChrytal’s top staff (meaning from McChrystal himself) is a very bad sign. Sends chills that McChrystal himself thinks we are losing the war. McChrystal has a history of covering up. This causes concern that McChrystal might be misleading SecDef and President. Are they getting the facts?

Next time military generals talk about poor press performance in Afghanistan, please remember that McChrystal and crew lacked the dexterity to handle a single, unarmed writer. 100,000 troops — probably that many contractors — and no room for one writer. How can McChrystal handle the Taliban?

To make matters worse, it seems that some prominent folks in the Milblogging community are taking Michael to task for what they consider bad form.  Uncle Jimbo (Jim Hanson at Blackfive) is indignant.

Now he is telling us that Gen. McChrystal is over his head and needs to be watched? I’m sorry but if I have to choose between the eminently qualified and competent McChrystal and Yon, there’s not even a question … I can’t believe he is questioning McChrystal’s character. That’s BS and low.  He has claimed he was told there was no room for him to embed, well that is not what I heard. It appears he was again removed for violating the embed rules. At some point you need to own up to the fact that it’s not the rest of the world…’s you. That point is now.

Disclaimer: I have not embedded…ever. I am not going to embed because I don’t want to. I like being in the rear w/ the gear. I have plenty of stamps on my passport, have toured the most craptastic places on the planet, and now don’t deploy anywhere w/o room service. I respect what Michael Yon has done, I just think he is acting like a jackass.

Jim links others in the Milblogging community who are discussing Michael’s most recent words. holds that Michael owes us some facts, and Laughing Wolf at Blackfive also weighs in negatively.  I have never been embedded either (although not for lack of trying).  But I sent a son off to war, and I defy anyone to tell me that it’s any less difficult to deploy a son to combat than it is to deploy yourself.  Jim Hanson has a right to weigh in – and so do I.

I have a history of Milblogging that is marked with potholes as well, and have taken on some staff and flag level officers.  Two years ago I took on General Rodriguez for his fanciful claims about the Taliban being in such trouble that they couldn’t and wouldn’t mount a spring offensive in Afghanistan.  I pointed out even before the Taliban offensive began that their singular focus at that time would be the interdiction of logistical lines, and recommended that we engage the Caucasus region for a Northern route into Afghanistan (we are only belatedly coming around to my counsel).  I was right, of course, but you make no friends in the chain of command when you claim that your own analysis is better than that of Army intelligence (and a flag level officer), whether true or not.

Next, recall that I parodied the notion that an internal investigation into Marine deaths in the Kunar Province having to do with denial of artillery support because of rules of engagement would in any way ever hold the purveyor of that ROE – General McChrystal – responsible. Again, one wins no friends with such hard hitting prose.  Better yet.  General Rodriguez and General McChrystal are close friends.  I’m sure that neither one appreciated my comments concerning the other.

I have very specific reasons to believe that my hard hitting style, my critical nature, and my cataloging of the various blunders in both Iraq and Afghanistan have cost me readership and standing within the Milblogging community.  Beyond that, there are the cold relations with high level officers.  Jim Hanson almost immediately received a response from General McChrystal in response to his letter concerning rules of engagement.  I had to send his public affairs officer a letter three different times to get a response to a OPCON question from – you guessed it – the PAO rather than McChrystal.

All of this points to the question of what obligations we have as Milbloggers (beyond operational security and other basic issues).  I can’t speak for all Milbloggers, but I can speak for myself.  I am not trying to turn a discussion about Michael Yon into one about myself, but I am trying to relate.  I have a moral obligation to support the warriors we deploy to do our violence for us (and that includes our warriors in the chain of command).  I have an obligation to tell the truth, and I have done that as best as I know.  I have an obligation to fulfill my commitments: I have told Michael Yon that I would pray for his safety, and I have done that.

I am under absolutely no obligation whatsoever to support any particular personality, any strategy, any tactic, technique or procedure, any set of rules, or any doctrine.  I will do the best I can to hold those in the military and also those who fund them accountable.  This is oftentimes unpleasant, but I will issue no complaints.  I have chosen my path.

Similarly for those who know Michael, he spoke against those who said that Operation Iraqi Freedom was lost, or that it was won; he said that Afghanistan would be problematic even before I did (he saw it first hand); he talked about the job that the British were doing in Basra even when I was lamenting the poor strategy; he has also reported on problems with allies in Afghanistan.  In short, Michael Yon has been an honest broker of information and analysis, whether pleasant or not, whether his analysis agreed with my own or not.  Perhaps I feel a kinship with him even though I have never met him.

Either way, Jim Hanson sets two people in juxtaposition – General McChrystal and Michael Yon, and says that he’ll take McChrystal.  I’m not at all troubled by the dilemma.  I refuse to play.  But I am particularly troubled by the notion, even if faintly present, that I am somehow obligated to march in lock step with the senior officers.  If I am not obligated to march to their beat, then neither is Michael Yon.  He can give account for himself and his own words.  He will take his lumps at times, and if he broke some rule or other (as Hanson charges), then he will suffer whatever consequences there are for that infraction.  But as a journalist there is no reason to expect that he will be any less critical of things than say the New York Times, albeit for different reasons.

Jim Hanson tells us that he believes differently concerning Michael’s recent embed experience (“ … that is not what I heard”).  This is all well and good.  He can believe what he wants.  I generally have a high bar for information I use or purvey on the blog.  I wasn’t there, I don’t know anyone who was, and even if I did know someone who was there, I also know that the story can become muddled in translation.  What happened to Michael is his business, not mine.  As for whether McChrystal “needs to be watched,” I’ll pass on that and let Michael explain his prose.  I have expressed very detailed disagreement with General McChrystal’s ROE and what I see as his micromanagement of the campaign.  I don’t retract or apologize for a single word of my prose.

Michael will continue in my estimation to be the Ernie Pyle of our generation and this incident will pass.  It’s also my estimation that these open letters to Michael are a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.  We Milbloggers have better ways to spend our time than cannibalize our own.  The most important thing to come out of the affair is another chance to say what we all know but tend to forget when it comes to the nation and military that we love.  I am under no obligation to shill for the chain of command.  Neither is Michael – and neither are you.

The Media, the New Media and U.S. Intelligence

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 4 months ago

The DoD policy on the new media has been released.  There are positive steps – computers are to be configured to access such sites within the constraints of operational security.  But the policy is subject to local application and enforcement. likes it, but I’ll wait to see the affects of the policy before weighing in on it.

My experience with blogging is that even as a parent of a member of the military, my words got significant attention to both me and my son, some of it unwanted and unwarranted.  There were daily site visits from PAOs, and usually within minutes of making posts.  If I mentioned water survival training while donning body armor, it got my son a visit to the First Sergeant’s office and a call from the Colonel, or better yet, a comment about how “we don’t do that sort of thing.”

Absurd.  Nothing false, nothing OPSEC about it, just a desire to control the narrative.  Concern over what mothers might think if they read the blog, or something of that nature.  I would have thought it wise and laudable that the Marines taught their guys to deal with HMMWV rollover incidents where the Marine ended up in a river with his body armor on.  After all, it had happened before.

The secrecy surrounding the 26th MEU was extraordinary.  We got more information from his deployment to Fallujah than we did from the Persian Gulf.  But any bystander at the Suez Canal who has a cell phone can inform his contacts when he sees a U.S. Amphibious Assault Dock floating by.  The concern that a Marine on board a ship  informing his family members about his proximity being more valuable information than someone in Egypt actually seeing a ship floating by is the fantasy of control freaks.  Enlisted men rarely are in possession of something that can seriously compromise OPSEC, and if they are, they are usually mature enough to handle the responsibility.

Stepping into the twenty first century is proving to be difficult for the military in more ways than accepting social networking.  In Systemic Defense Intelligence Failures, I lamented the fact that I had pointed out the Taliban strategy of targeting lines of logistics two years ago, while Army intelligence was busy denying that there would be any resurgence of the Taliban or even a spring offensive in 2008.  Military intelligence should have been reading my analysis rather than arguing their own merits.  Intelligence failures also played a part in the losses at COP Keating and Wanat.

The DoD may be adjusting.

On their first day of class in Afghanistan, the new U.S. intelligence analysts were given a homework assignment.

First read a six-page classified military intelligence report about the situation in Spin Boldak, a key border town and smuggling route in southern Afghanistan. Then read a 7,500-word article in Harper’s magazine, also about Spin Boldak and the exploits of its powerful Afghan border police commander.

The conclusion they were expected to draw: The important information would be found in the magazine story. The scores of spies and analysts producing reams of secret documents were not cutting it.

“They need help,” Capt. Matt Pottinger, a military intelligence officer, told the class. “And that’s what you’re going to be doing.”

The class that began Friday in plywood hut B-8 on a military base in Kabul marked a first step in what U.S. commanders envision as a major transformation in how intelligence is gathered and used in the war against the Taliban.

Not too many months ago Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn published a scathing critique of intelligence analysis in Afghanistan (I thought it was more than a little weird and a bit too political to publish this report with CNAS).  But I have read the entire report by Matthieu Aikins in Harpers.  It’s well worth the read by people interested in hard core data, names, information and analysis of the situation in Afghanistan.

Whether studying Aikins’ report, or Nicholas Schmidle on the Next-Gen Taliban, or David Rohde’s account of his captivity under the Taliban, some of the best information and analysis is right in front of our eyes if we can think outside the box.  This is why the media must be culled for good reports, and – to a lesser extent – it’s why I get military visits every day.  The new media merits its own attention, but it needs to be the right kind of attention.  We need for the military to pursue good analysis, not fulfill their own [sometimes] megalomaniacal ambitions to control every little detail of everyone’s life.

Who says blogs don’t matter?

BY Herschel Smith
14 years, 8 months ago

From Google Analytics:


See network domain number 139 that particular day from Washington, D.C.  Analytics shows this to be a previous (repeat) visitor who didn’t come to TCJ via other links.  Here at The Captain’s Journal we’re glad to have each and every one of our readers, from the executive office of the President U.S.A. to DoD, CENTCOM, Dyncorp, Cornell University, FEMA, the U.S. Senate, and John Deere.

Dude, where is my blog?

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 1 month ago

The server was down and so The Captain’s Journal hasn’t been on line for about three days.  Fixed now, and for those readers who are just waiting around to see what we have next (all three or four of you), we should resume regular posting.  Thanks for your patience.


TCJ Management

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The Captain’s Journal Blocked in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
15 years, 4 months ago

Joshua Foust and I were engaging in some friendly jousting over a few articles we had written (and found much more on which to agree than disagree), and some interesting information came to light.  You see, Joshua is currently in Afghanistan, and he responded to me that he couldn’t get to my web site as it was locally blocked by S6 (or otherwise CJ6 or J6, which is Army IT Staff).

I immediately copied the article into an e-mail and sent it on its way, but only later did the importance what Joshua said dawn on me.  Pressing him for more data and information, Josh responded with an article of his own.  The results of his little investigation are striking.

Blackfive is blocked, as is Abu Muqawama, Global Guerrillas, and our very own The Captain’s Journal.  This list is not comprehensive.  Allowed are Small Wars Journal, The Long War Journal, and rather interestingly, Bouhammer, whose URL has the word ‘blog’ in it.  I use WordPress to create articles, but I am not associated with WordPress and the Army would have no way of knowing what software I use.

The Captain’s Journal hasn’t been swept up in some doltish group block such as with Twitter.  No, we have been specially selected.  Says Joshua:

On a personal level, is blocked. This is not an automatic block, as the category used in the reason line is “local blocks,” or it was manually added. Why an S6 would want to block this blog from being read on Army computers escapes me, but it is nevertheless the case. Many other blogs, including everything on blogspot, are also inaccessible … I see no noticeable rhyme or reason to this, aside from some local blocks, like Captain’s Journal, that are deeply puzzling. But it also speaks to a deeper problem in how the military in general is approaching IT issues in the field: it makes absolutely no sense. Many of the blocked blogs are sources for deep, intelligent, and even essential analysis, news, and discussions. In fact, I only know they are blocked because I read them and see value in them.

Someone in the Army in Afghanistan, after reading our content, has made the decision to initiate a local block of The Captain’s Journal.  Is it a field grade officer?  Is it a member of Army IT staff?  We don’t yet know.  But we do know that this is not accidental.

Now, we have been critical of the failure to look forward and plan for problems in logistics in Afghanistan, given that we pointed out the strategy now being employed by the Taliban one year ago in Taliban and al Qaeda Strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  We also shot straight with Major General David Rodriguez (and Army intelligence) for ignoring the signs and even arguing that there wouldn’t be a Taliban spring offensive in 2008.  And while we praised certain parts of the campaign such as the Marine Corps operation in Helmand, we were also critical of certain other parts such as the disaster at the Battle of Wanat, especially focusing on the lack of control over the terrain at Observation Post Top Side.

But there are bright aspects of our prose, such as our almost constantly reminding command that Afghanistan needs more troops along with Generals McNeill and McKiernan.  We don’t apologize for any of it.  We aren’t a cheerleader site.  We don’t try to beat other web sites with breaking news.  We don’t regurgitate talking points.  We are an analysis and advocacy web site.  Our track record is impeccable, from advocating troop increases in Iraq before the word “surge” had ever been heard, to predicting the interdiction of logistical routes through the Khyber pass.

The troubling aspect of The Captain’s Journal being blocked isn’t our own reputation.  We won’t change, and we will only do what we can do to influence policy, logistics, strategy and tactics.  We are still a relatively small blog, but we have been contacted by a number of military both in Afghanistan (before we were blocked) and after coming back stateside.  We have been told that we are one of the more “squared away” web sites on Afghanistan.

But even if it’s unlikely that The Captain’s Journal could make any substantive difference in the state of affairs – and we are not convinced that this is so – the troubling aspect of being blocked is what it says about the Army and its institutional intransigence.  I already have had such experiences with the Marine Corps, and my relationship with PAOs has probably been irrevocably harmed as a result.

But when the Army’s own Command General Staff College is now requiring its officers to blog, what does this say about their own ability to listen to constructive criticism when they apparently cannot bear the scrutiny of The Captain’s Journal?  This is not a good sign.


Joshua Foust, Registan, Dispatches from FOBistan

Wings Over Iraq, Regarding Proxy Servers and Blocked Websites

David Axe, War is Boring Blocked!


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