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April 24, 2006

The First Milblogging Conference.

I was gonna do a funny post on it, but, well, helk, I can't top SGT Hook's, so I won't try.

Simply put - this was a well-done event. For an event pulled together by a first timer, Andi of Andi's World, it was stunning in how well things went. Andi had lots of volunteer help - but let's be honest - this happened because *she* wanted it to.

The Greyhawks co-hosted the online forum. There was much fun in the chat room, even if it got rather distracting for Greyhawk when he was trying to harvest questions from the crowd.

The interaction between the people at the conference, and the online vultures watching on the livefeed was hilarious. A very visible result of that is CJ's bald spot on my Liveblogging post...

Big shout out to Military.com for their sponsorship and the excellent lunch. I gotta say, however, Navy types, even retired ones working for Military.com, still suck at PowerPoint and briefing... 8^) Sorry, couldn't resist! It was an excellent lunch, and I'll be happy to coach you for next year.

Austin Bay as the keynote speaker and closer was his usual succinct self.

The first panel, Milblogging Past, Present, and Future was hosted by Buzz Patterson consisted of hoary old Titans Matt of Blackfive and Citzen/LtCDR Smash, serving milbloggers CJ of A Soldier's Perspective and John from Op-For, rounded out by Marine veteran Steve of ThreatsWatch. This panel was a good retrospective on the who, how, and why of the Origins of Milblogging, as well as some of the rocks and shoals of same, revolving mostly around the minefield of OPSEC (hmmm, how many metaphors did I mix there...). Everybody agreed on the importance of OPSEC, but, just like the Services, not everybody agreed on what it is. As Matt noted, "OPSEC is like pornography - I can't define it, but I know it when I see it." Potter Stewart probably spun in his grave. Many of us obviously prefer the hands-off watchfulness of the Marine Corps approach to the mixed signals and hov'ring, sometimes baleful glare of Army scrutiny. Time will tell, and undoubtedly, some active-duty bloggers will get pinched in the gears of doctrine and policy development and implementation.

Did I say "doctrine"? Indeed, I did. CENTCOM sent several PAO reps who discussed that either CENTCOM is developing doctrinal proposals, or they are working with Big Army to develop same. I was late to that little cluster-chat out in the foyer and therefore might have who's doing what mixed up. The fact that they were at the conference is a positive development - because aside from the OPSEC issues, the other issue was... well, wait - that really surfaced hard in the last panel, Active Duty Milbloggers. 1st IO wasn't there officially, one hopes they at least watched the livefeed.

I have to admit I missed most of the second panel, as I was taking great risks with my personal OPSEC by talking to a couple of the journalists who were present, such as Mr. Glover of National Journal, so rather than cover what was said since I missed so much of it - I'll just tell you who was there and you can check the other AARs (which are linked to my Live Blogging the Conference post).

Andi of Andi's World hosted the panel, which was comprised of Carla of Some Soldier's Mom, Carren and Chuck Zigenfuss of From My Position, and Deb, from Marine Corps Moms. One thing I did take away from the panel was the distaff side is *still* not happy about how the services interact with the families - and that they are *very* appreciative of all the grass roots efforts that originated in the blogosphere. As a member of the distaff side during the Vietnam War, I can tell you however much it seems to suck now - it's light years better than it was then. There is obviously room for improvement. The next issue I caught was Chuck, a recently wounded-still-recovering soldier making a big point of the importance (and success) of Project Valour-IT, the laptops with voice recognition software for severely wounded warriors. Singled out for praise was our very own Denizenne (see how you spell that, wrench-monkey?) Fuzzybear Lioness of Fuzzilicious Thinking - who, despite her embarrassed protestations, is the real heart and soul of Project Valour-IT. Good job, Fuzzy!

The last panel, hosted by retired Colonel Dave Hunt of Fox News was titled Blogging From Theater, and consisted of Bill Roggio, a Marine vet and journalist who blogs at The Fourth Rail, Captain B of One Marine's View, Jeff from Dadmanly, Fred from In Iraq for 365, rounding out the panel was Michael from Fire and Ice.

Gotta admit here - Dave Hunt was very funny at first - but as it went on, well, at times, until later in the session, when he just let the guys talk, too often Hunt interposed himself into the conversation, cutting off comments and derailing thoughts. What works (which is arguable, since I won't watch 'em because of it, but they stay on) for the smash-and-gab of network talk shows was inapt and got to be annoying. But, as I said, it all settled out and the bloggers started getting to the guts of the matter - which is how to tell the story from in-theater, without revealing targeting and Battle Damage Assessment (BDA) data useful to the enemy, as well as letting out casualty data before the notification teams can get their jobs done.

The difficulties of telling the good and the bad, without the bad being a morale-killer. What was left unexplored was a discussion of talking about blithering idiot leadership or leadership decisions. All the guys on stage were about telling the stories of the soldiers - though there was some disagreement about just how to tell the tales. And all were adamant about the importance of self-regulation in terms of OPSEC - and of how important it was for the services to understand what the blogs are, how they work, and how to work with them. Much pessimism that the services will default to "shut 'em down" because that's the simplest approach.

I would note that the National Archives has a project to capture the milbloggers (the serving troops, not posers like me) stories - because they are the soldier diaries of this war, every bit the treasures and measures of insight into the warfighter as the dusty journals from the Civil War discovered in county historical society archives or barns in Belgium. Congrats to the VFW for their assist in this matter, *and* their assistance with putting on the Conference.

Of course, if they do that, unless they shut down email, blogging will go underground, and the Blackfives, Smash's, ThreatsWatch's, Fourth Rails, and yes, Castle Argghhh!s of the milblogging world will simply post the stories received via other means.

Better to embrace it and understand it than to try to be General Canute, standing at the water's edge, commanding the blogtide to stop. That image was used by one of the on-stage bloggers (I'm thinking Capt B or Mike Fay) as a description of the hubris and futility of such an effort. Of course, Canute was making a point about the limits of power... hopefully one the Generals will heed.


So - what's the take-away?

1. Milblogs started because we milbloggers didn't see the good news we knew was there being reported - so, we started reporting it.

2. They grew, because there were others out there who knew there had to be another view, but they couldn't find it from the MSM.

3. The services do a crappy job of sharing info with the public. Milbloggers fill this niche.

4. Milbloggers also nip at the heels of power - which isn't going to stop, so the Generals ought to learn to live with it - because it's the most powerful mostly-friendly voice on the Internet.

5. OPSEC. No one questions the importance of same. We'd all like a better working definition of same. And - we know the services have people who are reading the blogs watching for it - most of us will entertain polite, reasonable requests to withdraw data. You just have to be able to explain it --- and ask. But the services, especially for the active duty milbloggers, need to develop doctrine and guidance.

6. A warning for the Generals. Shut 'em all down, and what will be left? The malcontents will blog - anonymously - with no countervailing voice which currently overwhelms the discontented. Which is an expression of the fact that most of the troops are generally satisfied in the big sense with how things are going (we *always* bitch about the details) and the positive voices drown out the unhappy voices. Bring down the Crushing Boot of Doom... and only the malcontents will be left. Think about it, Powers-That-Be. Listen to your PAOs, and not as much to your lawyers and weak commanders who don't like any critical voice, however much else positive comes from those voices. But mostly, listen to your warriors. They have all our best interests at heart.

7. Next time:

a. We need two chat rooms. One for all the hilarious commentary, and one for the questions from those not able to be present. Greyhawk was losing hair trying to maintain control *and* squash the occasional troll who showed up.

b. Someone needs to step-up to the plate and take on the job of Party Planner. Andi can't do it all. No, I'm not volunteering. Every party I've hosted as an adult has been an abomination. Heck, when SWWBO and I got married, all of 6 people showed up for our in-home reception, so we aren't good choices. Unless we have the next conference in Kansas City (hey, it's Central) we could have a Castle Tour...

Wherever the next one is - if duty doesn't conspire to keep me away, I'll be there. Meeting all you guys was a hoot and an honor. We are the Davids.

Of course, I'm sitting in my room, listening the local ABC affiliate doing a story on Fran O'Briens, which will be shutting down. David doesn't always win. But Mr. Kelleher, of the Capital Hilton, certainly knows who we are...

Another thing I learned - it's tough to pull together a mini-Castle Blogmeet at something like this. We're obviously going to have to fix up the Castle and host a meet. Sigh. Making the Castle presentable will eat up a buncha spare time.

Wait! I know - we'll issue tools and make it a Castle-Raising! Yeah! That's the ticket!

Shout out to the Denizen/nes who came to the Conference - SWWBO, 1SG Keith, Sergeant B, Fuzzybear Lioness, AFSis, and Princess Crabby.

And there is a STORY. One I can't tell. I've been informed that "What happens in DC, stays in DC." Let's just say there was a Full Moon somewhere in District, despite the clouds and rain.

That is all.

John | Permalink | Comments (17) | Observations on things Military
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