Army specialist Colby Buzzell mans a gun in a Stryker brigade in Mosul. He also keeps a blog, "My War." And the combination of these two activities is getting Spc. Buzell in a whole heap of trouble.The Wall Street Journal calls the blog "a mixture of gripping accounts of caffeine-driven battle maneuvers and amusing vignettes from the dusty grind of life in Iraq's third-largest city." The L.A. Times recently featured the site on its front page."But Spc. Buzzell's writing aspirations may prove his undoing as a professional soldier," the Journal reports.
Recently, shortly after his commanders discovered My War on the Web, Spc. Buzzell found himself banned from patrols and confined to base. His commanders say Spc. Buzzell may have breached operational security with his writings. "My War" went idle as he pondered the consequences of pursuing his craft while slogging through five nights of radio guard duty, a listless detail for an infantryman. More recently, the pages again went blank, as he chafed under a prepublication vetting regime imposed by his command.Such prepublication censorship is rare in the modern military: Soldiers' missives haven't been routinely expurgated since World War II and the days of "Loose Lips Sink Ships." The Pentagon doesn't prescreen soldiers' communications, whether print or electronic, assigning the job of policing soldier-journalists to commanders in the field. There are restrictions against divulging references to specific troop locations, patrol schedules or anything that might help the enemy predict how U.S. troops might react to an attack. But commanders in Iraq rely on the honor system and soldiers' common sense to enforce restrictions. Infractions are in the eye of the beholder, difficult to define but easy to recognize in practice...The blog entry at the root of Spc. Buzzell's difficulties was an Aug. 4 piece called "Men in Black." Opening with a bland, four-paragraph squib about a Mosul firefight that he snatched from CNN's Web site, Spc. Buzzell spins a riveting account of a nasty, hours-long firefight with scores of black-clad snipers. It begins with an enemy mortar attack and a testosterone-driven scramble to arms. "People were hooting and hollering, yelling their war cries and doing the Indian yell thing as they drove off and locked and loaded their weapons," he writes. He describes a harrowing ambush. "Bullets were pinging off our armor all over our vehicle, and you could hear multiple RPG's [rocket-propelled grenades] being fired and flying through the air and impacting all around us," he writes. "I've never felt fear like this. I was like, this is it, I'm going to die."Spc. Buzzell's account caught the attention of the News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash., the newspaper that covers Spc. Buzzell's home base of Fort Lewis. Noting that the attack got scant coverage by bigger media, the local paper drew heavily from Spc. Buzzell's anonymous account. The Pentagon's internal clip service picked up the News Tribune story and it landed in the hands of commanders in Iraq.Within hours, Lt. Col. Buck James, the battalion commander, ordered Spc. Buzzell to his office. Spc. Buzzell quickly shaved and grabbed fresh fatigues to see the colonel he had never met. As he later recounted on his blog, he arrived to find Col. James leafing through a massive printout of his Web writings, which someone had marked up with a yellow pen. The colonel, whom Spc. Buzzell described as a cross between George Patton and Vince Lombardi, opened with a question: " 'Youre [sic] a big Hunter S Thompson Fan, arnt [sic] you?'"Spc. Buzzell says he was called to account for two details: the observation that his unit ran low on water during the hours-long standoff and a description of the steps he took to get more ammunition as the firefight waxed on. Both were excised from his online archives.In an e-mail exchange, Col. James says the Army was concerned about a possible security breach on Spc. Buzzell's blog, but had no desire to muzzle him. "I counseled SPC Buzzell along with his Platoon Sergeant on these points and ensured that he understood that anything he was unsure about should be reviewed by his chain of command," Col. James says. Spc. Buzzell has "performed gallantly" as a soldier, he says.THERE'S MORE: "I am officially no longer writing about any of my personal experiences here in Iraq on this website," Spc. Buzzell just posted.