Modern warfare: The rise of blogging from the battlefield in Iraq

Military blogging came to prominence during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Photo:

Ten years ago, thousands of coalition soldiers invaded Iraq on a US-led mission “to disarm Iraq, to free its people” and to defend the world from the “grave danger” posed by Saddam Hussein, according to George Bush.

Aside from the controversy surrounding the decision to launch the offensive, this war will have a place in history as one of the first to be chronicled through military blogs.

From very early in the conflict, for some US troops the internet became an outlet to share their experiences of life on the frontline.

Some started writing to communicate with friends and family or as an alternative to the mainstream media whose reporting they thought to be lacking:

This soldier saw it as his goal to reflect life on the ground.
This soldier saw it as his goal to reflect life on the ground. Credit: www.bootsonground.blogspot.co.uk/

For other front-line bloggers, writing was therapeutic and helped them deal with the brutality of the battlefield.

Some ranted, using their keyboards to fire some sharp missives aimed at the people who hd sent them to war or their commanding officers.

Others used their blogs as a platform to share personal reflections of the conflict.

Though wide ranging in content and style, they all had one thing in common. They served as a window into the reality of war and were instantly available with a click of a mouse.

In an internet age, the traditional Dear John letter became a thing of the past
In an internet age, the traditional Dear John letter became a thing of the past. Credit: Adam Peck/PA Wire

Here are a few of the early pioneers whose online diaries attracted both the attention of ordinary people across the world and the media:

  • LT Smash was one of the first widely read blogs from the war zone and at one point it was getting 200,000 hits a day.
  • Greyhawk, the man behind the Mudville Gazette, began his blog before the invasion. On 18 March, he wrote:

A united world could have, just maybe, brought down Saddam without firing a shot. We will never know.

  • The BlackFive, was written by Matthew Burden. He was spurred to write his blog after his friend and colleague died in an ambush in Iraq which went unreported in the media.

I decided to write about Mat and other Americans like him - people that the media would never tell you about.

Major Mat Schram was the BEST that this country has to offer. He made us want to be better people, better soldiers, better men. He didn't just set the example - he was the example.

It is difficult for me even to continue to write about him but, suffice it to say, Mat was a very positive influence on me, and I will never forget him.

– From the Black Five blog
Jean-Paul Borda started blogging during a tour of Afghanistan
Jean-Paul Borda started blogging during a tour of Afghanistan. Credit: Jean Paul Borda

Milblogging.com is world's the largest military blog aggregation site. It currently has 3,646 in 52 countries with 21,761 registered members, and also includes those written by

Its founder Jean-Paul Borda first started blogging when he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2004 as it "made it very easy to communicate with many people at once, back home".

He set up the website "to give people an easy way to find military blogs that interested them", from a range of categories "from the frontline to military spouses".

Kaboom: One man's blog ignites his Commanders' fuse

Lieutenant Matt Gallagher pictured in Iraq
Lieutenant Matt Gallagher pictured in Iraq

Lieutenant Matt Gallagher initially started Kaboom: A Soldier's War Journal after arriving in Iraq on an 18-month deployment in 2007.

Posting as LT G, it offered an unrelenting, frank insight into his life as a scout platoon leader.

Eager to make his writing as accessible as possible, he even put together a "running army translator" of jargon such as grunts (frontline servicemen for the uninitiated), Terps (Interpreter), and Charlie Mike (continue mission).

Speaking to ITV News, he described a raid on the home of an Iraqi family that deeply affected him which he wrote about in his blog.

Although LT G's honest account of his role supporting counter insurgent efforts in Iraq won him a legion of fans. It also got him into trouble with his commanding officers.

In 2008, he was ordered to stop posting "effective immediately" after a "rash posting" about a promotion he had turned down.

I’d brushed aside the informal inquiries for months now.No, not me. Not interested. Keep me on the line.

I want nothing to do with alateral promotion to XO (Executive Officer) that involves becoming a logistical whipping boy and terminal scapegoat for all things NOTGOODENOUGH.

I’ve been out here in the wilds too long, dealing with matters of life and death, to go backto Little America for PowerPoint matches.

– From Kaboom: A Soldier's War Journal

Matt had not committed any operational security violations and later said that reaction to his comment "became an issue of control and ego".

On his return to the US, he went on to write Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War, a memoir of his experiences, based on some of his earlier blog entries.

Matt Gallagher left the US Army in 2009.
Matt Gallagher left the US Army in 2009 and has become a successful writer. Credit: Matt Gallagher

The Crackdown

In April 2007, following occasions where there had actually been "operational security" violations, the US Army launched a crackdown on front-line bloggers and issued rules requiring them to submit blogs and other writing for review before posting on the web.

They even extended to civilians working for the military and even soldiers' families.

Following the clampdown, and with the impending prospect of their blogs being monitored, some milblogs were shutdown or ceased to be updated.

But many remained undaunted, and continued to tell the story of their war.

Blogging from British troops on the frontline did not become commonplace as the Ministry of Defence had very strict guidelines about communications during active duty.

The Military cautiously opens its arms to social media

Today, some blogs are still going strong but have been put in the shade by Twitter and Facebook.

Twitter and Facebook are being actively used by the military on many levels
Twitter and Facebook are being actively used by the military on many levels Credit: Press Assocation

And ironically, as both the US and UK military increasingly embrace social media they now actively encourage the use of social networking sites, under strict guidance - of course, and with warnings of the consequences of security breaches.

For example, the MoD has issued online engagement guidelines to encourage the safe and responsible use of social networking sites.

Meanwhile, in 2011, the US Army issued a social media handbook, to offer guidance to those using these platforms. It also signalled a softening of its stance.

Milblogging may be going strong but in the future could it be replaced by military microblogging, 140 characters or less?

Milblogging.com's Jean-Paul Borda says: "The internet landscape changes so quickly it's hard to predict where things will be in 5 years or for that matter in 1 year.

"New communication tools present new challenges and new opportunities. The bottom line is, it's not going away".