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Telling War Stories Project
Pre-OPs/Unit Cohesion

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The people of the United States have always possessed an innate desire to buck the system and criticize its government. One of these voices that first found its way to the headlines was Sergeant Thomas Strickland who went by the blogging name, "Rev Wayfarer." Strickland (2005a) drowned in a vehicular accident two days after writing these lines, "What the fuck has my chain of command been doing? What kind of fucktarded plan have we been half-assedly executing?" Every soldier who has ever felt the weight of hierarchal pressure pushing him or her to do what he or she doesn't want to do has uttered, either under breath or amidst cohorts, words similar in scope and identical in nature. Those lines were published, but this lovely story of an encounter with an Iraqi teenager wasn't:

What struck me about the boy was that while we talked he stopped mid sentence and asked to touch my face. Sure, says I. He places his hand on my cheek feeling stubble and bug bites and in a sort of surprised and contemplative voice says "So you are human too" (Strickland, 2005b).

Soldiers complain, but good soldiers obey orders despite their criticisms. These bloggers were apparently, from what can be read from "Rev Wayfarer" and others, good soldiers whose criticisms of the war provided an opportunity for reporters to market their headlines. Simply put, the Army is closing down the outlets soldiers use to tell their stories, despite some valid arguments presented in opposition from the likes of LTG William Caldwell who believes that blogs are valuable tools for soldiers to share what is really going on overseas. He told reporter Noah Schachtman (2008) from

First, we need to encourage soldiers to "tell/share their story." Across America, there is a widely held perception that media coverage of the War in Iraq is overwhelmingly negative. We need to be careful to NOT blame the news media for this. The public has a voracious appetite for the sensational, the graphic and the shocking. We all have a difficult time taking our eyes off the train wreck in progress—it is human nature. But when it comes to their men and women in uniform, they also have a very strong desire to hear their personal stories. They want to know what it is like, what the soldiers are experiencing, and how the soldiers feel about their mission. That is why we must encourage our soldiers to interact with the media, to get onto blogs and to send their YouTube videos to their friends and family. When our soldiers tell/share their stories, it has an overwhelmingly positive effect. (Shachtman, n.p.)

Even the generals at West Point and around the globe are being encouraged to share their stories and their lives through the Web via tools like Facebook. As reported in the Times Herald Record by Alexa James (2009), the Army's new online and social media division understands that "the collaborative web is the new reality" (n.p.). Collaboration gets out the stories that help soldiers, be they specialists like "Rev Wayfarer" or generals like BG Rapp (the West Point Commandant) or LTG Caldwell. But not everyone agrees with how this collaboration and storytelling ought to be accomplished.

Soldiers act like soldiers whether they are putting their lives on the line or blogging about their lives online and will not purposely put their friends in harm's way by leaking secrets any more than they would if a terrorist came up and asked them. They tell stories to relate the truth as they know it. They do it from their perspective, and they do it with the passion of a voice that must be heard above the chorus. They have a story to tell and they are telling it. The Army cannot silence them forever but must instead find ways to enable its members to share what ought to be heard rather than what prying ears want to hear.