Let soldiers blog, post YouTube videos, general says

To compete in the global information war played out on Web sites and e-mail, soldiers in Iraq should upload videos of their experiences in the combat zone to YouTube and post their personal stories online, a top Army general said recently -- a recommendation that appears to run counter to Pentagon policy.

Digital age warfare requires that the Army change its "attitudes and the organizational culture," which has discouraged soldiers from posting to YouTube or blogging, said Army Lt. Gen. William Caldwell in a recent post on the Small Wars Journal Web site.

Insurgents in Iraq frequently post videos of roadside bomb and sniper attacks on Web sites for propaganda purposes. "The first images broadcast become reality to viewers," Caldwell said. "We have to get our images out first." He suggested that unit leaders be given camcorders to document combat operations and daily life.

Caldwell said recent experiences in Iraq demonstrated the importance of being able to immediately access an audience of millions after commanders there "broke through the bureaucratic red tape" and started posting gun camera and other combat videos to YouTube. They were among the top 10 videos for weeks. "Using YouTube -- part of the new media -- proved to be an extremely effective tool in countering an adaptive enemy," he said.

He blamed the perception that media coverage of the war has been overwhelmingly negative not on the media but on an American public that has a "voracious appetite for the sensational, the graphic and the shocking." Soldiers should actively seek out and talk to reporters to tell their own stories, as the public yearns to hear those personal sagas, he said

The Army must move beyond its prevailing "zero defect" and "risk averse" culture, Caldwell added, to compete in the information domain. "Unfortunately, the culture is such that the first time a subordinate makes a mistake in dealing with the media and gets punished for it will be the last time anyone in that organization takes a risk and engages with the media," Caldwell said. Leaders should "allow subordinates the leeway to make mistakes."

An August 2006 Pentagon memo forbade personnel from placing any information on public Web sites unless it was reviewed for possible security violations and approved for distribution by commanders. The directive said personal blogs "may not be created/maintained during normal duty hours" and could not contain comments on "daily military activities and operations, unit morale, results of operations," or other information that might be useful to an enemy.

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