The Letter I Did Not Have to Send

For more than a month, I was prepared to stop blogging in response to orders -- orders that are now, happily, no longer operative. Here's a letter I was prepared to send explaining the situation:

October 20 , 2006

Dear friends and family:

After a year serving my country as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and with 100 "Reporting for Duty" posts under my belt, my blogging days have come to an end -- for now, anyway. I'd like to thank my family, friends, and everyone else who has helped to generate hundreds of thousands of hits to my eye-witness accounts of life on the ground and in the air as a national guardsman. Thank you to my command, too. I have been afforded rare opportunities here. Special thanks to washingtonpost.com and the colleagues that have made this experience possible.

Throughout this year, I spent countless hours trying to relay the goings-on of the 2-224th AVN BN to my readers and family through washingtonpost.com in order to give a real perspective of what it is like in Iraq. I spent hours writing and thinking about what to write, recognizing my novice skills. I also spent hours negotiating with various military commands as part of my genuine effort to keep everything published in "Reporting for Duty" at washingtonpost.com above-board. I've received no compensation for these hours of work, but have taken immense pleasure in keeping you at home informed.

Every command for which I've served was informed of my intent and understood the terms for publication of the blog. The rules were as follows: keep operational security in check, ask before publishing anything of questionable nature and terminate publication upon request. I have complied consistently with these rules.

On October 15th, a day off, I went to the flight line to look at the work schedule and to check my e-mail. One message caught my eye as I noticed it came from a mid-ranking officer and was addressed to me directly, bypassing my chain of command.

In that e-mail, I was issued a lawful order relayed from General Zilmer, Commanding General, I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward). I was ordered to "cease" my public writing about the deployment to Iraq. Upon receipt of the order I respectfully requested to post one last "Reporting for Duty" message to inform the public that "Reporting for Duty" had been shut down. The reply was "no" and the officer suggested I instead send an e-mail to alert family and friends that my posts would no longer appear in the Opinions section of washingtonpost.com.

I have had a great time doing this and I hope that I may someday share what now becomes my personal journal.

Respectfully,

Bert

By Hal Straus |  November 20, 2006; 12:42 PM ET  | Category:  Misc.
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Comments

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Bert,

I'm outraged to hear that your reports were being threatened by higher command.

As the father of a deployed member of the 2/224, I'm aware of how much you have self censored your accounts to preserve OP SEC.

We would see reports of incidents and pictures in the media, weeks before you mentioned anything. Still what you wrote gave us a feel of the sights and sounds and smells that our loved ones were going through and we relished them.

Shame on anyone that thinks what you have been doing for us family members is inappropriate!

Good to see another post from you. My day starts out with a check to see if there is another "Reporting for Duty" insight available and that's the last check I make after seeing if there is new email from our son at night.

Gee whiz, thanks to the higher command, we don't even know if you got to see Chuck Norris, even if we got to see pictures of his visit in the media weeks ago.

Thanks for your efforts in behalf of your comrades and us families at home.

Al

Posted by: Pilot's Dad | November 20, 2006 01:18 PM

Not buying that it was totally about OpSec. I monitor a couple of political blogs and there were complaints from some guys overseas that their access to some political blogs which might be perceived as anti-war or too critical of the current administration was suddenly unavailable, while the other "supportive" blogs never ceased being available. Apparently this changed after some protests, but it seems to me that there are those in the Iraq theater who are trying to influence, shoved aside, or perhaps intimidate some bloggers.

Posted by: Carla | November 21, 2006 02:58 PM

It has been said that the first casualty of war is the truth. It seems that Bert's experience with the military just reinforces the previous statement.

Posted by: Lyle | December 15, 2006 11:56 PM

It is to be said that war is very difficult and dangerous and lonely. To see that a higher command did not give you the permission to share your feelings to those like me and your family is pretty ridiculous.

No offence to your high superior but I believe hes either being selfish or self-centered. No one has the right to change what you do, it is your life, not his. If its in combat, then of course you would have to listen to a higher superior, but when it comes to feelings and perspectives, you shouldn't be ordered around... So yeah just sharing MY OWN perspective. Hope you do well in the future war.

Best Regards

p.s Nice rank you have there. Good Luck. Believe in yourself and those you trust!

Posted by: Patrick | December 18, 2006 07:53 PM

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