Media, schmedia

I spent a good deal of time yesterday afternoon reading some of the news articles about the block of recreational web sites that the Department of Defense put in effect a couple weeks ago. In case you haven’t heard about it, DoD has now denied personnel on the DoD network from accessing such sites as YouTube, My Space, Photobucket, Stupid Videos, and a few others that I’d never heard of. I work for the organization that actually put the blocks in place. I know the reasons behind the decision, I know the discussions and concerns that were given before the decision was made.

I am amazed at the amount of misinformation that’s been reported. I’ve held a somewhat jaded view of the press for a while now (and I’m pretty liberal!), but this takes the cake. Oh my goodness, where do I start?

  1. “Blocking these web sites has a very minimal effect on the bandwidth between DoD’s network.” I’ve seen the charts with the data, and they are impressive. These aren’t charts that someone has manipulated to tell the story. This is raw data from the routers that provide the connections to the Internet.
  2. “Soldiers are denied access to loved ones at home. ” Soldiers have other means of communicating back home. The block doesn’t affect personal computers. And there are Internet cafes even is SWA (Southwest Asia, as we DoD folks call it), set up specifically for soldiers’ use. They don’t touch the DoD network, and they aren’t restricted.
  3. “The blocks came without warning. ” This was not a decision made in a vacuum. There was great care and concern for the effect it would have on those in the field. There was months of coordination. If it took the soldiers off-guard, then that’s the fault of leadership. If it took the press and Congress and the Web 2.0 companies off-guard, so what?
  4. But the most heinous misinformation I read was that the real reason DoD put the  blocks  in place was to prevent soldiers in the Middle East from reporting back home to a U.S. public increasingly opposed to the war in Iraq. I don’t even know how to respond to this. Do you mean that it would hurt soldiers’ morale to know what the public is thinking? I don’t think so. I actually think they’d appreciate it that people care enough to want to bring them home. These people aren’t in harm’s way because they want to be. They’re there because they have to be. It’s part of what being a service member is all about.

I had lunch the other day with a couple of Army officers I work with who’d spent time in Iraq (one for 6 months; and the other, a mother who’s child was 6 years old at the time, 12 months). What they told me about the conditions there absolutely astounded me. I knew that the sand is incredibly fine, like talcum powder. It’s everywhere and it gets into everything. It’s so fine, it can even penetrate clothing. I knew the weather was horrendously hot, with temperatures of 115-120 degrees. I simply can’t imagine that kind of heat. One of these officers said that the temperature in the tent she worked in often went up to over 140 degrees. I asked her how she coped with such atrocious conditions. She said, “You just do.”

What I didn’t know was that there’s isn’t a mess tent, like we saw in M*A*S*H. All of the soldiers’ meals are in the form of prefabricated, hermetically sealed foil pouches, called MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). The only “real” food they get is what is sent to them from family & friends back home. And even then, it has to be non-perishable. (Beef jerky is a popular item, if you want to call that real food.)

Worst of all, there is no water for other than drinking (which is bottled). No showers, no baths. No relief from the constant heat and filthy sand. The soldiers “bathe” with baby wipes. For a year, sometimes longer.

So don’t sing me a sad song about soldiers not being able to access YouTube or MySpace from their work computers. There are so many other, more basic necessities that these people do without. I don’t hear Congressmen making a fuss to provide showers. I don’t hear catering companies petitioning DoD to provide hot meals to the troops.

You know what the bottom line behind this hullabaloo is? It isn’t care for the soldiers’ morale, it’s the almighty dollar. So get off your high horse, Congress and Web 2.0 companies, and support these people who are sacrificing far beyond what any of us can imagine, with care packages and letters. Meet them when they return home. Let them know you really care by providing them benefits above and beyond your regular services.

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