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Interview: Thunder6, Military Blogger And Author Of 365 And A Wakeup

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With the media providing only part of the story from the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan, the truly personal journals of milbloggers who share what they experience on the ground is reshaping reporting as we know it. From his operating base in Iraq, Danjel Bout aka Thunder6, author of 365 and a Wakeup a Company Commander in the Army National Guard, has helped to establish military blogs as a powerful source of information for people all over the world. Telling the story of himself and his troops during his deployment he reveals the successes that are being made everyday in Iraq. He writes a reality that no reporter could provide. What follows is a transcript of an email interview I had with Thunder6. It is in part, because of him, and fellow milbloggers like him who are willing to share what they see and what they feel, that we can read about the truth in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is a transcript of what he said. It has NOT been edited.

JP: Danjel, thanks for taking the time. History is going on in Iraq with the elections. I’d like to get some opening comments from you about the incredible progress you and everyone else is making over in Iraq.

Thunder6: It is difficult to describe just how much we’ve seen change over the last year because you have to have a frame of reference to gauge progress. I think that is the perceptual trap the MSM is falling into – if you spend 10 minutes visiting a stretch of Iraq every 6 months chances are you won’t notice the subtle signs of forward progress. When we arrived Iraq had just completed its first free elections, but for the most part we were still calling the shots. Now Iraq is a free and independent country, and they are preparing to seat their first democratic government. We were too busy to notice it at the time, but over the last year we have had a front row seat to the rebirth of a nation. There is still a long road ahead, but you have to start with a foundation – and I think the Iraq people have achieved that.

JP: Your milblog is honest and personal, and a lot of supporters appreciate that instead of relying on the MSM *ahem, and I’ll try to go through this interview without bashing the MSM*, but the truth of it is — and it’s becoming true of many milblogs being written from the frontlines and in the States — there are a lot of people out there who do see your milblog as their source for news from the front lines.

Thunder6: When I started the blog I was surprised by just how many people were turning to milblogs to get a feel for what is going on here in Iraq. I had no idea just how many people were interested in our day to day experiences. The situation really hit home when our active duty replacements arrived here in theater. In just the first week I had several dozen Soldiers and Officers approach me and admit they used my blog to prepare for their rotation here in Baghdad. That was a really humbling experience.

JP: You’re helping inform people. Have you actually been able to change opinions of some people about the war? Take my Mom for example, is there any worse feeling for a parent than to see their kid go off to war. But as soon as I landed in Afghanistan and started milblogging, she became a huge supporter.

Thunder6: My intent was never to change people’s opinion on the war, I just tried to give people a window into our time here in Baghdad and let them draw their own conclusions. But apparently that was enough to change quite a few people’s opinion on our mission here in Iraq. I don’t think a day went by where someone didn’t send an email telling me that reading through the site gave them a completely different perspective on the situation in Iraq. The email that touched me most was written by a middle aged man in Paris, who went from being (in his words) “a determined opponent of the American occupation” to someone who wanted to do something to help the American soldiers deployed to Iraq.

JP: Have you ever experienced support like this other than blogging? For me, I still regularly hear from readers who supported me in Afghanistan. Some still send me care packages. And for all I know, some of them don’t even know I’m back.

Thunder6: The support I have received from readers eclipses anything I’ve experienced in my “normal” life – I am still in awe at the generosity of the American people. My company has literally stuffed several LMTV’s (which have the same basic cargo area as a U-Haul moving van) with packages readers have sent for the Iraqi people. The soldiers in the unit mail room use my name as a curse word – after the first few months they set aside part of the mail room just for my packages.

JP: Talk about that first entry on your blog back in March, right? Getting that under your belt how’d it feel?

Thunder6: When I started the blog I didn’t expect it to get much farther then my friends and family, so I didn’t really make a mental note of what it felt like to send out that first post. I just started typing, and when my fingers stopped punching keys I hit the post button. There really wasn’t anything unique, or even exciting about it.

JP: Could you for your supporters take us through what you do in your down time? You workout? Watch movies? Hit the PX? Or do you spend it doing other things?

Thunder6: Downtime? Seriously? In the early days of the deployment I used to hit the gym in the late afternoon – nothing relieves stress like lifting pig iron. But when I assumed command of Killer Company any chance at establishing a schedule evaporated. There is always something to do – if I’m not in sector then I’m hammering out patrol schedules or company operations orders. In those rare moments where I have a chance for down time I usually try to send an email, type a post, or get some sleep… usually in that order.

JP: After everything you’ve endured in Iraq and given all the emotion in your milblog, does it make it easier or harder write online?

Thunder6: It’s become increasingly difficult to convey the emotional experience of being here because combat is a corrosive environment – it grinds you down emotionally. After months of constant exposure I’ve found my emotional range stunted, like a tree that has been pruned back a little too much. It’s a little disturbing to have your ability to truly experience a situation wither away, but it is a necessary evil if you are going to lead soldiers in combat.

JP: Knowing that you have a large following of readers, do you make a point of writing more often? And, do you ever get exhausted from blogging? I know when I was in Afghanistan I used it as a support outlet, and now that I’m home I still love to work on my blog.

Thunder6: I try to post as often as I can, but in the end our mission dictates when I can and can’t write. It is a bit of a paradox – the situations people would really want to read about are the very ones that keep me from writing. Very few of those situations make it into the blog because they are mentally and physically exhausting to recount… plus they raise serious opsec concerns. That being said I don’t ever feel exhausted by blogging, I truly enjoy writing and it serves as an outlet I wouldn’t otherwise have.

JP: Is it the fault of the Mainstream Media for not reporting enough of what is getting accomplished over in Iraq and Afghanistan? In my opinion, why the hell would anyone see the MSM as a source of reliable news from the front lines? One of the embedded reporters I recently added to the Milblogging.com database (thanks Holly) chats about “doohickeys” and “thingamajigs”. I am happy to report that when I blogged, I never reported on “doohickeys”.

Thunder6: Its pretty apparent to the troops on the ground that the MSM has dropped the ball. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part the MSM seems to have a difficult time grasping the ground truth. I’m not sure if this is indicative of a downward spiral in modern journalism or whether it is grounded in some gut level revulsion of anything that can’t be collapsed into a sound bite. I’ve met several superb journalists that wrote moving stories about our missions, but in the end the stories went unpublished. Unless it is short, sexy, or violent the MSM doesn’t appear interested.

JP: Out of curiosity, where do you see milblogging fitting in American history? You’ve had a chance to do this for some time now and you’ve read other milblogs. What do you think people looking back on milblogs in the war on Iraq and Afghanistan are going to say?

Thunder6: I think milblogs will eventually replace the journals that soldiers in other wars used to record their experience. Just like those journals they will become a treasure trove of information for future historians. I can’t imagine how they will be perceived years from now, to be honest I am a little to close to the subject to avoid injecting my own dreams into the appraisal.

JP: Again, thanks for answering my questions. Always a good time chatting with you.

***Read past interviews with milbloggers Blackfive and American Soldier.

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