On Wednesday, 16 December 2009, military blogs went silent in support of C.J. Grisham and to underscore that, milblogs are coming under extreme scrutiny from within. Troy Steward, writer of the Bouhammer blog and co-host of You Served Military Broadcast wrote:
While senior leadership has embraced blogging and social media, many field grade officers and senior NCOs do not embrace the concept. From general apathy in not wanting to deal with the issue to outright hostility to it, many commands are not only failing to support such activities, but are aggressively acting against active duty milbloggers, milspouses, and others. The number of such incidents appears to be growing, with milbloggers receiving reprimands, verbal and written, not only for their activities but those of spouses and supporters.
C.J. Grisham wrote a top-rated military blog called A Soldier's Perspective for many years. He was an Army Master Sargent decorated with a Bronze Star with a "V" device to denote valor, and his blog was known for his incisive writing style and unflinching opinions. He wrote about his battle with PTSD to encourage others to seek help. C.J. was always very careful to assure readers that his opinions were solely his, and not those of the U.S. Army. However, in recent months he was compelled to give up his blog when a personal issue spilled over onto his military blog. The story behind this protest is one that Hugh Hewitt says should be covered by both old and new media.
The unraveling of C.J. as a top blogger came when the J.E. Williams School in Huntsville, Alabama decided to introduce the idea of uniforms. The Grishams were concerned that the investment parents would have to make would be cost-prohibitive. So C.J. studied the issue and ended up reading a lot of dry, academic studies on the effectiveness of school uniforms.
I read through EXTREMELY boring academia studies that talked about "stratified samplings," variables, and controls. I read countless news articles and some published university debates. I read laws, laws, and more laws.
What he found was there was no difference in terms of performance and success. These two factors were mostly influenced by parental involvement. He and his wife went to the P.T.A. meeting to discuss their findings. However, both the principal and the president of the P.T.A. decided to ignore Robert's Rules of Parliamentary Procedure and skip the public debate.
This meant none of the evidence that he had researched would be heard. An uproar ensued after C.J. attempted to explain Robert's Rules of Order. The principal, Avis Williams, and the P.T.A. president, Angela Thomas, intoned over the microphone that he was being disruptive and hostile. They sent over school security guards to stand next to him and his wife, who asked audience members to raise their hands if they wanted to speak. C.J. raised his hand. Then, a Huntsville City Police officer also walked up to C.J. and told him to put his hand down. Hence, not only was parliamentary procedure ignored, his right to free speech was suppressed.
Disregarding both the rules and the clamor, the P.T.A. railroaded the costly measure through without deliberation. This was fortuitous since prior to the meeting they had secured a donation of $10,000 from developer Breland Homes to help defray the expenses. However, in a school of 649 pupils, each would only get a $50 voucher that was only valid at the most expensive vendor, Educational Outfitters.
C.J. caught the debacle on video. The next morning, October 2, he blogged about it in a post called Off-Topic: School Ignores Parents. He shared the video of the proceedings and also posted a copy of an email he sent to the Huntsville School District Superintendent. Understandably, a lot of people were outraged over the disregard of protocol as well as the tactics of the P.T.A. president and the principal.
Someone, either at the school, the P.T.A. or both, decided to call his employer, calling him threatening and disrespectful. They went on his blog and Facebook, found out he had PTSD, and made the decision to pin an ugly stereotype on C.J., likening him to an unstable madman for their own purposes.
In a phone call to C.J.'s superiors at Redstone Arsenal, Principal Avis Williams used C.J.'s PTSD to bolster her claims that C.J. was "a dangerous menace to her and her goals." This was just one of many calls made to the Army made by both her and P.T.A. president Angela Thomas.
Her and her goals? Clearly evident in the video was C.J. trying to explain the rules. At no point did he threaten Williams. Furthermore, Williams' goal to have each pupil clad in a uniform was one that was set despite a lack of supporting evidence of effectiveness. The uniforms are her magic bullet for the disciplinary issues at school.
It's worth noting that had C.J. worked for an engineering, law, or accounting firm, Williams wouldn't have bothered contacting the CEO. If he had worked for a small business, similarly, it's probable that neither she nor P.T.A. president Angela Thomas would have sought out his boss. And if he were a small business owner, they wouldn't have even bothered. But he was a soldier, and they had no qualms about dredging up a bad stereotype constantly perpetrated by the mainstream media. With C.J., Williams and Thomas went straight to his commanding officers. They were unrelenting in their campaign against him, calling repeatedly over the course of several weeks.
In addition, the Grisham children were subjected to harassment by the teachers and staff. Their behavior toward the children unsettled the Grishams so much that they pulled their kids out of school, and moved them to another state to be with grandparents. There, they waited until last week to be reunited. In January, they will all move to C.J.'s new post.
The blogosphere erupted when more details were revealed in a post called Thugocracy At Its Finest on C.J.'s blog. Debate amongst parents on bulletin boards, Facebook, and blogs ensued. It involved not only military blogs, but civilians as well.
But the upshot of all of this was that instead of drawing a line between personal events and work-related ones, the Army launched an investigation. They decided to reprimand C.J., thus putting several marks on his otherwise pristine record. He was told to remove the offending posts, and he was ordered to shut down his blog. C.J. did, because as he said,
Blogging is no longer worth the trouble. Everything is fine as long as the stories are happy and positive. The military wants happy stories, not honest stories. Everything must be 100% in concert with the Army spin. If it's not, you're considered an "embarrassment" to the Army, the installation, and/or the NCO Corps. Integrity is no longer an accepted method of leadership. If I can't be honest and open, I won't write at all. I refuse to allow my private blog's message to be dictated with threats and intimidation. It's been a fun six years!
My career is being trashed because I dared to disagree with a policy. I dared to question the principal. I was never disrespectful, but I was greatly disrespected. I tried to resolve my dispute through the school system while the principal tried to resolve it through the Army.
While on an official level, the Army has accepted social networking and has created the Online and Social Media Division, there remains an uneasiness in regard to how much is shared, and more particularly, how it is framed. This has led to a feeling of unease amongst those who do partake in social networking. Many engage in a form of self-censorship by blogging anonymously. This is most prevalent among spouses, who mainly write about child rearing or light asides. However, as individuals whose lives are shaped by the politics of the country, their voices are perhaps the most valid and needed.
Most writers would find not having their own byline unimaginable. They'd balk at any restrictions as to content, citing the First Amendment. But these are some of the conditions that bloggers in the military feel they must conform to in order to not risk their or their spouse or loved one's military career. Playwright David Mamet has said, "We live in oppressive times. We have, as a nation, become our own thought police; but instead of calling the process by which we limit our expression of dissent and wonder 'censorship,' we call it 'concern for commercial viability.'"
Military blogs written by soldiers provide the only boots-on-the ground perspective. They not only give a crucial perspective of the war, they also aid in breaking down bad stereotypes such as those used by Principal Williams and P.T.A. President Thomas. However, the implication of the actions of the Army in this case, and also those of the school district, is that all soldiers, milbloggers, families, and supporters are subject to harassment, censorship, and possibly having their livelihoods ended if anyone disagrees or even cares to make up lies.
In response, dozens of military blogs went black in support of free speech and also for C.J. This included such well known blogs as Blackfive, Winds of Change, The Mudville Gazette, Gazing At The Flag, and The Kitchen Dispatch. Some are going black for more than one day. Others are also not partaking in either Facebook or Twitter. Voltaire said, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Those who take an oath to defend the Constitution remember it.
C.J. and his wife Emily have mounted a legal fight "to clear my name, force the school system to admit they overstepped their bounds by denying my right to participate in my children's education and attempt to ruin my career." In order to raise money for a legal retainer fee, C.J. sold his blog, A Soldier's Perspective, to Cat5 Commerce. Cat5 owns online specialty retail venues such as Tactical.com, Aspen Swimwear, and Military Boots.com. The blog, however, continues to trumpet C.J.'s case, and also raise funds through Paypal. Many individuals, from those still serving to retired military and civilians, have contributed. Though recently C.J. has left Redstone Arsenal for another post, he will continue to pursue this issue.