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A Blog on Warblogging

By Michael Fumento

When you make a decision to go to a war zone and leave behind the comforts of home, you do just that. There are true pleasures to being out there with guys defending our country and there are true deprivations. Of course, there are war zones and there are war zones. In Iraq's International Zone (Green Zone) or in Baghdad hotels or even a major base like Camp Fallujah and Camp Ramadi, you have a real degree of comfort and ease in going about your work. Likewise for Bagram Air Base or Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan. But join the troops at a Forward Operating Base (FOB) and comfort and ease of work plummets. Those are the places I go to and I only have two real concerns when I get there.

UN grain donation (note the light blue bags). Photo by Michael Fumento. Click image for larger view.
First, I want every chance to see combat, and hence be in a dangerous area and go on every patrol. We need reporters who work out of safe areas; I'm just not one of them. That's why I refused to go to Tikrit in Iraq when the Combined Press Information Center (CPIC) tried to send me there. There was virtually no chance of combat and, as it happens, during the time I would have been there was none. Now CPIC is mad at me for not shelling out my own money for airfare and war insurance to spend 12 days where I knew nothing would happen and where nothing did happen.

Second, since while I do write articles when I get back but blog while here I need a degree of internet access. And a degree is all you to get. Connections are almost always mind-numbingly slow. You can wait literally 10 minutes or more just for a website to come up. Some will never come up because they're too loaded with graphics.

As a general rule, you're limited to only 30 minutes online and unfortunately there are no rules on what you can do in that time. For example, at Camp Corregidor in Ramadi I saw a guy using his time to play solitaire which, so I'm told, can be played on an unconnected laptop. In fact, and again I'm just going by what I was told, it can even be played with no computer at all using something called "a deck of cards."

Donkey cart in Qalat. Photo by Michael Fumento. Click image for larger view.
Anyway, whatever the soldiers do with their time, as a blogger you can spend as much as half yours just connecting to the site where you upload your blog text and photos.

I'm a bit perplexed at complaints I've heard from citizen embeds about their computer connections being so slow that they don't even have time for proper spelling or -- far more importantly -- uploading photos. That's because there's no way you would ever write a blog or format a photo on their computers; you do it on your own laptop. First you write your blog and save it as a file. As for the photos, they must be resized or they won't just be a pig in a python; rather your connection will time out and the photos won't be sent at all. In my case I shoot at 5 megapixels, which is enough for a magazine cover, but I use free software to reduce them to 640,000 pixels. On a computer screen, anything more than that many pixels is wasted.

At this point, your actions are dictated by whether the MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) center has either computers or just a hookup for your laptop. (Even if you hook up your own, the 30-minute rule still generally applies.) If you can't hook up your own computer (and here at FOB Mizan it's the only way), then you use theirs. If you use theirs, before you get on and start burning your 30 minutes you'll have transferred everything to a USB drive.

Your intrepid reporter firing a laser-sited M-4 carbine (I killed 31 Taliban with a 30-round magazine). Photo by Michael Fumento. Click image for larger view.
I've never seen a computer in either war theater that was so old it didn't have USB ports, but I bring a portable floppy drive with me just in case. At this point, you need only connect to your upload site and begin uploading. Without photos the text upload on even the slowest lines should still take only seconds. If you're attaching photos, at 640,000 pixels you could be adding 15 - 20 seconds per image.

Easier yet, you can simply send your photos and blog file with photo captions to a third party, in my case my wife, and have him or her do the posting to your blog.

Alternatively, the Big Boys with the MSM completely avoid the Internet by using an R-BGAN, a satellite hookup direct from the laptop to a box placed outside facing the right direction. They aren't cheap and I don't feel I can afford one myself, but you can also rent them -- although I don't feel I can afford that either! If I could I'd invest the money in other areas such as improving my body armor.

But I know Bill Roggio has an R-BGAN and Mike Yon had one at one time. I'm sure some other citizen embeds have them as well. Then you actually have time to check the sports scores, see if your stock portfolio has plummeted, or even -- gasp -- send an e-mail to your wife and cat.

I hope we can give them a free country in which to grow up. Photo by Michael Fumento. Click image for larger view.
One way or another, you take what you can get out here. (In a previous blog I said the showers here are hot; today I found out that isn't always the case. I hate cold showers!) Otherwise, put your blogging skills to work in your comfy home or office. That's what 99.999999999 percent of American bloggers do and nobody will think the worse of you if you fall into that percentage. But if you're going to be a warblogger, you'll work under war conditions. And the most exciting places to report from, the places where you'll be reporting on the servicemen and women who are truly putting their lives at risk, are the most grueling. Unlike the soldiers, nobody ordered you here. You chose it; now suck it up.

Michael Fumento has paid for this trip entirely out of pocket, including roundtrip airfare to Kuwait, war insurance, and virtually all his gear. Please support him via PayPal Donate or Amazon Honor System via the logos below.

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April 24, 2007 10:17 AM  ·  Afghanistan ~ Media ~ Military