I arrived safely last night here in majestic D.C. for the annual Milblog Conference. As you know, Troy and I are covering the event exclusively for You Served. Hopefully, you caught the radio show last night.
Today kicked off the pre-event festivities. Some of us, myself being one of them, were invited to the White House to meet with members of President Obama’s National Security Council. Before we walked into the Roosevelt Room for our meeting, I used the Presidential Toilet again. There’s just something cool about taking a leak in the bathroom right outside the Oval Office!
This is me in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, literally right next door to the Oval Office.
Me outside the West Wing of the White House before the meeting.
Because the meeting was off the record, I’ll suffice it to say that we met with Senior Administration Officials. The reason we’re keeping it secretive is that we wanted to be candid in our discussions, which I can talk about.
The White House reached out to us as military bloggers because we tend to have our ear on the pulse of what is going on within the services at the troop level. The messages we put across on these blogs are unfiltered and told from a raw, rounded perspective. There is no Public Affairs “spin” or party line glossing over on most milblogs. The administration wanted to give us the philosophy of its national security policy and see what kind of input we may have. Can you believe it? Military bloggers are actually being sought out to provide some input to national security strategy. Not policy, mind you, but strategy. Only the President establishes policy and we are NOT in the advisor chain.
We spoke about the pirate issue, but didn’t get into the nuts and bolts of all the decision-making behind what really happened. One of the issues I brought up for discussion were all the gaffes by the administration and the perception is that they don’t care about the troops. With the scrapped possibility of charging veterans for private insurance, the DHS secretary calling us potential terrorists, the release of the OLC memos, scrapping military projects at a time of war and the upcoming release of yet more Abu Ghraib photos (still not sure what good that will do), it’s not too hard to draw a line straight to the administration and come to the conclusion that they don’t have our best interests at heart. I asked what the administration is doing to do more than just talk about supporting the troops and actually encourage military service. The answer was that this was just perception, not reality, on our parts. President Obama has met numerous times with Wounded Warriors that he has invited to the White House. But, I pressed, why isn’t the President going out there and directly speaking out about how his administration has falsely portrayed our troops thanks to DHS? While a political, non-direct answer was given, I could tell that I made my point and rested my case. And here’s the kicker, I have a “glimmer of hope” that what I had to say will be seriously taken into consideration.
To his benefit, however, President Obama has chosen a recently separated Naval Special Warfare officer, Matthew Flavin, to head the new Veteran Policy and Wounded Warrior Committee – or something like that. Matt served tours in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Having him and other military detailed personnel on the NSC can’t hurt. General Jones was another good choice, I think.
After the meeting at the White House, several of us proceeded directly to the Pentagon. Lindy Kyzer, from Army Public Affairs, had arranged a special tour of the Pentagon for milbloggers. After the tour, we met with the Secretary of the Army, Pete Geren. He noted that he hadn’t fully appreciated the military blogosphere until the whole Dan Rather incident pertaining to President Bush’s service records. Shortly before the 2004 elections in which President Bush won reelection, 60 Minutes, with Dan Rather as the anchor, presented documents challenging President’s Bush’s service in the Air National Guard. Thanks to milbloggers, myself included, these documents were exposed for the forgeries they were.
Geren was impressed that the man who was at the top of his game wasn’t brought down from the traditional adversaries in competing networks. He was brought down by bloggers. We had succeeded where others had failed and it cost him dearly and it only a day or two. When he became Secretary of the Army, he decided he needed to know more and instantly began a drive to reach out to us. The Army is leaps and bounds ahead of the services because of him.
We also met with the others senior Public Affairs officials from each branch of the military: Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. The contrasts amongst the services couldn’t be more start. On one end of the spectrum you have the Marine Corps who is still looking at what to do with the whole blogging situation. They are taking a sort of wait and see approach by studying how the other services are handling it and plan to take the best practices from each for their policy. On the complete opposite side is the Air Force who seems to be micromanaging every aspect of Air Force bloggers with the publication of their “New Media and Air Force” guide. It’s 31 pages of “do this” and “don’t do this” micromanagement. Meanwhile, the Army is so organized and advanced in accepting the blogging community that it just sits back and enjoys the show. The Navy seemed like it could not care less about the medium and basically told they have no time to deal with our requests. “I have to choose between the New York Times, the Pensacola Tribune, or a blog,” said Admiral Thorpe while raising his arms like a scale and placing the MSM on a higher plain.
After the nearly two-hour meeting at the Pentagon, thankfully punctuated with some of Lindy Kyzer’s absolutely delectable cookies, we headed back to the hotel to prep for the screening of the “At War” film. Check out the You Served Twitter (@YouServed) for my remarks about that. Otherwise, I’ll leave those thoughts for Troy to flush out.
The panels begin tomorrow, so I’ll have more then. It’s almost 4am and I need to get some sleep!