Soldiers have always kept journals. Some of the most provocative writing from the World Wars was found in the dairies and notebooks of soldiers serving on the front line.
The beginning of the 20th Century saw a remarkable change in how the experience of warfare was shared. During the first world war there were many educated people serving in the front lines and this led to a large collection of war correspondence , dairies, poems and songs being written by soldiers fighting on the front line. “Trench Poetry” is used to describe such work as some of the best writing from this period is poetry. Here is an excerpt from A Soldier’s Cemetery by one of the better poets, John William Streets, who was killed and MIA 1/7/16, aged 31;
Behind that long and lonely trenched line
To which men come and go, where brave men die,
There is a yet unmarked and unknown shrine,
A broken plot, a soldier’s cemetery.
Today there is now a new phenomena. Soldiers are now able to share their thoughts directly with the public through the Internet. While poets in first world war relied on their books being safely returned home and then finding their way to the desk of a newspaper or war magazine editor today soldiers can write personal blogs which are published immediately.
While many blogs are written by soldiers on their return home, some are now accessing the Internet while serving on the front line, and this is a trend which is increasing all the time. As soldiers spend more time serving overseas and technology continues to improve it is becoming normal for soldiers to be able to access the Internet from any base.
Soldiers obviously have to follow some strict guidelines on what they can write and who they talk to, but so long as they are responsible they are allowed to have their own personal networks. A satellite Internet service can feed a small wireless network to provide many people with a constant Internet connection.
The RAF in Afghanistan run their own blog. Described as “A blog run by the Joint Media Operations Centre in Camp Bastion, Helmand Province”. Their blog, ukforcesafghanistan.wordpress. com, is written on a free blog platform run by WordPress.com. This is perfect for such as blog as the soldiers do not need to worry about managing their own servers or keeping the blog secure and up to date.
Many soldiers are also using Twitter to convey their thoughts and feelings. The @RAFairman Twitter page now has almost 7000 followers. RAFAirman seems to be a natural blog marketeer too, with a recent Tweet following the BBC article about him saying ” Don’t forget if you like my blog – then you can subscribe and have it delivered right to your email inbox when I publish it!“. RAFAirman is very proud to have been mentioned in the mainstream media recently, describing it on Twitter as being “Crated”. The rules are that if a soldier gets mentioned in the media he has to buy his colleagues a crate of something (usually beer).
Having access to the Internet goes beyond just blogging though. Technical support for non-military problems is often sought online. For example, one soldier was struggling to set the time on his mobile phone and used a Question / Answer website to ask for help;
“I am in Afghanistan on deployment and was using my Voyager (LG VOYAGER VX10000 Cellular Phone) for an alarm clock since I don’t get cell service here. The problem is, The local time here was correct on the device but curiosly it changed to California time. I need help to reset the clock to Afghani time. Can you help?” – http://www.fixya.com
Soldiers on the front line have the same needs as civilians living thousands of miles away – the need to obtain information and support from a wide range of people are services.
It is not all about the Internet though. There are services which use the Internet to further aid soldiers serving overseas. British Penpals is a website where soldiers can find civilians to write to. Many people find that writing is a fantastic way to help process their thoughts and make sense of their situation. Also writing on a regular basis on topics that are unrelated to the war itself can help people to de-stress and unwind. Many single men also seek penpals for the comfort that being able to talk to someone can provide.
Martyn,33 British Army:
Just looking for someone to write to, as getting blueys is a big morale boost
Blueys are what soldiers call the letters they receive by airmail. Although these that do not have constant access to the Internet their online adverts do provide them with a lifeline. E-Blueys, which are email messages sent by a secure network, are becoming more common now. These services are specific to the British military and are only for solders serving for more than 60 days at a time overseas. All messages are sent via the Forces Post Office and messages to soldiers on the front line are printed and sealed for privacy.
There are of course also official blogs which are written by command on the front line, such as the British Ministry of of Defence blog, Operations in Afghanistan which provides up to date information on developments.
As the technology improves more businesses are targeting soldiers in Afghanistan. Some are offering free hardware to help encourage business, and some are advertising their services on Facebook. Often these services are not provided as standard by the military but soldiers are allowed to install them if they manage the contracts themselves. The hardware is now pretty much “plug and play” so very easy for soldiers to set up. A deployed US Soldier using Hughes Network Systems explains it:
” Regular communication with home and the convenience of having Internet in your room or tent, with speeds you are accustomed to and at a price you can afford, help to raise your spirits .”
Of course, it is not just soldiers who are using increased Internet coverage to communicate. War correspondents, photo reporters and journalists also make use of the Internet to quickly transmit stories back to for publication. Many journalists use satellite Internet enabled laptops, literally having a portable satellite Internet dish providing an Internet connection for them to connect to.
The way wars are being reported is changing as fast as the methods used to fight them. Soldiers are banding together to set up their own wireless networks, using social media and “traditional” email to stay in contact with their friends and family and also to reach out to new friends. The military are using blogs to provide their own reports for the public and soldiers to read, and war journalists are able to drive into war zones and report back immediately on new events. Bluey’s are even slowly being replaced by E-Blueys.
For soldiers today experiences remain very similar to those of soldiers in the First World War but the lines of communication are now almost instant. However, just like in the first world war, much of the written communication is private and between soldiers and their families. It is this connection that they have which really helps the soldiers to keep their spirits up so that they can continue to fight another day.