For more than a year, The Rumor Doctor has been dissecting military rumors, myths and lore, making friends with Satanists and enemies with Marines.
It all started when The Doctor, then a mild-mannered reporter, debunked a rumor spreading at warp speed that the Army had replaced the phrase "battle buddy" with the more intimate "warrior companion."
Now the author of said rumor has come forward to take credit for starting the whole "warrior companion" brouhaha, giving us a look at how these tall tales start in the first place. For the Rumor Doctor, the circle is now complete.
In early 2010, then-Staff Sgt. A.J. Merrifield, author of "BOB on the FOB Comics," was stuck in Kuwait on his way to Iraq when he and another soldier decided to start a rumor to pass the time.
"We were trying to think of the stupidest thing we could think of and somehow we hit upon the idea that the Army was doing away with 'battle buddies' and replacing it with 'warrior companion,'" said Merrifield, who is now out of the Army. "The whole reason we used 'warrior companion' was because it was the dumbest-soundest thing we could think of that still halfway sounded like something the Army would come up with."
So Merrifield and his buddy started talking about the "warrior companion" change with other troops and the rumor began to spread. Then Merrifield wrote a bogus Army message explaining the change to "warrior companion" and sent it to a friend as a joke.
The hoax had a perfect political correctness undertone and the appropriate overwritten Army memo sound: “As the Army transitions to the term ‘warrior’ for its soldiers to enhance the commitment to warrior ethos, soldiers are directed to use the phrase ‘warrior companion’ when referring to a soldier pair or groups of soldiers gathered together for the purposes of protection and safety.”
And that hooked in his battle buddy.
"He thought it was real, so he immediately forwards it to 10 other people going, 'Oh my God, can you believe this?'" Merrifield said. "It spread like wildfire.
"Three days later, I get a phone call from a buddy of mine at Fort Drum, going, 'Oh my God, division just put this out, I can't believe that the [Army] is doing this; this is the dumbest thing ever.' I was like, 'Wait, wait, what?'"
Ultimately, the Rumor Doctor stepped in after a reader in Iraq wrote a letter to the editor to Stars and Stripes complaining about the term "warrior companion."
As good as Merrifield’s hoax seemed, it fell apart after basic journalistic surgery. The formatting was wrong. Officials said no such Army message existed. And “warrior companion” is just too ridiculous even for the Defense Department.
Still, a lot of troops continue to believe the rumor.
"A lot of people thought that it actually had come from Big Army, but when the Army found out how much of a backlash there was against it, they basically tried to hide the fact that it came from them," Merrifield said.
The Army declined The Rumor Doctor's invitation to weigh in for this story.
This week, Merrifield posted pictures on his Facebook page of him writing the bogus Army message, explaining his motivations
Merrifield told The Rumor Doctor he never thought the rumor would go as far or as wide as it did. One reason he thinks why it took off is that it is not that far-fetched, Merrifield said.
"The Army does a lot of really goofy things if everybody immediately bought into it,'" he said.
THE RUMOR DOCTOR'S DIAGNOSIS: Regular readers have known this rumor is false for months, but now we have the whole story. What Merrifield did not know is that his joke would give birth to The Rumor Doctor, so in a way, the two of us will always be warrior companions.