GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — The Army is working on a set of guidelines for soldiers’ conduct in online forums such as blogs and message boards, but it might be a while before the message reaches the troops.
The guidelines — a compilation of the scattered rules and regulations governing online activity by soldiers — will be included in a rewrite of Army public affairs regulations to be published in the next six months to two years, Department of the Army public affairs specialist Lindy Kyzer said in an e-mail. Soldiers will be told about the guidelines during pre-deployment public affairs training, she said.
But that doesn’t mean soldiers can blog with impunity until the new guidelines are published.
Operational security rules, which prohibit the publication by soldiers of classified or sensitive information, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, already limit what soldiers can do online, Kyzer said.
"What the new public affairs guidance … will provide is further clarification of what is acceptable in online postings or digital communication," she said.
The new guidelines do not cancel existing regulations but instead supplement them, she said.
"Digital communication is an increasingly popular venue for our soldiers to communicate. With that, there is a greater responsibility to update all regulations and guidance where communications is a factor, in a way that includes formats such as online messaging," she said.
A small number of blogs have been shut down because of violations to operations security or the Uniform Code of Military Justice, she said, adding that she knew of only two blogs that had been shut down.
One of them was Kaboom: A Soldier’s War Journal (kaboomwarjournal.blogspot.com), she said.
The blog was the work of Capt. Matt Gallagher, who was serving in Iraq with the 25th Infantry Division’s 2nd Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment.
In June, Gallagher — then a first lieutenant stationed at a combat outpost northwest of Baghdad — was ordered to shut down his blog after he posted comments critical of a superior’s attempt to promote and reassign him, according to a July report in The Washington Post.
The content remains on an archive blog one of his friends created: http://kaboomwarjournalarchive.blogspot.com, and the old blog site is now controlled by Gallagher’s fiancée.
In October 2004, 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division soldier Sgt. Dale Rogers was ordered to remove his Web site — www.beerforsoldiers.com — after Army legal officers determined that it violated the Joint Ethics Regulation by soliciting money to buy soldiers beer.
At the time, Rogers stopped soliciting donations and said he was turning the Web site over to his brother. As of Friday, the Web site was active and again soliciting beer donations.
In another recent case, V Corps investigated online comments at various military message boards posted by the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment’s Rear Detachment commander, Lt. Col. Thomas Rickard. One of the postings, at www.military.com, was subsequently deleted but it allegedly revealed medical information about a soldier who was court-martialed for refusing to deploy.
Soldiers increasingly use on-line forums because they offer a convenient, accessible way to connect with families or units, especially during a deployment, Kyzer said. Issues surrounding blogs have been come increasingly important as soldiers utilize the online diaries at a greater level than ever before, Kyzer said.
Soldiers in uniform or identifying themselves in being in uniform have similar obligations in an online venue as they do if they are conducting themselves in person, she said.