A Soldier-Blogger in Iraq
Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, Jason Christopher Hartley is a member of the New York Army National Guard. After serving at Ground Zero following the 9/11 attacks, Hartley was stationed in Iraq, where he maintained the controversial blog Just Another Soldier until he was forced to stop by his commander. He is the creator of "Surrender," a play based on his wartime experiences, as well as the author of the book "Just Another Soldier: A Year on the Ground in Iraq."
Question: When did you start blogging during the war?
Jason Christopher Hartley: I started writing my blog [“Just Another Soldier”] about my experiences pretty much immediately. I mean, I was a Computer Science major at the time; I’ve always been kind of a big geek. So it was blogs were just kind of starting to really pick up steam, but it was still kind of more of the realm of the geek people that actually kept blogs, so just I -- my thinking was, rather than write a thousand e-mails, kind of being repetitious to all my friends and family, I would just, you know, use this blog thing, write stuff once, post it, and then just tell everyone, "Here is where I’m going to keep my writing, if you want to know what is going on, just kind of go here." So initially it was really just a practical thing to keep the blog, and I started immediately. I mean, the moment that we got the orders that we were going to begin the training to go to Iraq, I did my first blog entry, which was September of 2003.
Question: How did you access the Internet in Iraq?
Jason Christopher Hartley: Since we were there for OIF 2, it wasn’t quite the wildness of an initial invasion of a country, but still early on enough that Iraq was the Wild West at that point. We could kind of do virtually whatever we want and not have to explain anything or at least we didn’t -- now it’s like you fire your weapon, you’re going to do ten pages of paperwork. Back then we had a lot more freedom. So we actually were able to hire a local company based out of Baghdad, an Iraqi company. They came and installed for us satellite Internet and we had Internet for our entire bunker. My platoon lived in an empty animal bunker near the Balad Airbase and we just kind of all set up -- myself and another geek had set up the routers and we gave ourselves -- pretty much every soldier in that bunker had an Internet connection.
Question: Why did you blog?
Jason Christopher Hartley: I didn’t want to consider myself a news source. I wasn’t interested in providing some kind of here is what is really happening. That’s never been my mentality at all. I’ve always been in the Army primarily as kind of an experiential thing, which might sound kind of sacrilegious. Yes, there is all the things about the military that are very rewarding and it’s very true. The duty, the self sacrifice, the being part of something bigger than yourself, the brethren, all of that is absolutely true and these are reasons why I re-enlist, but the thing that on a personal level that has always been most interesting to me is what the experience feels like, and so when I started writing I wrote what I would want to read. Before I deployed I’m going online trying to find blogs and I want to know how guys are feeling. I just want to know what is it like. I don’t really want to know like the details or the facts, the stuff you’d read like say in the Times. I just want to know what it feels like. You know what does it smell like? What was the first thing that went through your mind the first time you fired your weapon, stuff like that and that’s I kind of feel like what really got neglected a lot and that’s really what I tried to focus on, is here is the mundane, kind of silly, a lot of times absurd stuff that we do and here is why it’s, I’d like to believe, perhaps, universally interesting to you and me, a person who in combat and a person who isn’t, because at its core our experience is all, I’d like to believe, pretty universal regardless of situation or, you know, setting.
Question: Why were you forced to stop blogging?
Jason Christopher Hartley: Well I got in trouble two times. The first time was not so serious. My Commander had found that I had this blog through I think his wife, which I was sure kind of upset him kind of on an eagle level to have his wife telling him something about his own company. He had asked me to take it down, so I did and then but I kept writing, but then towards the end of the tour I thought well, I kind of want to put this back up and the way that I remember the conversation that I had with my Commander is he said, “Look, I want you to voluntarily take it down.” And I told him, “Well, if you’re asking me to no; my answer is no. I’m not taking it down.” Then he had… He asked my First Sergeant to ask me as a favor to him to take it down and actually that was my Platoon Sergeant. I remember respecting my platoon sergeant greatly, so I said, “OK, I’ll take it down, but not because I want to, but as a favor to that guy.” And I did and this was fine. But then toward the end of the tour there was one night I’m drinking Jim Beam with my buddy. It was like one of the only nights I actually had booze in Iraq and I decide you know what, I think, fuck it. I’m going to put it back up, which was really just a matter of sort of like turning it back on because all the material was already there at the host with the blog and it went back up and it only took about a week before my leadership to find that the blog was back up online and then that was really kind of a shit storm happened after that, where my Commander threatened to court marshal me and I was taken off mission. It was this huge investigation, but in the end, I ended up getting hammered with disobeying a direct order and pretty much that's about it. You know I got reduced in rank from Sergeant Specialist, lost $1,000 in pay and it took me about two years to actually get that rank back.
Jason Christopher Hartley: They initially had told me that I had violated the Geneva Convention because of photographs of detainees that I had… The big one, too, was conduct unbecoming a non-commissioned officer primarily for a photograph of me on the crapper with my buddy at Fort Drum when it was like ass cold. It was a funny picture, but my Commander like really took exception to that, “Why would you put that? Your naked ass in on the whole Internet? What would your mom…? How are you going to explain this to your kids?” I’m like, “I’m going to tell them that it was cold and I was on a crapper and it was kind of funny.” I don’t know. They also… What were some other charges? They were all like… It was the one violating the Geneva Convention that I’m like, come on. If I tortured somebody yeah, that‘s violating Geneva Convention, but whatever, you know.
How one American soldier blogged the truth about the war until his commander stopped him.
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