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First Person Singular: Blackfive

Matt Burden’s long awaited book The Blog of War is in bookstores now.


Update: Watch Matt on C-Span’s Washington Journal

1. How do you describe and what inspired you to undertake this work?

A good friend of mine, US Army Major Mathew Schram, was killed fighting his way out of an ambush in Iraq on Memorial Day, 2003. He gave his life to save his soldiers and a journalist that never acknowledged anything for my friend in his magazine.

At the same time, I also had a lot of friends in Afghanistan and Iraq, and their emails and letters and phone calls told a vastly different story that the one I was watching unfold on cable or in the New York Times.

After grieving for Mat, I decided to start a blog to talk about the people and events that the national media don’t tell very often. I posted the emails and letters from friends that, sometimes, directly challenged the view we were getting. I felt that there would be an audience for that. I just didn’t know it would grow as much as it did.

Blackfive has become a resource for information about the war and how we fight, highlights stories that you normally wouldn’t see in the media, and ways for us to help our soldiers and their families. Blackfive has also become a conduit for matching people that want to help in some way (but don’t really know how) and the organizations, like Soldiers’ Angels, that are making a difference every single day. I’ll talk more about this to answer your next question.

I distinctly remember having a conversation with my wife that, if I couldn’t pick up a rifle again, that THIS would be what I would do and I needed the time and energy to do it. And, of course, she supported that.

Eventually, military blogging grew to the point where there were hundreds of us and that there was enough material to produce an outstanding oral history book about the Long War. “The Blog of War”, the military blog anthology that I edited for Simon & Schuster, was born out of my fear that some of these great, true military blogger experiences might disappear due to several reasons like a domain name expiring or the government cracking down on military blogging for Operational Security (OPSEC) reasons.

“The Blog of War” has chapters about Healers (Doctors, Nurses, Medics, Chaplains), Warriors, the Fallen, Heroes of the Homefront (parents, spouses, significant others) and Homecoming (some have been wounded and others have wounds that you don’t see). There are 54 authors (some are featured two or three times) and some of the material is new as some of the authors have stopped blogging but have provided updates.

2. How do you approach the work?

Some days are tougher than others. The bottom-line is that I usually am very positive about supporting our troops.

When I started, I looked for soldiers and families and causes to help, and, now, they come to me. I get about 300 emails per day of suggestions of topics to write about, people to focus on, or someone or some entity that needs the help that we can mobilize.

Sometimes, I know that a wounded soldier is inbound to the states and might not survive. I try to get some prayers sent his way and maybe someone to be there for him at the hospital. I hear from people – doctors, nurses, chaplains, medics – that are involved. Sometimes, it’s emotionally very tough. But, after a few visits to Walter Reed and talks with loved ones of the Fallen, I’ve found that it IS tough but is also some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.

And what I’ve found is that there are a lot of people that want the opportunity to help, but just didn’t know exactly how to help until they found military blogs. I write about those opportunities.

I didn’t ever expect to be the guy in that role, I just wound up here.

3. Where do you find inspiration?

I am such a fan of our armed forces because I’ve served and I KNOW how great these young men and women (AND their families) are to serve their country for little financial reward.

And soon after I started blogging, I discovered how great my readers are. They donate money, time, write letters, counter anti-military protests, donate blood (and get registered in the National Bone Marrow database) and visit the wounded to let them know we care. Seriously, they are the best people on the planet. It wasn’t long before they were inspiring ME.

Last, I am inspired by people that go above and beyond in support of our troops. There’s a whole group that support our wounded. Via Soldiers’ Angels, there’s even American expats and German citizens in Germany that help care for our men and women while they are there in transit to the States.

4. What books are you reading now?

Unfortunately, [yawn] I just finished a Financial Accounting book because I’m starting an ExecMBA. I tend to read one non-fiction book and one fiction book at the same time. Schoolwork is sucking up all of the non-fiction reading that I can stand right now. Fiction – I am reading “The Last Templar” now. If you like history-based fiction, it’s pretty good for a brand new author, but a little formulaic. I look forward to reading mystery, historical fiction and sometimes sci-fi type of books. It’s how I unwind before sleeping at night.

I think that I’ve got a Raymond Feist book on deck, next. Maybe a Stephen Brust book in there too.

5. What do you consider required reading in order for people to understand the world today?

As critical of the media as I am, there are lots of good reporters and authors out there to read [present company included]. I also think that the Christian Science Monitor does the best job of presenting the facts as they are rather than interpreting them.

I think that I’m old school in my reading. I like the classics and return to them often. Sun Tzu, Horace, and Plato can apply to everything, and I like CS Lewis’s the Case for Christianity.

I think that books that claim to help you understand the world today are so politicized one way or the other that they render themselves inept. They might be good reads with a grain of salt but not to gain some enlightenment about why the world is so @#$%ed up right now. Personally, I’d recommend reading the CSM, the Economist, and add a few other periodicals but then I’d steer you to blogs to fill in the gaps or to question what the media is printing.

6. Whose work (in any field) do you admire the most?

I admire people who do social type of work in environments where the losses always exceed the gains, but they keep fighting anyway. I admire people that run soup kitchens or homeless shelters or try to help in various ways but know they are fighting a losing battle. I recently attended a fund raiser to help build girls schools in Muslim areas of the world. These people are taking huge risks in order to educate women (which I agree will lead to more educated children – meaning that they will be more open to new ideas). Will they succeed? Maybe in some areas, but they are certain to risk lives, money and effort in others. No matter what your opinion is on those issues, you should admire that they are willing to stand in that arena.

7. What do you consider as an overrated person, place or thing?

Actors. When Sean Penn’s words about Iraq matter more than the Marine Corporal storming Fallujah, I get concerned for where we are headed. I think Sean Penn is a good actor, one of the best actors of his generation, but I don’t think much of his ability to help us in the world.

8.What do hope will be your most lasting contribution?

There’s a few. I want to create as many opportunities for people to help win this war and make sure that our troops are not forgotten like they were after Viet Nam (or treated like they were after Viet Nam).

I think it would be cool to be remembered for standing up for our troops. But, in the end, I’m just the conduit. The needs and the people fulfilling those needs are one contribution.

The other is raising children that will become good people, good citizens, one day.

That’s it.

9. When is the last time you laughed out loud about something?

I love satire – the Daily Show usually gets a laugh out of me. Sometimes, SNL gets me, too (although I miss Wil Farrel on that show).

My kids make me laugh every day. My five year old son usually does something hilarious – I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not. He comments on everyday things in ways you don’t expect from a five year old.

10. What do you think people need to spend more time doing (or paying attention to)?

I wish more people got involved in the causes that they care about. I think with the decline of groups like the VFW, Elks, Moose, Shriners, etc. that less people are involved in their towns and neighborhoods.

I wish that people paid more attention to their kids.

11. What is the most important piece of equipment (or skill) in your arsenal?

The ability to get people to believe that they can make a difference, and, then, encourage them to give it a shot. I’m an American evangelist in a manner of speaking.

From the Publisher of The Blog of War:

THE BLOG OF WAR is a remarkable account of men and women as they actually experience the trials and tribulations of war on the battlefield, where our soldiers must daily test their humanity against harrowing episodes of the horror and fear. Readers are certain to have a better understanding and a greater respect for those who risk their lives for their country in these most turbulent times.


Watch Matt on C-Span’s Washington Journal


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