WASHINGTON – It reads a bit like a brewing mutiny. Writing mostly under pen names, the tribe of former and current service members behind the satirical Duffel Blog regularly lampoons military leaders, blasts the bureaucracy and mocks policy.
You might think the Pentagon – zealous about message control – would be scrambling to unmask the scribes and shut down a site that has managed to find humor even in taboo subjects such as the forces suicide epidemic, the sexual assault crisis and the psychiatric wounds of combat.
Sample headline: Anthony Weiner Selected As Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention Chief.
The brass seems to be laughing along, for the most part, as the once-obscure site has become a widely read guilty pleasure at the Pentagon and at military bases around the country and the world.
When the Duffel Blog launched a couple of years ago, its creators said their only ambition was to lighten the mood among a generation of war-weary veterans who felt somewhat disconnected from civilian America.
But it has turned into much more, regularly attracting more than half a million unique visitors per month. Its brand of satire often conveys grievances and contrarian views that are widely held among those in uniform. The articles have also helped bridge the countrys civilian-military divide, the blogs writers say, by sparking conversations and portraying troops in ways that defy stereotypes.
Duffel Blog is a beautifully crafted response to an increasingly stuffy environment in todays America, said retired Gen. James Mattis, a former head of U.S. Central Command who has been parodied in several items.
Paul Szoldra, a former Marine sergeant, came up with the concept almost by accident. While developing a website designed to help veterans succeed in college, he penned a couple of satirical posts that got far more attention than his tips for student vets.
When I first started it, it gave me a board to vent and be funny about things in the military that were kind of dumb, Szoldra, 29, said in a phone interview from San Francisco, where he works for a business news site. Other people started recognizing the power of that.
Szoldra began getting emails from veterans around the country who wanted to play a role, allowing him to build a group of roughly 50 regular contributors, about half on active duty.
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