In January of 2006, Mark Glaser, writing for PBS's MediaShift blog, marveled at how "a relatively new site called YouTube" had allowed him to view "what looked like videos shot by American soldiers of live combat in Iraq." Five years ago, the idea of amateur video from the battlefield being distributed worldwide in near real time represented a media shift indeed.
By now, we're used to seeing unofficial video from the battlefield. Some of the amateur video from soldiers in Iraq has featured grim footage of violence. But much of it has been made during downtime, when bored soldiers were just goofing off. Below are a few of the greatest YouTube hits of bored American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. A lot of the footage is totally charming. Occasionally it seems grossly irresponsible and insensitive. Sending college-age boys into battle is complicated.
This staging of Lady Gaga's "Telephone" has more than six million views on YouTube so far. Filmed by soldiers in Afghanistan, it features amateur choreography and goofy costumes worthy of any college talent show.
A spoof of SNL's "Lazy Sunday," one of the first viral videos ever, "Lazy Ramadi" features a handful of funny original rhymes and some rough video editing tricks. But when one of the guys raps "crazy Ramadi/I hate Ramadi," you believe that that part isn't a joke. There's also a Navy version of Lonley Island's "I'm on a Boat."
"Soldiers being funny"
This slideshow of soldiers goofing off includes a number of images that are ridiculous, poignant, and fun, and at least one that's in pretty bad taste (at minute 0:35).
"US soldiers have fun"
Set to "New Slang" by The Shins, this video of a group of soldiers making the most of what is probably a routine patrol is really endearing, in a way. But it's also a little hard not to wonder how Iraqis perceived them. Was the boy at minute 0:40 playing along or scared shitless?
"Bored soldiers having fun in Iraq"
This video features soldiers participating in a standard sophomoric test of strength—with a surprise ending. Hopefully that one guy's hand wasn't badly hurt. Also in the Jackass vein: This hand grenade video and this Porta-Potty video.
"Your Tax Dollars At Work (I'm in the blue gloves)"
A group of soldiers breaks into an apparently spontaneous Cha Cha Slide while doing what looks like some sort of mechanical repairs. The best thing about this video is the fact that none of the new people who enter the room question the dancing—and most join in.
"Military Ghost Ride Montage"
This compilation of clips features soldiers ghost riding Humvees and various other large and expensive military vehicles. To be fair, it's probably safer to ghost ride a Humvee in the middle of the desert than to ghost ride an Escalade in the middle of Oakland. I just hope these guys weren't supposed to be anywhere. There are also many YouTube videos of soldiers jumping Humvees.
"US Soldiers in Iraq - The Ding Dong Song"
This is another lip-synch video, consisting mostly of jokey homoeroticism. Like any good amateur video project, it features an end credits sequence that's half as long as the video itself.
"This is Why I'm Hot (Deployed Style)"
Two guys, stationed at an air force base in the United Arab Emirates, do their own take on "This Is Why I'm Hot." The high production values suggest this video took a long time to make. Maybe being on an air force base is easier than being on the ground in Iraq.
"Peanut Butter Jelly Time In Iraq"
The description for this video explains that "These are the things we do when we're bored waiting on our Team Leader to come out from meetings with our Iraqi counterparts." It seems innocent enough.
"MTV Cribs Iraq part 1"
A soldier shows off his tent and "bed" in the middle of the desert (the language is NSFW). There is a whole genre of ironic Iraq Cribs videos.
"Bored Soliders Having Fun in Iraq"
This video of Jackass-style tomfoolery features soldiers dancing, hitting each other with things, and pulling various practical jokes, some of which look pretty dangerous (see minute 3:00).