War blogs add personal edge to battles, military life

KRT NEWSFEATURES By Doug Bedell The Dallas Morning News (KRT) DALLAS _ The world’s thirst for information from the Iraqi desert has melded with technology to forge a new breed of Web site loosely known as the war blog. These chronological, personal diaries are coming from every front. U.S. troops, such as the anonymous L.T. Smash, are posting daily dispatches called “Live from the Sandbox” from the desert. Families at home, including a mother in San Antonio, are amassing audiences by posting e-mail from Iraq-based troops on Web sites such as SgtStryker.com. And ex-generals and office workers alike are finding a huge thirst for up-to-the-second news briefings. While some offer light punditry, others dig deep into war tactics. Even as the mainstream media’s Web sites are attracting record activity, hundreds of these smaller operations are flourishing. One-man operations such as Sean-Paul Kelley’s Agonist.org are reporting more than 130,000 unique visits a day, forcing them to upgrade their server capacities. War blogs are a form of web logs, or blogs. In just four years, this category of Web site has changed the way Net denizens navigate through the Internet’s sometimes mind-boggling info-clutter. Blogs are enigmatic. Not even the genre’s creators can agree on a definition. Some of the movement’s founders, in fact, deny they’re blogging. But one thing is certain: These link-filled commentary pages have struck a chord with surfers. Typically, blogs are bursts of text and hypertext packaged chronologically, mapping the designer’s treks across the Internet and pointing out sites of note along the way. In just a few weeks, hundreds of blogs have popped up devoted to the situation in Iraq. To San Antonio office worker Julia Hayden, the intense interest is understandable. “The very good war blogs are people who are experts right down to their bones, and they can write about it,” says Hayden, who, as Sgt. Mom, posts her daughter’s e-mail on Sgt. Stryker’s Daily Briefing (http://sgtstryker.com). “If you’re a reporter, you’re primarily a good writer and you’re good at doing a fair amount of research, but not the way somebody who does it 24-7.” Like many war blogs, Sgt. Stryker’s site started as a labor of love. It began as a stay-in-touch effort by far-flung e-mail acquaintances. With war on the horizon, Hayden _ who spent 20 years as a military broadcast technician _ began gathering news that might affect her 23-year-old daughter, a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Hayden volunteered, along with more than a dozen others, to share her insights with the Sgt. Stryker audience. “It was mostly former military for the military,” she Hayden said. But when her daughter was sent to the war front, the e-mail exchanges between the two women took on an urgent, personal quality that began attracting eyeballs. “We can’t e-mail back and forth all the time like when she was in Camp Pendleton, but we get just enough so I know she’s safe,” Hayden says. “I get jumpy, though, if I go two days without hearing something.” As a clerk, the daughter identified only as Cpl. Blondie has more regular e-mail access than many in the service. The family is careful not to divulge her location and zealously guards other details that might reveal her identity to the enemy. “We’re awfully careful,” Hayden says. “But there really aren’t any rules about all this. It’s not an official sort of thing.” Beyond prohibiting disclosure of operational details, the armed forces have no centralized rules on Internet use. Typically, field commanders set their own guidelines. Many bloggers filing from the war zone are vigilantly hiding their identities. L.T. Smash (http://lt-smash.us) takes its name from a Navy lieutenant and record producer on television’s “The Simpsons.” Bart Simpson is listed as the registrant for the site, and Smash pleads with readers not to attempt to identify him. Others, such as Kuwait-stationed Kevin Mickey, 39, (http://www.chinpokomon.com), make little effort to disguise themselves. The Navy lieutenant commander updates readers on his maladies (pink eye), the sights (digital photos of the sunset over Um Qasr) and edgy encounters with the mainstream press. Military expert Austin Bay, author of “A Quick and Dirty Guide to War” and the upcoming war novel “The Wrong Side of Brightness,” says blogging from the front is risky. The enemy could easily intercept satellite e-mail uplinks, then use them for intelligence. “What you can tell out of that stuff is, `These guys are angry; these guys are OK; these guys are worried about their kids,'” says the former Pentagon war game consultant. “Just like that from e-mail, they can get a morale picture.” Because of their nature, it’s not always possible to verify a war blogger’s identity. As the war started, for example, many people flooded to “Where is Raed?” (http://www.dear_raed.blogspot.com), which was ostensibly run by an Iraqi watching the bombing from within Baghdad. The dispatches from the blogger, who called himself Salam Pax, which translates as Peace Peace, abruptly ceased Friday, leading to much conjecture. Journalist Paul Boutin (http://paulboutin.weblogger.com/2003/03/20) was among several people who tried to ascertain whether Salam was real or a hoax. ___ ‘copy 2003, The Dallas Morning News. 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