By Bernhard Warner
London - There's a new breed of combat personnel at the war front: soldier "bloggers".
Once the narrow domain of geeks and technology journalists, "Web logs" - or diary accounts published online - have gone mainstream, making it possible for even soldiers to transmit daily updates to websites about the rigours of battle.
War-themed blogs, appearing on sites such as www.blogsofwar.com
and www.sgtstryker.com, have become a popular alternative news source since fighting broke out in Iraq a week ago, sometimes beating newspapers and television with war developments.
One of the most popular is a site run by "LT Smash", the blog nickname for a reservist in the United States Navy who arrived in the Gulf last December.
His site, www.lt-smash.us, carries the moniker "Live from the sandbox".
LT Smash's accounts range from the ordinary and the oddball to the touching.
On Tuesday, he posted a solemn tribute to Thomas Mullen Adams, the 27-year-old US Navy lieutenant killed on Saturday when two British helicopters collided over the Gulf.
And on Monday, he wrote: "We're still getting one or two hot meals every day, and the care packages are pouring in. Today we were blessed with home-made cookies, fudge, and endless supplies of snack mix and other junk food..."
Bloggers range from journalists stationed in the region to armchair observers commenting on round-the-clock televised war coverage from their homes.
One man writing under the name "Salam Pax" purported to be in Baghdad last week.
Part of the appeal of blogs is that many encourage reader feedback - more than 85 readers responded to LT Smash's comments about his fallen friend, Adams.
"My son's been blogging for maybe a year now," said LT's father, who asked neither he nor his son be identified. "He originally started it as a way to communicate with his family. Now he's getting thousands of hits a day."
He is not alone. Will, a 29-year-old US army reservist and self-proclaimed "computer geek", set up a blog site at http://rooba.net/will.
His last posting came on Sunday when he informed readers he's shoving off from "CONUS" or Continental United States. But, he reported, he can't say where he's heading, underscoring that in this age of instantaneous communications certain details such as troop movements remain sacred secrets.
The US military has adopted an open stance towards blogging, and to soldiers' access to electronic communications in general.
"All the kids on ships have email. Every single one has an account. It's the main mode of communication today. These kids are sending email two or three times a day," said LT's father, a retired US military officer.
He said he has two enlisted sons stationed in the region. His youngest son, a 27-year-old in the US Navy, is on a ship in the Gulf.
He does not know LT's whereabouts.
"He's either in Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia or Qatar. He cannot disclose his location. So I just check his site twice a day to see how he's doing," he said.