Letters home filled with tales of death and danger, bravery and boredom are a wartime certainty.
And now, as hundreds of soldiers overseas have started keeping Internet journals about the heat, the homesickness, the bloodshed, word speeds from the battlefront faster than ever.
More and more, though, U.S. military commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan are clamping down on these military Web logs, known as milblogs.
After all, digital photos of blown-up tanks and gritty comments on urban warfare don't just interest mom and dad.
The enemy, too, has a laptop and satellite link.
Nowadays, milbloggers "get shut down almost as fast as they're set up," said New York Army National Guard Spc. Jason Christopher Hartley, 31, of upstate New Paltz, who believes something is lost as the grunt's-eye take on Tikrit or Kabul is silenced or sanitized.
Hartley last January was among the first active-duty combat troops demoted and fined for security violations on his blog, justanothersoldier.com.
Throughout last year, the Army, Marines, Air Force and Navy tightened control on bloggers by requiring them to register through the chain of command and by creating special security squads to monitor milblogs.
"The ones that stay up are completely patriotic and innocuous, and they're fine if you want to read the flag-waving and how everything's peachy keen in Iraq," said Hartley, who is back in New Paltz after two years stationed in Iraq.
The new emphasis on security, however, is welcome to some.
"When you put your blog out there, you cannot forget that not only the good guys, but the bad guys are accessing it, especially for TTPs," said Marine Capt. Don Caetano, of Mineola, referring to techniques, tactics and procedures. Now a recruiter in Garden City, Caetano was stationed in Fallujah, where he ran the embedded journalist program.
"The limitations on blogging basically mean, 'Don't make it easy for them. Don't readily give up information,' " that would endanger U.S. troops, Caetano said.
Revealing a minor aspect of strategy or tactics may seem insignificant, Caetano said, but, "If the bad guys take a piece from me, and a piece from you, and a piece from another guy, pretty soon they can gather some pretty good intel."
The military, at first unaware of the milblogging trend, last year began targeting bloggers with warnings, punctuated by high-profile disciplinary action.
The Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, in August sent a videotaped admonition to overseas troops warning them of the dangers of carelessness on blogs.
And, echoing the World War II censorship slogan, "Loose lips sink ships," the Pentagon in November sent out an advisory titled "Loose blogs may blow up BCTs." A BCT is a brigade combat team.
Hartley was fined $1,000 and demoted from sergeant. Others also have been disciplined, including Pfc. Leonard Clark, an Arizona national guardsman serving in Iraq who was demoted from specialist and fined $1,640 in August for putting classified information on his blog.
'That's sorta the point'
Among security breaches in postings on soldiers' Web sites, the Army pointed to photos of an Abrams tank pierced by a rocket-propelled grenade, which could show Iraqi insurgents where to aim.
In Hartley's case, the Army said he should not have described his unit's flight route into Iraq because that could help the enemy shoot down U.S. aircraft. And, the Army said, Hartley should not have disclosed that the last three bullets he loaded into his weapon's magazine were always tracers, because that could tip an enemy to time an attack just as an American soldier is reloading.
Despite those charges, Hartley asserts he did not put any American troops at risk. He believes the Army's real concern was his satiric tone.
"Photos of the week of cute Iraqi kids who I want to shoot," he captioned one set of snapshots on his blog in 2004.
"Something I cannot reiterate often enough is how monumentally misbehaved Iraqi street kids are," Hartley's blog continued. "But some of them are just so darn cute, you can't help but want to squeeze their little faces -- until they suffocate."
The Army took him literally, even though Hartley said he was aiming his satire at those who believe Iraqi civilians' lives have little value.
Some of Hartley's readers got the point. Others did not.
One of Hartley's Web entries on April 24, 2004, carried a photograph of an Iraqi man's partially burned corpse clothed in a bloodied white tunic. Hartley's photo caption was a take on the "I New York City" slogan. His version: "I Dead Civilians."
In response, a visitor wrote: "Is this a joke or what? This whole blogg gives a bad taste in the mouth."
Hartley replied, "It leaves a bad taste in your mouth? That's sorta the point."
Another blog reader, with the moniker Alberto, defended the shock-blog: "The point of being so graphic it's to see what a war really is. Good blog, keep it up!"
In general, observers say, soldiers' online musings are less and less compelling.
There's less of the informal, often coarse language -- one soldier speaking to another -- that gave a feeling of authenticity and attracted thousands of readers both in and out of the military, said Jon Peede, director of Operation Homecoming, a National Endowment for the Arts program that gives writing instruction to U.S. troops and is creating a collection of their blogs, letters and essays.
Yet one drawback to vivid, uncensored descriptions of combat on blogs was that the family of a wounded or killed soldier might get the news impersonally, or worry unnecessarily, Peede said.
"A blogger might say, 'We were in a firefight in a particular city, and a fellow Marine was wounded,' " Peede said, "and then 50 families might read that and think it's their son or brother."
Besides, wayward milblogs give the world a skewed view of U.S. troops, said Capt. Dan Rice, of Manhattan, who served in Tikrit for 18 months with the U.S. Army National Guard's 42nd Infantry Division. A West Point graduate, Rice served as a finance officer and is now back working as a vice president at the U.S. Trust Co. of New York.
Most bloggers are atypical soldiers, said Rice, who wrote a pro-military blog favored by his superior officers. "It will mostly be the risk-takers, the mavericks, and the one percent that's bitter, who will blog."
Readers also have taken up the debate.
"my only concern is the posting of troopers pics and info ... the jihadist moniter these blogs too," a visitor to adayiniraq.com wrote.
"these troops may have been compromised by these blogs," the visitor wrote. "i for one would rather have no blogs about our troopers if it needlessly endanger's 1 of thier lives."
Marine Cpl. Al Maldonado, 28, of West Hempstead, who saw combat in Iraq, said milblogs help maintain a connection between the troops and their friends, family and community back home. During weeks of supplying tons of ammunition to Marines in Fallujah in November, his family was cheered to find a humorous photo of him on a blog, Maldonado said.
Blogs also allow soldiers to simply describe their combat experiences, without feeling they are bragging, Maldonado said.
"Sometimes they want to tell everyone what they went through because they're afraid that when they go back, they won't be appreciated for what they've done," he said.
Maldonado, an ammo chief, criticized Hartley for blogging about the reloading technique. "To describe your method for loading tracers in a blog, that's pretty stupid. Now I know when three tracers go by me that's when he's reloading," he said.
A waste of time?
Seymour Hersh, the reporter who broke stories on the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War and torture at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, said military commanders can't control the flow of information by shutting down soldiers' blogs.
"There's a tremendous communication underground. talk, they send e-mails, photos," Hersh said from his Washington, D.C., office. "The Army is wasting its time."
Milblogs remain popular. mudvillegazette.com claimed more than 700,000 page views in 2005, with blackfive.net not far behind. And michaelyon.blogspot is ranked in the top 100 (No. 81) of the 8 million blogs tracked by Technorati.com.
But with stricter controls now in place, the milblogosphere's freewheeling days likely are limited.
Some critics of the censorship say it could be harder for American soldiers to publicly raise questions about the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the success or failure of the war effort, and the "stop-loss" policy that forces soldiers to remain after enlistment contracts expire.
But a complete milblog blackout may never succeed.
"Is it over? No way, as long as there are soldiers and the Internet. People will always be starting blogs and get shut down, and then someone else starts one," Hartley said. "In my generation, or younger, everyone's all about spilling their guts on the Internet."