By Richard Allen Greene
BBC News, Washington
Carla Lois started an online diary - a weblog - just before the army sent her son Noah to Iraq in January 2005.
Eight months later, it paid off in a way she must always have prayed it would not, when she posted a terse item headlined: "My Son Has Been Injured."
Carla Lois: Having a son at war is like a constant asthma attack
Noah had a serious spinal injury, she told her readers, and she asked them to pray for him.
Within hours, 200 e-mails had flooded in offering prayers, comfort, support - and news.
Someone who read Carla's blog had got word to a nurse at Noah's hospital in Balad, Iraq.
"He e-mailed me and said: 'I've seen your son. His injuries are not life-threatening.'"
The blogosphere - as the online community of bloggers is known - had passed information to Carla literally days before she got official reassurance from the army that Noah's wound was not as bad as she was initially told.
Meeting of minds
Carla, who blogs as Some Soldier's Mom, was one of about 150 people who attended a conference of military bloggers, or milbloggers, in Washington DC in late April. (At least five times as many participated online, the conference organiser said.)
Over the course of a day of discussions taking place both in person and online - and, naturally, among a panel of official conference bloggers - participants wrestled with questions about how to blog without violating military security, how much leeway the military should give to bloggers, and how milbloggers could help influence - or force - the mainstream media to cover the war in Iraq better.
The blogging conference was itself covered by bloggers
Retired Col Austin Bay delivered a keynote address in which he argued that milblogging was already having a impact.
"Milbloggers have made a difference - at least to their families and to the military community.
"This conference is about the military community, the families that comprise it and the people it serves."
Families and community were key words throughout the day.
Many people at the conference had known each other via the internet for years, but had never met in person before.
"It's like picking up a conversation with old friends, but I'd never seen them before," said Scott Koenig, who, as Smash of the Indepundit, was among the first milbloggers to gain wide readership.
He was blogging even before he was posted to Kuwait as a naval reserve officer at the end of 2002.
He was keen to keep it up, he said, because he was addicted - but there was another reason as well.
When he shipped out, his father said: "Son, you have to post every day. Your mother worries if you don't."
Mr Koenig was not sure he would have the time, or even the technology, to keep his blog updated that frequently, and he told his father so.
His father - himself a former military man - had a simple answer: "Son, you have to post every day."
That's a sentiment that Deb Conrad, from Marine Corps Moms, would understand.
She never expected to become a blogger, but, she said, she needed some way to deal with her son's departure for Iraq.
"Nothing prepared me for sending my son off to war. It's not covered in Dr Spock," she said, referring to the canonical child-rearing text for American parents.
"When he left, I stayed in bed for two weeks," she said, flipping from one TV channel to another for news about the war.
She was not satisfied with what she found, and resolved to put up her own website aimed at people who had family members serving in Iraq.
But she quickly realised it would be frustrating to have to contact a webmaster every time she wanted to update the site.
"I put the blogging software on... and I became a blogger," she said, the tone of evident surprise in her voice drawing laughter from the crowd.
Several milbloggers said they had started blogging at least partly as therapy, but Deb Conrad emphasises her desire to help others.
"I keep my name and phone number on my blog. If someone is up at two in the morning and wants someone to talk to, I want them to have someone to call," she said.
Carla Lois, too, says she hopes other people in her situation will learn from her blog.
"I try to post advice - things I've learned that the army doesn't tell you and life doesn't prepare you for."
But she says it is also important to educate people whose children are not in the military.
"It's like a mental asthma attack 24 hours a day when you have a child at war. You gasp," she says.
"I write about the experience because I want people to understand the war is not just 'over there'."