TAMPA — Some days he has a thousand readers.
Senior Master Sgt. Rex Temple writes about the stray dogs, the rice, the curious-looking beetles, the bombs and the enemy.
He is in Afghanistan for his fourth deployment and final tour in the Middle East, but this is the first time he has blogged about it. Rex is in the U.S. Air Force, but is on loan to the U.S. Army.
He spends up to an hour a day documenting his day for his wife, his parents, friends and a growing number of readers drawn to his accounts from the front lines.
Temple left Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base in May for a base in Afghanistan near its border with Pakistan. The Pennsylvania native mentors the Afghanistan National Army with an Embedded Training Team.
Blood and guts are what media outlets usually write about, he said, but he wants to show a different side.
"And I'm only one person," Temple said. "I know there are many more positive stories throughout Afghanistan."
Wedding rings link him and his wife, and computers keep them in touch: Liisa Hyvarinen Temple on a MacBookPro, and Rex on a beat-up HP laptop.
Phone calls aren't private, reliable or longer than 10 minutes.
When online video calls work, the couple's two goldendoodles run to Liisa's computer. Sam and Charlie, both curly-haired, recognize his voice.
"They start licking the screen," Liisa said. "And then the older one, who's the dumber of the two, tries to go behind the computer to find him."
He's far from their home on Bayshore Boulevard.
Rex spends up to an hour a day on his blog. Liisa said it may be therapeutic for him.
On a slow day, he writes about playing Scrabble.
Rex —a hiker, cook, cyclist and gardener — is competitive.
Liisa mails him his Scrabble dictionary. Teriyaki beef jerky, peanut butter crackers and darts, too.
When four of his teammates died, he posted links to newspaper coverage and kept his own contribution short.
On June 20, he writes about a medical mission: "Now that everyone is awake, it's like watching an ant farm in action. Equipment is being packed, vehicles being inspected, mirrors adjusted, dusty windows being washed, and weapon systems checked."
Readers include his family and his teammates and their families. They comment on posts peppered with acronyms and military timestamps.
Ninety percent of what he hears, tastes and sees makes it to the blog, Rex said.
"He lets people know the AirForce isn't all in the fight every day," said Lt. Rebecca Heyse, MacDill Air Force Base spokeswoman.
He doesn't need approval, and the communication is encouraged as long as he doesn't jeopardize operational security.
Liisa always loved his writing. They met in 2005. Soon after, Liisa took a trip to Finland to visit family and he amazed her with his sweet e-mails.
She came back, and he made swordfish with dried cranberries and scalloped potatoes.
They married in 2006.
Rex gets back in May 2010. Liisa can't wait.
A former broadcast journalist who teaches journalism at the University of South Florida, she will take a year off from work.
Her phone is always with her. With more than an eight-hour time difference, she can't miss the chance he'll get through. He may call. He may post.
While they miss each other, his blog lets her see what he sees.
"Apparently," she said, "there've been some other wives that said, 'How come you're not doing that for me?' "
It's the closest they have to being together.
Ileana Morales can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3403.