CHAMPAIGN - Moms can't always watch after their children once they're grown. But they can try, and the Internet can help.
Kathy Tattersall and Cynthia Morton-Petry both work at Wolfram Research in Champaign, have sons serving in the military and keep in close touch with other moms through an online support network.
They sign on at Marine Moms Online, http://marinemomsonline.virtualave.net , but there are similar virtual support systems for every branch of service.
The sites are constantly updated. Last week, Tattersall and Morton-Petry knew about the fatal Blackhawk helicopter crash in New York seconds after it hit the news wire.
?There are moms on here who sleep and eat CNN,? Morton-Petry says.
Lori Busboom of rural Rantoul, another Marine mom, agrees that there can never be too much information or too much support.
?Knowing that other moms are dealing with the separation from their child - it's not like having your child go off to college - is the main thing that I get out of the group,? she said.
?Going off to college is so different from enlisting in the military, because you can't talk to your child whenever you want to, and sometimes you don't know where they are. Unless you are in that same situation, you don't know what that feels like.?
Bountiful information and national security have always been a contradiction to the military. Even as the Internet and Web sites make it easier to share photos and e-mail, the services are concerned that terrorists could also avail themselves of the data.
The Air Force has announced it might begin limiting e-mail because some sensitive information has gone out, including digital pictures that could aid the enemy. The Navy is monitoring all e-mail traffic on submarines. The Army is restrict- ing some Internet connections from some bases. In the Mid-east, soldiers have been told not to send sensitive information
Tattersall said the support group wants to help moms help each other and their children, not traffic in sensitive information.
Tattersall, whose son Brandon is a first lieutenant stationed in Okinawa, Japan, said the moms are aware that others can read their Web site.
?There's a moderator who is careful to make sure what information goes out on the site,? she said. ?We have to be real careful what we say.?
Ann Russell of Champaign, whose son is a Marine drill instructor, said the help on the site is manifold.
?These guys have picked up stranded Marines, waited at the bus station in Amarillo at midnight with food for hungry Marines on a passing bus, found cheap plane tickets and lodging for people and many, many other things,? she said.
Morton-Petry's son is Lance Cpl. Paul Petry, who is currently at Twentynine Palms near San Diego, Calif. He'll be coming home next week for a 25-day leave before he leaves for Okinawa for a year.
?I discovered the MMO in January and read it every day,? she says. ?I wish I had come across it when Paul was in boot camp. It is a wonderful support system, for not just moms, but for all family members of our Marines.
?I have learned so much through the Web site,? she said via e-mail, ?such as travel orders (what to expect, what my son will be able to take with him), what to know about Okinawa (there is a cake lady there who you can contact, and she will bake a cake and have it delivered in person), super great ideas on what to send in care packages, how to pack the care packages, calling cards for overseas - which ones to look for and which ones to avoid - power of attorney, plus learning all the military lingo that is new to me.?
Last month, she visited her son at Twentynine Palms. Before she made that trip, she researched the town on the Web site and was able to make connections at her son's base.
Busboom says it helps to talk with other moms with the same concerns.
?Just knowing there were others out there in my shoes made me feel better,? she said. ?I did ?meet' several moms through the group - one whose son was stationed with Brent and who had actually bought his pickup truck! We've stayed in contact and chat regularly.?
Sandy Soard of Thomasboro, whose son Sgt. Brian Zeifang is in Kuwait now, said she wishes she had found the group while her son was still in boot camp six years ago.
?They are a terrific source of information and comfort. They all understand what everyone is going through right now - be it that your loved one is in boot camp or deployed to Kuwait,? she says.
News-Gazette wire services contributed to this report.
You can reach Paul Wood at (217) 351-5203 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .