03/03/2003 at 01:00 AM EST
HARTSVILLE, SOUTH CAROLINA
Dorcias ("D") and Gabriel Moore
When they shipped out to Kuwait a week apart, Marine L Cpl. Marcellus Moore, 25, and his wife, Marine Sgt. Christina Moore, 22, left sons D, 2, and Gabe, 1, with Christina's mother, Nancy McLeod, 39.
NANCY: I e-mail her every night and tell her what the boys did every day. I send digital pictures. Christina doesn't show emotion very easily. If you've ever seen G.I. Jane, that's her. Three weeks ago I sent a three-hour video of the boys, along with some cigarettes and cookies, in a care package. That's going to bring tears to that big bad Marine's eyes!
CHRISTINA: The hardest thing is not being able to see them grow up. You miss important things. Gabe's first birthday. "Hey there"—those were his first words. I'd been here about a month when that happened.
MARCELLUS: It started sinking in the night before we were going to leave them. I had to lay down and get myself together. Alone. I had to bawl my eyes out, I guess. The last thing I said to D was "I'll be back." That was after 10,000 or so "I love you guys." The thing I miss is D's smile. The fact that they are too young to really talk to us on the phone makes it easier. To hear D say, "I miss you, Daddy," that would tear me in two.
SUMTER, SOUTH CAROLINA
Valinda Lee and David Samuels
Spurred by the rush to deploy, Airman 1st Class Lee, 21, wed Airman 1st Class Samuels, 22, on Valentine's Day. In Jacksonville, N.C., 15 couples wed at the magistrate's office near the Camp Lejeune military base (far right).
LEE: We had been planning on a huge wedding on Aug. 2 with family and friends. But with the deployments we realized that we have no idea where we will even be next August. So we just decided to get married on Valentine's Day, right here at the Shaw Air Force base. We want to be together as husband and wife as long as we can.
We met in October 2000 at the newcomers briefing. We started hanging out, went fishing together and stuff like that. Then after about a year we became boyfriend and girlfriend.
In September David was deployed to Pakistan.
SAMUELS: I began thinking about Val and getting married. I researched diamond rings on the Internet and then e-mailed my mom and told her what I wanted and we finally picked one: a half-carat solitaire with six prongs. I gave it to Val in New York on Dec. 17 with the big Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in the background. It was beautiful.
CAMP PENDLETON, CALIFORNIA
The kids of Stuart Mesa Elementary School
Nearly half of Gail Howard's fifth graders have a parent who has already left for the Persian Gulf.
HOWARD, 55: The students will hear a bit of information in the morning and come in and ask about it. There's a lot of stuff I duck, like what a dirty bomb really is. The hardest question I've ever had to answer was "Do people die in wars?" I said, "Yes, and people get hit by buses too."
CHRISTIAN RHODES, 10: When he left, my dad told me that he's going to Iraq and that he hopes to come back alive. He's got one last deploy and then that's it. He's going to get a regular job with regular pay.
KYAHN WHITE, 11: When I'm watching TV, I see ads where Marines are climbing a mountain. It reminds me of my dad. He's doing a good thing. But there's a bad thing too: I don't know if he will die or not.
SCOTIA, NEW YORK
Sgt. Michael Crounse
Michael, 28, a U.S. Army reservist, and his wife, Sarah, 34, a high school language teacher, decided he should deposit his sperm before shipping out.
We had been planning to try to get pregnant in July or August. I got the warning saying, "Get all your paperwork together and be ready to go" in January. So I called Sarah and said, "We might want to think about freezing sperm." There were really two reasons. One was that we wanted to expand our family (Sarah has a daughter, Sophie, 7). But I also remember back in '91, after everyone came home from the Gulf War, you were seeing pictures of babies born with birth defects. This way I'm leaving a clean specimen behind. Our plan is to inseminate during the summer whether I'm here or not. There is some teasing from the guys at the unit. But I feel better knowing the chances of having a healthy child are greater.
LAS VEGAS, NEW MEXICO
Pfc. Josie Bowman
An Army National Guard truck driver, Bowman, 22, bade farewell to members of her large family—including her father, Jonathan, who's a National Guard sergeant, and her son Lucas, 4—at a restaurant before shipping out to the Middle East.
Growing up, I never went places. Going to Fort Jackson in South Carolina for training was the first time I rode in a plane. I had never driven a big truck. Now I can.
It was a surprise when my dad said five vehicles full of relatives had shown up to say goodbye, but I do feel more confident leaving with all my family here. Lucas asked me if they were taking me home, and I said, "No. I have to leave." We Navajos believe that corn pollen protects us from harm, so I've got some of that. When I get lonely, I do a little prayer and it makes me strong again. It helps. It really helps.
CNN correspondent Rym Brahimi
The daughter of an Algerian father and an Armenian-Croatian mother, Brahimi, 34, came to Iraq after stints in New York and London.
Being in Iraq, you see kids playing in the streets, you talk to your local shopkeeper, and you can't help but think, "Where are they going to be in a month? What's going to happen to those kids?" A lot of my job isn't that great. It is about waiting, trying to get information. Once you've been here for a year talking to these people and trying to get their stories out when things are more or less calm, you can't just leave when the s—- hits the fan. I'm not criticizing anyone who wouldn't want to stay, and of course I'm scared of what may happen here. I'm not pretentious enough to think I'm an indispensable person. But I do think that I need to at least try and tell the story of innocent people if something this terrible is going to happen.
BAD WINDSHEIM, GERMANY
Kathy Thompson and friends
Thompson (below), 43, a mother of three, celebrated Valentine's Day with a support group of military spouses whose partners are in Kuwait.
I did Desert Storm, a deployment to Bosnia and then this. Each time you think it's the hardest. The first time, I had a baby when he was gone, and that was tough. This time I have teenage boys and I think that's harder. You just do it one day at a time. If you look ahead you can't handle it as well.
LISA EICHHORN, 42, also a mother of three, has been an Army wife for 21 years: We laugh a lot. That's our strength. Because you can laugh or cry, but we prefer to laugh. Life goes on and we miss them, but we don't go around feeling sorry for ourselves. That's not what Army wives do. Sometimes you just need to say, "God I miss him so much," and you need someone who can listen and say, "Yes, I know. Now let's go shopping."
In the event of an attack, Paul, 34, and wife Melissa, 29, both property managers, plan to meet 30 relatives at their lake house north of Tulsa. For now they're stocking up with duct tape (11 rolls) and plastic sheeting (2,000 ft.).
People don't need to be like, "The sky is falling," but we're living in a different world these days, and we just need to be aware of our surroundings and listen to our officials. I bought the recommended supplies, but I don't sit around worrying about what could happen. We want to be vigilant but at the same time get on with our lives. If nothing happens, we can always use the plastic as paint-job drop cloths at our rental properties. This is all uncharted territory for the majority of people living in the United States. But most Americans have a lot of resolve. We tend to do what we need to do.