A wife's wait for a message from her soldier
HOPKINSVILLE, KY. - Rebecca Barton woke at 6 a.m. and reached for the BlackBerry by her bed.
The night before her husband, an Army first sergeant in Afghanistan, had asked her what she would like for her fast-approaching 30th birthday, and she had sent him an exhaustive list of all the things she did not want: a computer, a camera, sunglasses, clothes, television, iPod or any kind of electronics.
She was asleep when 1st Sgt. Robert N. Barton replied. "At least I know what not to get you," he typed. "You are always on my mind and in my heart. Always. Every minute of every day. I love you so much. I can't wait to see you. Have a good day today."
It was 11:20 a.m. in Afghanistan when Barton clicked send on the e-mail. Seventy-five minutes later, he and four other soldiers were killed when a massive roadside bomb destroyed their vehicle.
The news would not reach Rebecca for another 15 hours.
Rebecca met Robert in 2007, a few months before he deployed to Iraq for his second of three combat tours. Among his soldiers, Barton, 35, was known as smart, garrulous and irreverent. His first Army dog tags had listed his religion as "Infantry."
Barton's commanders described him as the kind of sergeant who pressed to go out on every patrol with his soldiers. "He practically lived on patrol," one of his company commanders said.
Rebecca liked the way he treated her shy, 12-year-old son from a previous marriage. "Tell Jason I miss him so, so much and want to come home and kick his butt in board games and basketball," Barton had written in that last e-mail home.
Rebecca read Barton's e-mail in bed and then rushed to begin her day. She dropped her son at her parents' house in nearby Hopkinsville, Ky., and headed off to her job in the accounts payable department of a large government contractor. It wasn't until lunch when she finally found the time to respond.
"I feel like I am being a pain about my Birthday," she typed. "I am not bummed about turning 30. I don't feel bad about that. I am bummed that you are not home."
Barton had been dead for almost 12 hours.
Rebecca, who has long black hair, a smooth, dark complexion, and a precise and private manner, checked her BlackBerry at work several times that afternoon to see whether her husband had e-mailed her before turning in for the night in Afghanistan. There was nothing. A few minutes before 5 p.m. she did a quick scan of the day's news. Ten U.S. troops had died in Afghanistan.