Each day, Laura A. Halick of Springfield sets aside time with her 7-month-old daughter, Diana, to watch videotapes of Jeff J. Halick, Laura's husband and Diana's father. On the TV screen, dad and daughter are playing with some of Diana's favorite toys as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony plays softly in the background.
For now, this is the only way Diana can see her father. Last month, Jeff Halick, a 34-year-old active-duty Army captain, was deployed in preparation for a possible war with Iraq.
"He is so worried that she is not going to remember him," said Laura Halick, 33, adding that leaving his family was difficult. "He had such profound sadness."
From military personnel to civilian defense contractors in Fairfax County, separation of loved ones called to serve has affected dozens of families. Defense-related jobs are pervasive in the county, and so are the emotional repercussions.
Laurie Steinemer, 35, became a surrogate parent overnight. She recently quit her job and moved from New Jersey to Herndon to care for her niece, 11, and nephew, 8. Their parents, John Cunliffe, 34, and Jeanine Cunliffe, 33, are Army captains recently deployed.
The Cunliffes started their family years before Sept. 11, 2001, when the odds of both being deployed were relatively remote.
"None of us thought it would happen," said Steinemer, Jeanine's sister. The children, Anne and Robert, have handled detachment from their folks well at school and home, Steinemer said.
They talk to their parents via e-mail and keep busy reading, horseback riding and swimming. Steinemer is even trying to persuade them to take up one of her passions, rock climbing.
"You see the emotions in different ways," she said. "I might not do something the way that their mom might do it. . . . My goal has been to keep their lives as constant as possible. Stability is very important."
The people deployed are not only parents such as the Cunliffes but also neighbors and co-workers.
In his day job, Vernon Payne is a maintenance worker for the City of Falls Church. But Payne, 42, is also in the Army National Guard and was called up recently to an undisclosed location. Co-workers threw him a going-away party in the break room, which his supervisor decorated with red, white and blue flowers and American flags.
"She's not going to move those until I come back," Payne said of his supervisor shortly before he left the Washington area. The love of co-workers, in addition to that of his family, has overwhelmed him, he said.
"I put it upon my shoulders," he said of his military service during a break from work. "I don't have big shoulders, but this is my family here. I want to make sure that they are taken care of. I want to do that responsibly."
Other workers are like Susan J. Mayer, 38, of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department. A member of the Air Force Reserve, Mayer has been told that she could be activated at any time. She would have a week to put her affairs in order, she said, but the anxiety is distracting.
"It's hard, but you have to adapt," she said.
At Fort Belvoir, the local affiliate of a national organization called Hearts Apart has been telling local spouses and families that they are welcome to attend meetings.
Rene Fizer, 37, the post's relocation readiness program manager, coordinates the support group. Hearts Apart meetings are a good place for service spouses "to let down their guard" and talk to people in the same situation, she said.
"I intend it to be not only a support group but a networking tool," Fizer said.
Children, in particular, could benefit from the group because they may not encounter other children at school who also have a parent serving away from home, Fizer said. At Hearts Apart meetings, on the third Thursdays of the month, children can discuss their fears, anger and other concerns and make gifts for their loved ones.
Maj. Gen. Kevin B. Kuklok, the Marine Corps' assistant deputy commandant for plans, policies and operations, said at a recent town meeting sponsored by Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) that even people who oppose a possible U.S.-led war with Iraq should support U.S. troops.
He described the surprise that many service members, especially reservists, feel when sent to war because they have been lulled by peacetime duties.
"In the deepest parts of their minds, they feel that they may never be called up," Kuklok said.
Laura Halick said: "Is it a shock for us? Yes, definitely."
Jeff Halick's year-long deployment is his second. He went to Bosnia in 1999 for eight months, deciding upon his return to leave the active military. But after losing a private-sector job in telecommunications last summer, he returned to active duty. Six months later, the orders came.
Laura Halick said she is trying to be optimistic about her husband's safe return.
"If I think cataclysmically, that doesn't help me or my daughter," she said.
Still, Halick said, she and her husband have made preparations for the worst. Jeff Halick completed a will, bought life insurance, refinanced the couple's mortgage and made the videos for Diana.
Family, friends and co-workers at Bishop Denis J. O'Connell High School, where Laura Halick is a music teacher, check on her and Diana. Suddenly, news reports are more important as Halick is caught between love of country and family.
"The reality of a military family is that military action becomes very personal," she said. "We don't want our husbands and wives sent into danger."
For more information about Hearts Apart, call 703-805-3436.