Claudette Lanning has already mailed 13 letters to her husband, deployed just three weeks with the 113th Wing of the D.C. Air National Guard. Shannon Turner has sent so many care packages that her husband's friends are taking bets on how many will come in a week.
So when offered a chance to send an instant picture through the Web, both women lined up yesterday with dozens of families at Andrews Air Force Base for a photo shoot, eager to deliver one more piece of home to the front.
"I think it'll make him happy," said Lanning, 31, of Silver Spring, "but it will make him more aware of what he's missing."
At her feet toddled the couple's 13-month-old son, Spencer. Lanning said she has accepted the fact that her husband didn't get to see Spencer's first step. She is okay with debating names for their new baby, due in August, through short letters and even shorter e-mails sent from an undisclosed location overseas. She doesn't mind that she got two letters for all those she sent him, she said yesterday.
She touched up her glossy brown lipstick, scooped up her son and smiled for the camera.
About 500 troops in the D.C. Air National Guard have been deployed, among thousands of reserve troops called up in anticipation of a war with Iraq. The most recent batch of about 200 began leaving Feb. 21 for classified locations, some domestic but mostly abroad. Connie Moore, who runs the family support group, said many of the troops are living 12 to a tent and were huddled against a sandstorm with 30-mph winds Saturday night.
Lanning said her husband wrote to her: "It's sandy, windy. I want to go home."
That's exactly what Turner said she would rather not hear. But if her husband can't be home, she figured she would send home to him.
She packs her boxes to him full of everything from brownies to his Xbox video game system. She sends him letters touched with the Heavenly Honeysuckle bath fragrance they use in their hot tub and then kisses the letters with lipstick.
"You don't know where they are. You don't know if they're safe. And every once in a while, you have that teeny, tiny, little twinge of 'Please don't let that be the last time that I ever see him,' " said Turner, 33, of Kent Island, Md.
For Turner and Laura Callaghan, 30, the deployment has been a double whammy. The women are sisters-in-law twice over: Turner is married to Callaghan's brother, and Callaghan is married to Turner's brother. Both men are overseas with the 113th.
They are a tight-knit family. They live eight miles apart in the Eastern Shore community. They vacation together. Their kids play together. Lately, they have been crying together.
Turner's husband was the first to go. She said she was in denial until she saw his olive green duffel bag loaded onto a truck early Feb. 21. She asked her brother, who was awaiting his orders, if he were positive the plane was there. Yes, he said, the plane was there. She cried on his shoulder.
Last Sunday, it was her brother's turn. She drove to his house and quietly hugged him goodbye. Then, both men were gone.
Now, Turner and Callaghan call each other every day -- sometimes more than once a day. Sometimes, they share stories about their husbands; other times, they just need to hear someone say, "I love you."
On Saturday night, Callaghan drove over to her sister-in-law's house to commiserate over Chinese food and pepperoni pizza. They didn't bother renting a movie; they knew they wouldn't watch it.
By yesterday afternoon, with the junk food therapy session firmly behind her, Turner stood strong. She and Callaghan brought their children to the support group and listened attentively as Moore lectured on the psychology of deployment. Turner wore red, white and blue to look patriotic for the photo. Callaghan said she hoped that just knowing she was there would help boost her husband's morale.
"We want them to see we're going to be supportive," she said. "We're thinking of them every second."