BONAMES, GERMANY -- The kids wake up in the middle of the night calling out for their father, the nearest relatives are 4,000 miles away, Christmas is around the corner, and Charlotte Duncan has just about had it.

"I'm tired of watching the 'Today Show' on Armed Forces TV and seeing all those women standing in front of a nice mall complaining about their husbands being shipped to the {Persian} Gulf," said Duncan, who was left behind at the U.S. Army's Drake Barracks here when her husband's unit was sent to Saudi Arabia a few weeks ago. "We don't have any malls. We can't go home for Christmas. Nobody puts us on the 'Today Show.' "

Duncan and her two sons are among the more than 100,000 Americans left behind in Germany as a like number of their spouses and parents join the mass movement to the gulf by more than one-third of the U.S. forces in Europe.

The long-expected reduction of the American military presence in Germany is happening much more suddenly and dramatically than anyone had expected, and many families are scared.

At Hanau High School near Frankfurt, nearly 70 percent of the 900 students have one or both parents heading to the gulf. Children whose parents are both service members bound for Saudi Arabia must be sent across the ocean to relatives or taken in by friends in Germany.

The children who remain are troubled. Holiday visits back home have been canceled. Teachers say high school kids are acting up. Younger children feel abandoned.

"My daddy said if he didn't go to Saudi, he'd have to march himself in jail," said 9-year-old Brock Duncan. "It's president's rules. Well, I hate the president. I keep on having dreams about President Bush going on another vacation. And if he takes one more vacation, I'm going to put my fist down his throat."

Brock's brother, Ben, who is 8, interrupted. "It's not the president's fault, it's the Iraqis'," he said.

The boys write their father letters. They've made Christmas stockings and paper trees for him. Ben and Brock insist on sleeping in the same room now, and still Brock talks in his sleep. It's usually about his father.

"He asked me if I was going to have to go to the gulf too," his mother said.

The 3rd Armored Division's in-house magazine offers advice from Chaplain Robert Leroe: "To separate is to die a little." He tells spouses left behind to make sure they know how to pay the bills, keep close to friends and recognize that "celibacy during deployment is difficult. Expect some sexual frustration, but remember your spouse is worth waiting for. It is a myth that 'everyone cheats.' "

The move to the gulf disrupts life in ways many families never considered. The Army called Sgt. Billy Joe Walters and his German bride back from the first night of their honeymoon because Walters's unit was put on alert to ship out.

As the wife of an officer, Duncan fields calls from other wives left alone by the departure of the 22nd Chemical Company. "They feel abandoned and very, very scared, all alone in a country they just got to, where they don't speak the language," she said. "Women call at all hours. They can't stand the nighttime."

"We feel discriminated against," said Culpeper, Va., native Kay Kraehenbuehl, whose husband, David, is a platoon leader in a unit that specializes in countering chemical warfare and was sent to Saudi Arabia in October. "The families in the States get free phone calls to Saudi from AT&T. We don't get to talk to our husbands. Nobody's doing anything for us."

Armed Forces television has a popular feature in which soldiers in the gulf send video greetings to their families. But when Lt. David Kraehenbuehl appeared with a message for his wife, Kay couldn't receive it because she, like many other military families, lives off the base, beyond the reach of U.S. television.

U.S. bases here are little islands of Americana, complete with movie theaters, bowling alleys, ice cream parlors and high school marching bands. But too much of the Americana went to the desert with the troops, according to those who remain. With many military doctors going to the gulf, those staying behind have been told to use German physicians.

But "no one even put together a list of German doctors who speak English," Kraehenbuehl said. "We don't know who to call."

Scout troops lost their leaders, sports teams their coaches, Sunday school classes their teachers.

"Our Boosters Club was centered on a unit that's been deployed," said Allen Davenport, principal of Hanau High School, a Defense Department school. "There's nobody left to volunteer."

Davenport said self-esteem and study skills are down, while a potentially dangerous mix of cynicism and fear is rising among American teens here. "We had an assembly and the kids' question was, 'What happens when my father gets killed?' Not 'if,' 'when'. So a sergeant major told them what the Army does in that case. But most of these kids are convinced we're going to shoot. It's rather negative."

Military officials say they are trying to maintain as much community life as they can, seeking volunteers to fill empty positions, urging spouses and children to rely on each other for emotional support.

"It's a death-and-dying cycle when a family separates," said Mildred Skidmore, director of Army Community Services in the Frankfurt area. "First the shock, then the anger. We're military people, so we're used to moving. But this is the first time the Army's taken a forward-deployed army and deployed to yet another place."

Skidmore's agency is hiring extra counselors and setting up a 24-hour phone line that family members can call if they are frightened, lonely or stumped by military bureaucracy. The Army is trying to get letters, video recordings and holiday packages through to soldiers in Saudi Arabia.

But there is little the command can do about the widespread belief among Army wives that their husbands will not return to Germany. Commanders deny it, but many families remain convinced that the Army will use the gulf crisis as an opportunity to speed the shutdown of U.S. facilities in Germany, leaving wives to move their families back to the States themselves.

The Army tells families that they will not be abandoned and encourages them to stick it out. "Lots of them want to go home," said Lt. Col. James Wilson, commander of the 1st Armored Division's 6th Battalion in Ansbach. "But there are no support facilities there."

Some families who cannot cope with being left alone in a foreign country may be allowed to go home, Skidmore said. Most, however, will have to stay in Germany, hungry for news from the gulf, waiting, hoping to get through a holiday season of dashed plans.

To get home for the holidays, military families usually rely on a system that allows them to fill empty seats on scheduled commercial flights. But spouses quickly discovered that they are not permitted to fly home without their family's service member. The result is canceled Christmas trips, uncomprehending children, frazzled parents.

"When my husband was sent to Korea for a year, we were home in Georgia and I was in the same town as my mom," Duncan said. "But here, we don't have the K-Mart, the 7-Eleven. There's only one channel on the TV and if you don't want to watch football on the weekend, you have nothing."

"Everything's being closed down around us," Kraehenbuehl said. "It was hard enough to face that when our husbands were here, but now, now, they're not."