FAYETTEVILLE, N.C., JAN. 16 -- There were somber scenes tonight in this Army community in southern North Carolina near Fort Bragg, which has sent roughly 30,000 of its 41,000 soldiers on active duty to the Persian Gulf.

First, Rebecca West's mother called, then two friends, then the neighbors on each side dropped by. Finally, West, whose husband is on duty in the war zone, spoke with her hospitalized 11-year-old son on the phone.

"Mom, what are we going to do if dad dies?" her son demanded to know. "Mom, if something happens, will I be able to go to the funeral?"

Since Oct. 25, West and her two sons, age 11 and 14, have rallied their strength with the support of friends and family for the moment that has finally come.

"I think I'll be all right," said West, 36, who is a former Army soldier herself. "It doesn't get any easier the longer they're gone, but you adjust to them being gone."

The wives in this community say they are supposed to be used to this. Like their husbands, many have trained for war for years. But like their husbands, they know no amount of training can substitute for the real thing.

"Of course, it flashed in my mind: How close is he to the Iraqi border? Is he in a secure place? If not, will he be able to get to one?" West said. "If you think about things like that, you'll turn into a blithering idiot."

West watched President Bush on television without saying a word, and when the televised briefings were over, she declared her confidence in the decision and gave her assessment of how difficult the choices must have been for the nation's leaders.

"They look like they have the weight of the world on them now."