More than a week of war has brought this desert town filled with families of soldiers and military reservists deployed in the Persian Gulf a few discomforting surprises.
"I didn't think it would be as bad getting into Baghdad as it seems to be for the troops,'' said Mike Allen, who drives a delivery truck for a soda company.
"I didn't expect that they would get some of our guys as prisoners of war," said Richard Gary, the manager of an auto parts store.
"I think a lot of people were hoping we would be in and out of there, at least with the fighting part," said Laura Frolich, who leads the local chamber of commerce's military committee. "But now it feels like it's going to take longer."
Amid Moreno Valley's new tract houses and sprawling strip malls, people are having second thoughts about some of the cocksure assumptions they'd made before the shooting started in Iraq, and showing their first hints of unease with the unfolding conflict.
But they sound no less resolute. In fact, residents here say, the more perils that U.S. forces face, the deeper their commitment to winning the war.
Moreno Valley, 70 miles east of Los Angeles, is not the California of surfboards and sushi, or a place where anyone questioning the American invasion takes to the streets. Those with doubts express them discreetly. Supermarket parking lots are lined with cars whose radio antennas are adorned with small plastic American flags snapping in the desert wind. The racks at dry cleaners are filled with the military uniforms of customers stationed at nearby March Air Reserve Base.
No other part of California has sent more reservists to play a role in the war. Local schools have lost teachers. Hospitals have lost nurses. The police department has lost detectives and clerks.
Weeks ago, their family and friends took the difficult news of their sudden departures in stride. Kirk Skorpanich, the principal at Sunnymeadows Elementary School, had to scramble to find a teacher fluent in Spanish after one of his faculty members, who is a reservist, had to ship out on a moment's notice, but he did not complain about it.
"We didn't even have a chance to tell him goodbye," he said. "But we understand what's happening, and we roll with it."
But now, even as they profess staunch support for President Bush and the nation's military commanders, and speak with full faith in victory, residents also concede that they are just beginning to come to terms with how complicated and treacherous the war may prove to be. Several cringed at the thought that U.S. forces might have to engage in street-to-street fighting to take control of Baghdad.
"I heard some people on the news the other day talking about the rules of war," said Tom Powell, a boat salesman who has painted an American flag and an eagle on the side of his PT Cruiser. "Well, what we have to realize is that there are no rules to this war. Anything can happen."
He expressed frustration with the pace of the conflict. "I don't think it's going fast enough," he said while loading groceries into the trunk of his car. "We should start bombing them even more."
Nearby, Gary also said his support for the war had not changed over the past week -- only his sense of the challenges that lie ahead. He stood next to a newspaper vending box displaying a local front-page headline that said, "Coalition Supply Lines Under Strain."
"I think this is going to take months to resolve now," he said. "But I'm not worried yet."
Outside a bank, Allen spoke about a few of his friends who are serving in the Persian Gulf.
He said he has been watching television constantly in recent days, hoping to hear reassuring reports of any lasting tactical breakthrough by U.S. troops.
"I think it's going pretty good so far," he said. "It's sad to see the casualties, but it's not like this is Vietnam. It's just going to be tougher than maybe we thought. But I don't think what's happening is putting fear in the troops. They just have to keep doing what they're doing."
But Dee Dee Pratt, a local office worker who quietly opposes the war, said she had already tired of tuning in to coverage of the conflict. When she comes home after work now, she said, she turns on the Disney Channel.
"There's going to be too many young boys dying, and I don't want to see it," she said. "It's a strange feeling to be living our lives here the same way, while so many people over there can't."
To show their support for American troops, some Moreno Valley businesses have begun raising money to send local soldiers and reservists phone cards so they can dial home for free. A teacher at Sunnymeadows Elementary made a tape of her class singing patriotic songs and is planning to send them to a few military units in the Persian Gulf.
Skorpanich, also asked students last week to bring photos of any family members who have been deployed to the conflict so the snapshots could be tacked to a bulletin board outside the school's office.
He said he was startled by the response: About two dozen students have come with photos, far more than he knew had relatives taking part in the war before it began.
"But there's kind of a different feeling now," he said. "People are realizing that it is not going to be easy and that our troops are going to need even more of our support."