LAWTON, Okla. – Sami Roberts saves her tears for work, where her 18-month-old son can't see them and her supervisor, a Gulf War veteran, understands.
When her husband went to war two weeks ago, she considered taking her worries home to tiny Mentone, Texas. But even though her only link to this Army town is gone, the town's embrace is giving her reason to stay.
"I have found more people supportive than not," said Roberts, 29. "I just come in and say, `OK guys, I'm having a bad day."'
During the Gulf War, families of troops deployed from nearby Fort Sill scattered. No one has an exact comparison, but Fort Sill officials said far fewer are opting to leave this time.
The post has already seen its share of grief from the war.
Three soldiers from the same Fort Sill artillery unit were killed Thursday in what the military described to some family members as a "friendly fire" incident apparently involving a coalition aircraft that bombed a Bradley fighting vehicle.
An estimated 80 percent of the families of the 3,000 troops deployed so far have stayed, they said.
They find a community cocoon so pro-military Lawton's mayor describes the window-jarring explosions of practice artillery fire as "freedom bells ringing in our ears."
They're close to medical care on the post, and get war updates on the phone. They attend classes at Fort Sill where they learn about financial planning or dealing with round-the-clock war coverage. While Fort Sill offers support groups to help them cope, Lawton churches offer volunteers to help them mow their lawns.
The Army urges families to stay because it believes they can better cope within a network of other supportive military families.
"Your family can provide love and encouragement, but they can't really connect," said Bob McElroy, a Gulf War veteran and Fort Sill spokesman. "The emotional and moral support they can get from other families is just invaluable."
Fort Sill sprawls across 94,000 acres dotted with flaming pink redbud trees and shadowed by the Medicine Bluffs. It flanks Lawton but is so embedded in the community that the city council once held its meeting on the post.
Asked how many anti-war protests Lawton has seen, Mayor Cecil Powell stifles a grin.
"Zero," he said. "We are a military town. We are citizens of the United States and we are at war. And I support that 100 percent."
Established in 1869 to stop Indians from raiding settlements, the post is home to the U.S. Field Artillery Training Command and the 3rd Corps Artillery. Iraqis knew it in 1991 by its "steel rain," thousands of submunitions delivered by rockets from a single launcher.
Phil Sperling left a wife and three children behind when he deployed from Fort Sill to the Persian Gulf in 1991.
Even before the first bombs fell this time on Iraq, he helped organize volunteers from his church to aid deployed soldiers' families.
Like other churches in Lawton, volunteers from Cameron Baptist Church are offering to baby-sit and do whatever else is needed. They helped Roberts with a door she wasn't sure how to fix. They found a temporary home for a deployed couple's 3-month-old Rottweiler.
"We can't go over and pull triggers but we can take care of these soldiers' families while they're there," Sperling said.
Soon-to-deploy Sgt. Timothy Shirley and his wife, Reina, have a 3-year-old, a 1-year-old, and twins due in August.
"I thought `Gosh, what am I going to do?"' she said. "But we'll manage. We always do. I knew what I was getting into when I became a military wife."
Like other wives, she wears strength on her face, tempering worry for her soldier by talking with unflinching confidence about his training. She said she'll lean on family in Lawton and friends when he deploys.
"Our group of friends are all in the same boat," she said.
It's not clear if Fort Sill families may be staying put because they expect a short war. After seeing televised images of captured Americans, several residents described being "spoiled" by the Gulf War and said they were prepared for a far longer fight.
"I got a big head and thought it's going to be over in a couple of days," said John Estep, assistant manager of a jewelry store that saw a jump in engagement ring sales before a big deployment last month.
"I hate to say it, but it might turn into another Vietnam," he said. "But I'm going to support the soldiers."
Roberts, whose husband, R.C., was in Kuwait when they last spoke, wants to avoid uprooting her son or leaving a job she loves. But she said she doesn't expect a quick war.
"I told R.C. from the beginning (Saddam's) got something up his sleeve," she said. "It's not going to be a Gulf War."
She's cut back on watching televised war coverage, afraid it could consume her and bring the tears.
"I have too much to do as far as work, my son, church," she said. "I don't have time to get down that far."