FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – They're quiet professionals, deploying overnight with little notice and no fanfare to remote places in the world.
For the spouses, family members and friends of special forces troops based at Fort Campbell, that secrecy makes the wait for official word all the more grueling after reports that three U.S. soldiers were killed and 19 wounded Wednesday in Afghanistan. The casualties were caused when a bomb launched from an Air Force B-52 bomber missed its target.
"There are 400 or 500 wives waiting to be contacted right now," said Nick Bouten, commander at the American Legion post in Oak Grove, near the gates of Fort Campbell.
The Pentagon later identified those killed as Master Sgt. Jefferson Donald Davis, 39, of Watauga, Tenn.; Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Petithory, 32, of Cheshire, Mass.; and Staff Sgt. Brian Cody Prosser, 28, of California. All were members of the Army's 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group, stationed at Fort Campbell, 50 miles northwest of Nashville, Tenn., and home to the 5th Special Forces Group and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.
Cris Martin, assistant manager at G's Pancake House outside the post where soldiers regularly stop for coffee and eggs, said some of the special forces troops have been regular customers for years. She stopped seeing many of them about a month ago. They couldn't say goodbye, but she believes they were deployed in America's war on terrorism.
She said she dreads seeing her customers' names in the newspaper or their pictures on television.
"I think about them all the time," Martin said. "I pray for them."
It's difficult for anyone who has a spouse overseas, but the spouses of special forces tend to get less information, "and they know there's a big probability their husband will be in the thick of things," said Dixie Wilson, 41, the spouse of a retired member of the 5th Special Forces Group.
Members of the 5th Special Forces Group who were among five servicemen wounded last week during a prison uprising outside the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif said at a news conference Tuesday that they had been living in caves, barely bathing and sometimes going hungry.
Most members of the special forces are married and own houses in nearby Clarksville, Tenn., Martin said. They tend to be less transitory than other troops at Fort Campbell and more established in the community, Martin said.
"They're probably my best customers. They're nice, polite and they tip good," Martin said.
About 150 members of the special forces are members of the American Legion, Bouten said. When Bouten needed security guards in August for a blues festival that attracted 1,000 people, 40 members of the special forces volunteered.
"Nobody messed with nothing," Bouten said. "They're a bunch of good old guys, in reality. They're good soldiers. And very disciplined."
Bouten said there is additional stress on spouses of special forces troops because of the secrecy of the special forces' work.
Wilson, whose husband, Scott, retired three years ago after 23 years in the military, said her husband had less than 48 hours' notice that he would be deployed during the Gulf War.
While he was gone, she said she tried to meet weekly with other wives of special forces members to exchange information.
"You never quite know what is going on," Wilson said.
She said she's relieved her husband is no longer a part of the special forces. He's instead studying to be an elementary school teacher.
"They've had the mantra for decades 'quiet professionals,' and that pretty much sums it up," Wilson said.