FORT DRUM, N.Y. (AP) -- On this forlorn Army post, Karina Blaz is struggling with the unaccustomed hardships of the Snow Belt and the heartache of not knowing if her husband is in harm's way.
"Every day, especially when I go to bed at night," she said, "I'm thinking, what is he going through right now? Is he running from somebody? Is someone shooting at him? Is he fighting? Is he killing people?"
Like thousands of spouses of the light infantry troops of the 10th Mountain Division, she was suddenly left to cope alone -- with two young children and one on the way -- when Pvt. John Blaz got the call six days before Christmas to report for duty within two hours.
Her 24-year-old husband had been dispatched stateside for a few months after the Sept. 11 attacks. But this time he vanished to a secret destination most likely in Central Asia.
More than three-quarters of the 10,000-plus soldiers stationed at Fort Drum, a base on 165 square miles of rolling scrubland in northern New York, have quietly slipped away in recent months. This is by far the military's most-often-deployed unit.
While most troops have gone to peacekeeping missions in the Balkans and the Sinai Peninsula, as many as 2,000 have taken less-charted routes to Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf.
Staff Sgt. Bryan Wells shipped out the same day as Pvt. Blaz. His wife, Shannon, learned through another spouse that their husbands recently met up in Uzbekistan near the Afghan border.
"There's days when I go into my closet -- I've got his clothes right across from mine -- and I'll grab one of his shirts, catch a whiff of his scent on it and my eyes will fill with tears," said Wells, 27.
"But I can't sit around and mope about it," said Wells, who has two sons, ages 5 and 1. "You put a smile on your face, you tackle the day. And you have to think, you know what, this is for America."
Blaz had reservations about her husband enlisting, but she never thought the nation would be at war.
"I wasn't thrilled with him signing up," she said. "But a lot of our family said, 'Well, it's not like there's going to be a war!' We were so nonchalant about it. And then here comes Osama bin Laden."
While Fort Drum troops are en route to perilous places, their loved ones are kept in the dark about their whereabouts. Weeks can pass before families can send letters or care packages or even chat on the telephone.
"I love receiving letters from my husband, it's like starting all over again," said Blaz, 23, a native of Guam who is worn out from clearing thigh-deep snow from her driveway. "Until that happens, we're just crossing our fingers."
For many spouses, the unremitting anxiety can be allayed by diving into daily chores, relying on each other for an emotional shoulder, finding respite in a trip to the mall or a night at the movies.
Emptied without fanfare, Fort Drum is quieter than ever and weighed down with worry. "I don't think things are going to be exciting until the guys come home," Wells said.
While they dream of joyous reunions, military families draw comfort from an upsurge of patriotism and pride all around them. Relations with civilians in villages strung along Fort Drum's perimeter and in nearby Watertown, a city of 28,000, have swung toward admiration.
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