Audrey Buxton and her husband Sergeant Ronald (Reg) Buxton, talk all the time. In between phone calls they use instant messaging, email, and even video conferencing so that he can see the new baby--connections unimaginable to previous generations of couples separated by American wars. But for all that communication, there's a lot that doesn't get said.
Audrey does not know about the raids and weapons seizures her husband's platoon regularly carries out. When asked how she was affected by the death of the unit's commander, she draws a blank. Her husband had been in the humvee when Second Lieut. Ben Colgan was hit, but Reg has never mentioned the attack. "There are certain things you just don't talk about," Audrey says. "When he gets back, he'll talk about what he feels like talking about."
Round faced and freckled, Audrey, 29, has a petite frame that belies her durability. She was in the military as a private first class until 1996 and has experienced separation before, when her husband went to Bosnia. But like many of the other wives connected to the Tomb Raiders platoon, based in Giessen, Germany, she has built a virtual fortress around her home while her husband is away. It is a wall held up by willful ignorance, busy days caring for two small children and a rare kind of friendship with other military wives.
On Aug. 18, Audrey gave birth to a 10lb. baby boy, Jared, with no family in her time zone. But her friend Rochelle Kamont, who is married to Sergeant David Kamont, another member of the Tomb Raiders, was there, holding her hand, videotaping the birth, and sneaking a cell phone into the hospital so Audrey could have a brief, static-filled conversation with her husband. Audrey and Rochelle back each other up, just as their husbands do in Baghdad. "If I have a bad day, I call her. If something happens, I call her," says Audrey. "She's always there."
At the red-brick battalion headquarters on the base, a family-readiness group meets regularly to plan luncheons and trips to the zoo. If someone is sick, the other spouses mobilize grocery shopping and child care. In the corner there is a stack of coloring books to help kids prepare to say goodbye--and hello again. A wall is decorated with pictures of soldier-dads swimming in the pool at the Baghdad palace where they are quartered.
"My husband is not the only one in the military," Audrey says, balancing her sleeping baby on her shoulder. "It's the whole family." She was devastated that Reg would not be home for Jared's birth, but she buried that sadness for the sake of her newborn and her son Brendon, 7. When he asks where Daddy went, she tells him, "He's helping the other kids in Iraq because they don't have all the things we have." She and Brendon recently collected some of his toys to donate to an orphanage in Iraq. "That really helped because he feels involved," Audrey says.