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Such light moments provide only fleeting relief from the rigors of life in Iraq and the longing for family. More than from the perils of combat, women soldiers suffer from the trauma of separation from their children, according to Captain Kyle Bourque, an Army social worker at Camp Liberty. It's particularly trying for new mothers like Sergeant Reynolds, who was sent to Iraq when her baby was only 4 months old. Reynolds, a petite 25-year-old, tries to maintain contact by singing to her baby over the phone and staying up until 2 a.m. so that she can hook into the military's webcam service and watch Ariana crawling around at the baby sitter's house in New York. With older kids, the split is painful too. Warrant Officer Ena Gomez, 30, a single mother, is trying to raise a teenage daughter via e-mails and phone calls. Gomez works behind a desk but can hear insurgent mortars and rocket shells screaming over her trailer. "It's funny, but if I weren't here, I wouldn't tell my girl that I love her every day," Gomez says. "What if a rocket falls? I want her memories of me to be nice."
The exposure of women to combat isn't going entirely unchallenged by those who oppose the military's drift toward "co-location" of male and female troops. Led by Representative Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Republicans won passage of an amendment to last year's defense-spending bill that requires the Pentagon to issue a report this year showing that the military is following congressional restrictions on women in combat. But given the strains on the military, the need for women to take on expanded roles is likely to grow. In Iraq's danger zones, officers say, female MPs, medics and pilots have earned the right to be treated as equals. Major Tim Parker of the 10th Mountain Division says it's still hard for men to conceive of sharing a foxhole with their women comrades, but he acknowledges that change is inevitable. "There still needs to be a line," he says. "But in the future, I'm sure we'll cross that." Many women in Iraq would say they already have.
For more photos of the lives of women troops in Iraq, visit time.com