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U.S. Troops In Kuwait Praying For Peace…It's Wait And See For U.S. Troops In Iraq

U.S. Troops In Kuwait Praying For Peace

January 24, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SOUTH OF THE KUWAIT-IRAQ BORDER, Kuwait (AP) -- ``I eat raw meat for breakfast!'' a group of U.S. soldiers barked in unison before storming wooden shacks in an urban warfare drill.

The young men who would spearhead any attack on Iraq say they are pumped up, confident and fully prepared for war. When the sun goes down and the drills are over, however, many speak of their fears -- and pray there will be no bloodshed at all.

``There's a certain amount of fear in everybody. It just depends if a guy wants to talk about it,'' said Pvt. Desmond Lackey, one of 130 U.S. soldiers on the urban warfare training exercise this week in the Kuwaiti desert a few miles south of the Iraqi border.

The 20-year old recruit from Jay, Okla., clutches an M16 assault rifle after sweeping through a mock village with night vision goggles -- an exercise to practice clearing rooms and making split-second decisions about when and whom to shoot.

``Always,'' he responds when asked if he, too, is afraid.

Although exact numbers have not been divulged, tens of thousands of U.S. troops have amassed in the Kuwaiti desert for a possible assault on Iraq. Washington says Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein must rid his country of all weapons of mass destruction or face war.

Soldiers interviewed at the desert outpost on Wednesday and Thursday -- all from the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division based in Ft. Stewart, Ga., -- expressed a diversity of opinions about what the future might hold. All said they were ready and willing to perform their duties -- but enthusiasm for a possible war was decidedly mixed.

Some soldiers, cut off from newspapers and radio reports, were eager to find out the latest about Saddam's brinkmanship or the international squabbles surrounding a possible war.

``Most of the guys are thinking, 'send us to do this or send us home.' ... Nobody wants to go in and pull the trigger -- ever,'' said 27-year-old Capt. Chris Nixon, of Woodstown, N.J.

Preparation for urban warfare is essential because U.S. military planners believe Saddam might forgo desert battle and instead amass his forces in cities, possibly putting U.S. troops in greater danger and risking massive civilian casualties.

Capt. Chris Carter of Athens, Ga., who commands the unit undergoing the urban warfare training, said the Americans' superior preparation and technology will erase any advantage Saddam's troops might have because of their intimate knowledge of urban areas.

``It's their ground, but we'll make it our ground,'' he said.

The commander's confidence was echoed by many soldiers, who said they've been working hard to sharpen their reflexes. In the case of urban warfare, that means split-second coordination with platoon mates and being hyper-alert to snipers.

``We've drilled a lot so it's second nature for us now,'' said Pfc. Douglas Fessenden, 20, of Brookline, N.H.

Some soldiers, however, depicted urban fighting as a nightmare.

``They (the Iraqis) want us to come in and pick us off,'' said Wendell Jack, a 30-year-old sergeant from New York.

Spc. Peter Alsis, 22, of Pepperell, Mass., said he had little doubt Iraqi troops would use civilians as cover, or station themselves in hospitals and schools.

In that case, ``there's not a whole lot we can do. And I'm sure they (the Iraqis) know that, too,'' he said.

America's mixed feelings about a possible war were reflected among the soldiers in Kuwait.

Sgt. Jack, who said he lost a cousin in the World Trade Center attack, said ``Bush is playing the same thing Saddam is playing. It's a game.''

And Gordon Brown, a 25-year-old sergeant from Peoria, Ill., said his grandfather, a World War ll veteran, ``thinks this war is all about oil and all about wealth. He wants us to get out.''

Angel Lopez, a 32-year-old private from San Juan, Puerto Rico, said in Spanish: ``I ask God that there will be no war.''

One soldier, who asked that his name not be used, said his girlfriend was among those in the United States who marched to protest the war last week.

Those protests elicited many emotions among the troops, with some, including 35-year-old Staff Sgt. Thomas Slago, saying he wished they would stop.

Slago, of Woodland Hills, Calif., added, however, that the freedom to disagree is the sort of value being defended by U.S. troops in the Gulf.

``That's why we're here. So that they (the protesters) can do that if they want to. But I don't agree with them,'' he said.

Even the soldiers who expressed reservations about the war said such sentiment would not affect their performance.

Having mixed feelings ``is not going to bring you down,'' said Alsis, the specialist from Massachusetts. ``That's our job: to go in, take them out and come back home.''

Capt. Peter Johnson, a Presbyterian chaplain accompanying troops in Kuwait, said he thought the soldiers have good morale despite some misgivings.

``Some think to themselves, 'I might have to take another person's life.' They're introspective about that,'' he said.

``Some are scared,'' continued the chaplain, of San Diego. ``But I think that's a good sign. I think they have a healthy fear.''

It's Wait And See For U.S. Troops In Iraq

January 24, 2003
Copyright © 2003 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SOUTH OF THE KUWAIT-IRAQ BORDER, Kuwait (AP) -- The fighting men of the 3rd Infantry Division eagerly await news of Saddam Hussein's dance with weapons inspectors, of Europe's resistance to a new war, of the latest saber rattling out of Washington and Baghdad.

While the world's statesmen ponder whether to go to war, the men who would spearhead any U.S.-led attack on Iraq are hoping a decision will be made soon. The prevailing feeling: ``We'd like to go home.''

Soldiers undergoing training exercises in Kuwait say the uncertainty surrounding a possible war amounts to an uncomfortable waiting game.

``Everyone's a little nervous. The quicker we do what we have to do, the better,'' said Gordon Brown, a 25-year-old sergeant from Peoria, Ill.

Brown lights up a cigarette, looks out over the vast, barren sands a few miles south of the Iraqi border, and smiles. ``We call this the world's largest ash tray,'' he said.

Physical training, target practice, mock war exercises and equipment maintenance take up much of the soldiers' work day, which usually begins at 6 a.m. and ends at midnight. During rest breaks and meals, soldiers sing, joke, play games and talk about their families.

``I'm going to miss my son's first birthday,'' said Pfc. Angel Lopez, 32, of San Juan, Puerto Rico. ``When I left, my wife hugged me and said, 'Be safe.' Now I'm preparing for the worst but praying for the best.''

Tens of thousands of U.S. troops are amassing in Kuwait in anticipation of a possible war to force Saddam to get rid of the biological, chemical and nuclear weapons the United States insists he possesses and he denies he has. The buildup is designed not only to give Washington the option of using force to oust Saddam but also to pressure the Iraqi leader to give up without a fight.

Some say a long delay in deciding whether to attack could cause American forces in the Persian Gulf to lose their fighting edge, especially if President Bush heeds the advice of allies and others to give diplomacy and U.N. weapons inspections more time to resolve the Iraq crisis.

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this week that the troops could stay ready for ``several months, no problem,'' if necessary. The Pentagon also could rotate in fresh forces if needed, he noted.

He said weather is not the determining factor in whether to launch a strike.

``There is no doubt that no matter what time of year, we can fight and prevail in that environment,'' Myers said. The Americans' advanced ability to fight at night gives them a major edge, regardless of heat or cold, he said.

During training exercises in the Kuwaiti desert this week, soldiers of the Army's 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, based in Fort Stewart, Ga., concurred that preparedness is not a problem, no matter how long the wait.

``We're ready. We're at this point getting better and better. Now it's just a matter of maintenance,'' said 1st Lt. Lars Nadig, 25, of Yorktown, Va.

The soldiers interviewed expressed varying opinions about the possibility of war, with some saying they favored it and others saying no. At one point, two young men heatedly disagreed about whether America should attack Iraq without U.N. approval -- a split reflected in U.S. public opinion.

Responding to reports that Saddam might be persuaded to go into exile to avoid war, Sgt. 1st Class Eric Wright, a 32-year-old from St. Paul, Minn., said: ``I think he'll slug it out.''

``Of course we prefer a diplomatic solution. Nobody likes war,'' he added.

The soldiers spoke about the worries of their families -- and said the longer the wait, the greater the anxiety.

``I'm just taking it as it comes, taking it one day at a time, hoping for the best and hoping we don't go in,'' said Spc. Dennis Fowler, of Stevensville, Md.

The troops have limited access to newspapers, radio and the Internet. So visiting reporters are peppered with questions about the latest news.

Through it all, the troops work hard to keep up their fighting spirit.

Before storming shacks with M16 assault rifles -- an exercise in urban warfare -- they break into the 3rd Division's fighting ditty, the ``Dog Face Soldier Song.'' Then a lone soldier with a winning voice sings a quiet ballad about unrequited love.

``You ought to hear him at night,'' says one of his peers. ``He sings us all to sleep.''

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