A few luxuries ease harshness of desert camp
IN THE KUWAITI DESERT: Rifles slung over their shoulders, soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division set up camp in Kuwait yesterday, ready to carry out orders in case President Bush orders an invasion of Iraq.
The ''Screaming Eagles,'' as the members of the 101st are known, have been shuttling to Kuwait, where they are given a quick briefing before being put into a holding tent and eventually moved by bus to a camp.
The soldiers, all from the 3rd Brigade, were pleased to find showers, a post exchange and a dining facility among the desolate collection of buildings that sprout up in the desert amid the blowing dust.
''This right here is heaven compared to the last place in Kandahar, Afghanistan,'' said Command Sgt. Maj. Iuniasolua Savusa, recalling the lack of hot water and the other spartan conditions in the Afghan conflict last year.
The rest of the division's 3rd Brigade, which finished a six-month tour in Afghanistan in August, is expected to arrive by today. It will take a bit longer to finish bringing in soldiers from the division's other two brigades.
The 101st, the Army's only air assault division, has about 20,000 soldiers. The division, which is based at Fort Campbell, Ky., fired the first shots of the Persian Gulf War from Apache helicopters. It later executed the longest and deepest air assault into enemy territory in history to defeat the Iraqi army during the 1991 Gulf War.
Maj. Trey Cate, the division's public affairs officer, said that if Bush were to decide to go to war with Iraq, ''the 101st will be deep into enemy territory, I guarantee.''
For now, it's a waiting game.
The division's 275 helicopters and 3,800 trucks, Humvees and other pieces of equipment are still in transit by ship. Once they arrive, the soldiers will go to the port to fly and drive them inland.
Soldiers are told to be cautious of their surroundings and to always carry a gas mask.
''If you hear, 'lightning, lightning, lightning,' put on your mask as quickly as possible,'' said Spc. Niyama Jones, using a code word to describe a chemical attack.
Soldiers were told to always travel in pairs outside of the base camps and to take a flak vest, helmet, gas mask and some type of cellular or satellite phone. They were also told to be wary of talking about classified information.
''Stay alert, stay watchful of any hostile acts,'' Jones said.
Until their orders come, the soldiers are encouraged to do physical training each day and are conducting a variety of training exercises.
''We just train and train and train until we're given a mission,'' Brig. Gen. Edward Sinclair said in Kuwait yesterday. Troops must get accustomed to the desert environment, be-cause ''it's obviously a lot more austere and hostile than Fort Campbell.''
Savusa said he was not worried about the soldiers getting bored and tired as they wait for their next orders.
''We're focused and we're serious about what we came here to do,'' he said. ''We're here to answer our nation's call and to do our nation's work.''