CAMP PENNSYLVANIA, Kuwait: Protecting the base camp is one of the first missions for any military unit, and it's no different at Camp Pennsylvania.
Only there's a lot more sand here.
''We have to make sure we keep scanning and maintain security at all times,'' said Sgt. Daniel Rhoads, a 101st Airborne Division soldier from Fort Campbell who is in charge of one of the guard posts at Camp Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania and camps Virginia and New York are staging and training camps for U.S. troops in Kuwait. They were named after the states attacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001.
Rhoads and his unit, the 101st's 1st Brigade, have been handling ''force protection'' around Pennsylvania, which largely involves guarding the perimeter, since their arrival late last week. They'll keep that responsibility until they move out to a more permanent, undisclosed camp with other soldiers of the 101st.
Meanwhile, if a war with Iraq does occur, the 101st soldiers will most likely be among the first into that country to oust Saddam Hussein's regime.
When looking out from the guard posts the soldiers see what appears to be nothing but a sandy wasteland with a small sprinkling of vegetation. But the guards know keeping alert is important, because they're keeping their fellow soldiers safe.
At Rhoads' guard post, Spc. Jeremy Stuart held on tightly to his small machine gun, an M249 squad automatic weapon, never letting his eyes leave the horizon for more than a few seconds.
''We're always on alert, no matter what the threat, and we always take our job serious,'' Rhoads said, adding that it's the brotherhood of his unit he cares about. ''We both have families we want to come home to. All these guys we're protecting have families. We're just one piece in this puzzle, working on one team.''
Stuart saw a bigger picture.
''I'm standing up for my country'' he said. ''I have to take it seriously.''
Meanwhile, 1st Lt. David Wilson, platoon leader for Company A, gathered his soldiers for an eight-hour guard duty briefing. He talked about everything from the enemy threat level outside Camp Pennsylvania to the rules of engagement the rules that designate when soldiers can and can't engage the enemy.
Although the infantry soldiers pretty much know the routine, a reminder never hurts, especially considering that they're within miles of the Iraqi border.
''Every time you go out, you have to go back over it to make sure they understand it,'' Wilson said.
The perimeter at Pennsylvania has numerous well-armed guard points set up, with one entry for vehicles to enter or exit the camp. To make vehicle inspections a little easier, the soldiers made an undercarriage inspector a device like the emissions inspectors back home use to look under cars by attaching a shaving mirror to a bamboo stick.
''I found the mirror over by the wash area,'' said Pfc. Michael Reese, who was working the gate with several other soldiers. The 1st Brigade's gear and vehicles will arrive in Kuwait in the next couple of weeks, but until then, ''I thought I could rig it. We found the bamboo stick in the middle of the desert.''