DOHA, Qatar—Sgt. Nathaniel Snow is too busy to look up. He's bent over, working inside the back of a Humvee.
He works quickly without stopping.
It's easier that way to stay busy. So he won't think about everything he's missing.
"I missed my son's first birthday, first Christmas and second Valentine's Day," says Snow, 25, of Killeen, Texas. "I missed him walking. I missed him getting his first tooth. And I will miss his first words by the time we get back."
His son, Ethan Snow, is almost 13 months old.
Nathaniel Snow has been gone since November. He's stationed at Camp as Sayliyah, where U.S. commanders have set up Central Command Forward, preparing for a possible war against Iraq.
"I call my wife about twice a week," he says.
He gets to talk to his wife, Christina Snow, for about 20 minutes.
Then, Christina puts the phone on Ethan's ear, and the baby babbles.
"It's not really words," says Nathaniel Snow, whose voice has an edge, somewhere between anger and resolve.
"I'm doing this to keep my country safe," he says. "I'm trying to protect it from terrorists, so we don't have to worry. If we can stop it here, we might as well stop it, rather than waiting."
Snow is an Army team leader of a four-person Humvee. He supervises Cpl. Sally Curlis, 20, from Omaha, Neb.
Snow and Curlis pack tools and sort parts. It's a dirty, grimy job, but her hands look pristine, her fingernails perfect.
Two weeks ago, she went to a beauty salon on the base and had her nails done with clear polish, and she got highlights in her hair.
Did anyone notice?
"I'm too busy to notice things like that," Snow says.
Without looking up.
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
ILLUSTRATION (from KRT Illustration Bank, 202-383-6064): faces+curlis