CAMP NEW YORK, Kuwait—As the first U.S. Army and Marine Corps forces punched north into Iraq on Thursday, behind them Humvees and trucks by the hundreds rumbled off ships in the Kuwait City port. Lined up in rolling rows, they began their journey to war with no tie-ups or delays.
The port had been jammed with traffic the past week with supplies being parked or stacked in open areas. "It looked pretty fluid when the second brigade arrived," said Staff Sgt. Thomas Melnyk of the Army's 101st Airborne Division. "It's got the hustle and bustle,"
After being refueled and having basic mechanical functions checked, the vehicles—divided into segments of several dozen—cruised north toward Camp New York, past the luxury sports cars of the big city and the camel herds of sand dunes beyond.
Troops from the 101st Airborne had been waiting for almost two weeks to get essential equipment. By Saturday, they should be ready to head deep into Iraq. The additional delay is because the weapons systems for the vehicles—guided missiles, machine guns and grenade launchers—were still at the dock or on their way to the camp Thursday night. Throughout the evening, steady streams of headlights cut through the darkness as more vehicles made their way into camp.
The arrival of the Humvees will help to focus troops' minds, which have had some time to wander, said 2nd Lt. Joseph Benvenuto.
Benvenuto, 22 and recently out of West Point, said that if a soldier lies long enough on a cot staring at a tent roof, fears in the back of his mind grow large.
"Some people are starting to get thoughts of death and gas," Benvenuto said. "You start contemplating what can happen out there to you and your friends."
To counter the mental fatigue, soldiers have been offered a plastic bag labeled "Rapid Deployment Kit." It contained a camouflage-cover Bible with study material, including reference to passages that may answer the questions of those who are: 1. "Afraid?" 2. "Afraid of death?" 3. "Angry?" 4. "Grieving the death of a friend?" 5. "Vengeful?"
The first section highlighted was Psalms 27, which includes, "When evil men advance/against me/to devour my flesh,/when my enemies and my foes/attack me,/they will stumble and fall."
No matter the type of training soldiers get, they often have questions such as "What do we do if they start climbing on our truck?" or, "How do I say `Get off of my truck?'"
"Especially when you're dealing with these large cities, we expect a great deal of the population to come out," Benvenuto said. The big question is whether Iraqis will be throwing flowers or Molotov cocktails. Benvenuto advises his troops to be ready for the worst: "Prepare for having people all over the truck and prepare for people taking potshots at you, using civilians as shields"
Lt. Col. Stephen Bruch, who commands Benvenuto's battalion, wouldn't say whether Baghdad is going to be a part of his mission. His group's forte is coordinating air strikes and then lifting soldiers and guns into areas by way of helicopters.
"Our capability is to air assault in," Bruch said. "We also obviously have ground-assault capabilities."
His troops should be ready, he said, for anything.
(Lasseter reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.)
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.