CAMP UDARI, Northern Kuwait—The troops, tanks and armored equipment once seen as opening a crucial northern front against Baghdad are now pouring into Kuwait at a rapid pace with some elements preparing to head toward the Iraqi capital.
Almost overnight troops from the 4th Infantry Division have flooded this dusty outpost, swelling chow-hall lines so much the Army built several new dining halls in the past two days.
Those reinforcements could add a much-needed punch to the 3rd Infantry Division that is poised just a few scant miles from Baghdad. By month's end, the 4th will unload enough equipment to field an army of 30,000 soldiers. But the force does not need to be deployed as a single unit, and already its lead units are scrambling to get ready for combat.
The 4th ID began unloading the first of its 30 ships on Tuesday in the Kuwait port of Shuiaba. The Cape Texas, a 634-foot vessel out of Houston, steamed into port in the morning. There, the 2nd Battalion Field Artillery unloaded 550 vehicles in 12 hours. It normally takes about two days to unload a ship.
Each of the equipment-laden ships, which were anchored off the coast of Turkey during the failed talks to win access to Iraq through Turkey, are being met by round-the-clock flights carrying soldiers from their home base at Ft. Hood, Texas.
The influx means tight quarters at the staging area in Udari, which is also filling up with heavy Abrams Tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles from the 1st Squadron 10th Cavalry.
"It's a very aggressive schedule," said Lt. Col. Allen West, who commands the field artillery battalion. West and his men spent two nights sleeping on a gravel lot while preparing the equipment. "I'm an old-school soldier. I like to keep those Spartan conditions so no one becomes too comfortable."
And few were. After the gear arrived in Udari, frequent Scud alerts forced soldiers to swap out transmissions and repair flattened tires while donning gas masks in baking hot temperatures.
Much of the equipment was in good shape despite spending months at sea, the maintenance crews said.
"We actually got a little sleep last night," said Sgt. James Gambrel, 30, of Pineville, Ky.
Many soldiers were tired, but glad to be moving toward the front.
"I'm eager to get out there," said Spc. Eric Doolin, 23, of Warsaw, Ky. "The 3rd has been fighting and people have been dying. They need some relief."
Over the next week, soldiers will work nonstop to prepare the complicated equipment for the battlefield.
The 4th ID is equipped with the M1A2-SEP Abrams Tank, which is the Army's most modern heavy tank. It is outfitted with digital and thermal imaging, steel-encased depleted uranium armor and is protected against nuclear, biological and chemical warfare.
"This pace is probably the hardest thing they've done in their whole lives," said Sgt. Rodney Taylor, 37, from Fort Worth, Texas, as he fashioned a bracket to carry more water on the back of his Humvee.
"They are all doing exceptionally well," said Capt. Jody Sullivan, 35, of Gillette, Wyoming, who commands C Battery in the 2-20th. His job is to make sure sophisticated radar equipment functions properly.
On Thursday, his soldiers were firing up big radars that track enemy fire to make sure they work. "You have to warm them up like an old car," he said. "It can take a day or two."
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.