DOHA, Qatar—Pvt. 1st Class Frank Thayer stands in a Humvee, his head peeking out of a hatch, staring at the main gate inside Camp as Sayliyah, his hands on an M-249 light machine gun that can fire up to 1,000 rounds a minute.
Sweat trickles down his back and his face is sunburned, sore to the touch.
If the United States goes to war against Iraq, this is where Gen. Tommy Franks, the head of the U.S. Central Command, will run the operation. Security is crucial, and it's a job that Thayer takes with unblinking seriousness. "This is the main gate, and you gotta be ready," he said.
There is a constant flow of workers through the gates. Local construction workers are searched and questioned. The continuous movement of people, cars and trucks adds a sense of drama.
"I scan the area and think of scenarios—what might happen and what we would do," Thayer says. "But sometimes, you catch yourself thinking about home or whatever. I miss my wife and family."
Thayer, 26, married Joy Collins in October, a month before he left for Qatar. "We were supposed to get married in December, but I thought it was best to do it now, just in case something happens," Thayer says. "We had a semi-big wedding. She has a lot of sisters and they threw it together quickly."
He's six hours into a shift that started at 4 a.m., and he doesn't know when he'll get off. "It just depends. There's really no set time. I rotate with another sentry, and she's up front."
Besides, he's used to being on a military base. "I'm an Army brat," Thayer says. "It's in my blood."
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Thayer was born at Fort Jackson, S.C., and raised on 12 bases around the world. His father, retired Col. Frank Thayer, was a Green Beret who served in Vietnam and Desert Storm. His brother Dean, a major in the 118th Infantry Regiment, is based at Fort Stewart, Ga. His brother Capt. Danny Thayer, 34, is stationed somewhere in the Middle East with the 3rd Infantry Division.
"I don't know where my brother Danny is," Thayer says. "I think he's in Kuwait, but I'm not sure."
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Thayer worked as a firefighter and emergency medical technician for six years in Blacksburg, S.C., before joining the Army in 2000. "I was working at the fire department, and decided I wanted a change," Thayer says. "I like helping people. That's my thing, I guess. I think everybody should serve their country."
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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