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Without mail for a month, soldiers in Kuwait live on rumors

CAMP MATILDA, Kuwait—They may be near what may soon be the frontlines of a war with Iraq, but for the soldiers at this desert encampment in Kuwait, when the war might start is as much a mystery as for anyone watching the news channels back home.

Maybe even more so, given that this camp has no telephone and no Internet access. Not even the regular snail-mail has been getting through.

Lance Cpl. Justin Adams, of Destrahan, La., said he realized how little contact he has had with the outside world while performing sentry duty and seeing vehicles enter and leave Camp Matilda.

"It feels like a vacuum around here," Adams said. "It feels like you're stuck in a time warp."

Among the things he'd heard: Saddam had agreed to disarm, and the United Nations has given him two weeks. Another unit was disheartened when word circulated, falsely as it turned out, that President Bush had given Saddam Hussein another six months to disarm.

"It's all rumor," said Lance Cpl. Chris Garrett of Long Beach. Miss. "You can't believe it."

Garrett has heard a variety of dates for when the war will start, which will mean that he'll begin moving north in the 27-ton amphibious assault vehicles his unit operates. The officers in the camp have set up a pool to guess the day.

"The word is we're still going to take him out," said Lance Cpl. Joshua Clements of Hattiesburg, Miss.

The news comes mostly in bits and pieces, gleaned from shortwave radio or Voice of America broadcasts, then distorted as it is passed around the camp by word-of-mouth.

The absence of mail has only increased the sense of isolation. Since arriving in Kuwait, the Marines of the 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion have had no contact with their families.

The 4th left Gulfport, Miss., on Feb. 1 and left the United States on Feb. 13.

During the first two weeks of February, they could talk to their families by telephone or e-mail while at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

The unit, however, has received no mail for nearly a month. No one seems to know why.

"Everything's mail," said Staff Sgt. Danny Wade, of Laurel, Miss., describing what concerns the Marines.

"The morale is low when it comes to mail," said Wade. "It's our only contact with home."

In the meantime, the 4th has conducted classroom training and waited.

"The time line changes every day," said Garrett. "You just try not to believe too much of it."

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): usiraq+rumors

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