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Vignettes from the war zone

CAMP 93, Kuwait—Seabees, the Navy specialists in construction, have a reputation for being handy. After all, since arriving in October, they've built an asphalt runway apron here in the desert for arriving jets.

And if a war starts, they'll be the ones called in to build quick bridges across Iraqi marshes so assault vehicles and tanks can carry the battle north. The shiny prefabricated sections are stacked neatly in a row here.

"When we do need the bridges, they're ready to go," said Chief Petty Officer Keith Mazotas, 35, who lives in Gulfport, Miss. "If they say build me a 60-meter bridge, we can."

So it's no real surprise to hear they're adjusting to life in the desert. You see it in many ways.

There are the shelves made of scrap lumber that many of them have built to hold personal items and that grace the quarters of Andrew Geddis, a 22-year-old Seabee, as the members of the Naval Mobil Construction Battalion (CB) are known.

And there's the television that is used for spirited games of video football.

Television? In the desert?

"We acquired it," says Geddis. "You don't want to know."

A note about Camp 93's name: It is named for Flight 93, the hijacked Sept. 11 airliner that crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers battled hijackers.

_Patrick Peterson of The Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss.


CAMP VIRGINIA, Kuwait—Goodbyes for most military couples come thousands of miles and sometimes months before this point.

But Staff Sgt. John and Sgt. Brenda Leandro are Army, both deployed to Kuwait, and Saturday was their last night together—albeit in separate tents in a desert base.

Sunday John would be headed to a forward position as part of a military police battalion. Brenda would remain here coordinating mail delivery in this camp.

They met in 1997 and shortly afterward were deployed to Panama. They started dating on their return to a home base. They married in August 2000 and have used the Army's Couple Program to ensure that they have the same duty station, currently Hanau, Germany.

Their conversations are half acronyms, the semi-secret language of the Army, offering a clue to a shared experience and an understanding that life in the military has a way of twisting life. Their dual career means they're away from each other twice as much as their colleagues married to civilians—just three months in the same place last year. If he's not deployed to Kosovo peacekeeping, she's off somewhere.

But none of their prior separations carried the anxiety of this one. In the days leading up to it, they made a point to spend the two-hour wait for chow in line together. They spent some free time in his tent, along with the other men waiting for war. Or they went on strolls through the bleak tent city of Camp Virginia.

"We don't have too much time together," John said. "So we just try not to talk about the Army."

_Scott Canon of the Kansas City Star.


KUWAIT CITY—The management of the Hilton hotel here thinks it's unlikely to be attacked by a missile if war erupts, even though it is headquarters to hundreds of foreign journalists and military public affairs officers. Its location on a beach far from the Iraqi border, the hoteliers' theory goes, protects it.

Still, the hotel doesn't want anyone to be surprised if a missile strikes. A memorandum it distributed to guests exhorts them to plan for "all eventualities."

Among the recommendations: turn off the air conditioning immediately after hearing the emergency siren. For those staying in one of the 64 chalets or villas scattered around the grounds, absolutely DO NOT leave to go to the main hotel complex.

In the last two weeks, key installations throughout the capital have been fortified with sandbags, concrete barriers and anti-aircraft guns mounted atop tanks and pickup trucks. Some stores are selling out of flashlights, batteries and cans for storing water and gasoline. At the Central Blood Bank, donations are up 10 percent as people look for some way to be helpful.

"My friends are all here, my family is all here," said Samir Al-Mutawa, a Kuwait Airlines pilot, as he pressed a gauze bandage against his arm. "But I did this on my own, just to do something, even a little thing."

One thing many people say they won't do in the event of war is leave. Ghiyath Nakshbendi, a Kuwaiti financier who fled the country 29 days after Iraq's 1990 invasion began, said he could have stayed in the U.S. during a recent business trip but decided there was no need. "Conditions, circumstances are much different now," he said. "Just yesterday, I bought two bottles of water. That's all."

_Andrea Gerlin of The Philadelphia Inquirer


DOHA, Qatar—The U.S. military bombed a mobile missile-guidance radar system Saturday, the fifth air strike in the southern no-fly zone in the past eight days, the Central Command announced here. Precision-guided weapons were dropped at 12:10 a.m. about 230 miles west of Baghdad, the military said.

Since December, the Air Force has stepped up attacks in southern Iraq and dropped more than 9 million leaflets urging Iraqi soldiers to surrender.

_Peter Smolowitz of The Charlotte Observer


THE KUWAIT DESERT—The first sign that the desert is moving comes on the highway, a divided four lanes of asphalt heading southwest, vaguely towards Iraq. Above the desert floor, the sand moves as if in rivers, occasionally pooling, creating eddies and sometimes piling up. The further the drive continues, the more these sands cover the highway.

Following the lights of the Army Humvee in front of us, we turn off at an unidentifiable location. The sand swirls much more fiercely around us, ticking against the windows and paint. There is nothing to see but sand. Even our military guides, from the 82nd Airborne, say they frequently get lost.

The wind intensifies and the land darkens, changing from a swirling tan to a swirling brown. We are making small circles now. We climb a long sand berm, two stories high, with a single small gap. The lead vehicle pushes through the gap, finds there is no slope on the other side, simply a drop off, and turns sharply.

The caravan stops, maps are studied. I step outside without sand goggles, without a face wrap. I open my mouth to speak and it fills with a fine sandy mist. I walk away from the vehicles, through a sand drift, then turn and watch my boot prints vanish in seconds.

The world darkens, almost blacks out, and then, in a second, the storm lessens. The sun is now occasionally visible, a silver disk, beautiful, but vanishing every few seconds behind more sand clouds. We joke about the desert, about the sameness, the invisibility. Our guides, and the soldiers we talk to, say they've grown accustomed to nature's power.

"I guess we're gonna be out here for a while," says one 20-year-old soldier. "Might as well like it."

_Matt Schofield of the Kansas City Star.


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

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ+NOTEBOOK