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U.S. troops wrapping up preparations for war

CAMP MAINE, Kuwait—U.S. forces across Kuwait continued to prepare for war, training, stacking ammunition and receiving briefings on what to do when they encounter soldiers or civilians after they cross the border into Iraq.

There were no reports of new air strikes in southern Iraq from Central Command operational headquarters in Doha, Qatar—a rarity.

But jets and helicopters streaked overhead throughout the border area as soldiers dusted off equipment from an overnight sandstorm that knocked down tents in several desert encampments. At Camp Matilda, Marines continued to wear the sand goggles most had slept in the night before.

The commander of Army troops at Camp Maine acknowledged that delays on the diplomatic front and a seemingly ever-changing deadline for a possible war are creating challenges for morale, especially among those soldiers who recently have moved to forward positions away from Internet communication, up-to-the-minute news, daily showers and hot meals.

"The soldiers have been geared up and ready, hopeful for an imminent decision," said Col. Dan Allyn, who heads the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division out of Fort Benning, Ga. "It's kind of like the old story of crying wolf. You just keep hearing it."

At Living Support Area 1, a Marine encampment, Capt. Justin "Shazam" Marvel, a helicopter pilot, offered this assessment of pre-war preparations based on Hollywood favorites:

"War is eight-tenths `Hogan's Heroes' and two-tenths `Saving Private Ryan,'" Marvel said. "We spend a lot of time sitting around making jokes but there's some small portion that can be terrifying."

The border region was filled with preparations for the terrifying:

_At Camp Virginia, 45 miles from Iraq, there were grim reminders of the purpose of the array of forces. Body bags—65 per 100 soldiers—were assigned to companies along with refrigerated cargo containers lined with racks to hold the dead. Army lawyers completed soldiers' wills and arranged for soldiers' families to have power of attorney.

On a more hopeful note they also hashed out terms of surrender for the Iraqis. Leaflets on how Iraqi soldiers should surrender, written in Arabic and English, were printed to be air-dropped over Iraq. They promise food, water, fuel and speedy rebuilding.

Nine-thousand "rules of engagement" cards—fine-tuned by Army lawyers and spelling out whom to kill and whom to protect—were passed out to soldiers, authorizing the use of deadly force to protect the lives of Iraqi civilians.

Army officers all over Camp Virginia lectured their troops on what was acceptable and what was not and reminded them repeatedly that power plants, water plants and phone companies of Iraq must be saved. "We're spreading the word that we must help the Iraqi people sustain themselves and save their infrastructure," said Steve Boltz, deputy chief of intelligence for the 9,000 soldiers at Camp Virginia.

_At Area Champion Main, 82nd Airborne paratroopers completed rigging parachutes and focused on what they described as minor details—sewing combat identification on their uniforms so that they will be easily identifiable to helicopter gunships overhead and won't accidentally be shot by friendly forces. "Things like that are finishing touches," said 1st Lt. Ian McNaughton of East Montpelier, Vt.

_At Camp Matilda, the Marines of the 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion finally received the vehicles they'd been waiting for since arriving in Kuwait Feb. 13. Most were missing a few parts and some batteries were dead. The Marines tightened lug nuts, charged batteries, secured camouflage nets, stowed gear—and removed life vests and boat hooks for the trip across the desert. The are scheduled to head into the field Friday.

_At Camp Betio, Marines of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force were put through training for urban fighting. For two hours they were run through drills in a long sleeping tent with cots turned on their ends to emulate walls. Then the training moved outside, into a series of underground, sandbag-lined SCUD shelters. "If this company goes in, we might come back with two squads," said Staff Sgt. Scott Stiles of his nine-squad company. "That's how dangerous it is. In these operations, we can expect an 80 percent casualty rate."

In the meantime, soldiers across the border region, are passing the time reading 2-week-old newspapers, writing letters, listening to CDs and contending with the ever present sand.

The soldiers now can shower only once a week and are left mainly with baby wipes to remove the caked dust.

Spec. Monica Sims, a 24-year-old single mother from Columbus, Ga., had to leave her two children—including her 6-month-old—behind and has been waiting to get a read on when she'll see them again.

"There's nothing you can do about the waiting. You just have to deal with it," Sims said.

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(Scott Canon, Andrea Gerlin, Meg Laughlin, Patrick Peterson and Matt Schofield contributed to this report.)

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

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