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Reporters' notebook

AREA CHAMPION MAIN, Kuwait—The 82nd Airborne paratroopers in Kuwait lack many comforts. The most elusive commodity, though, is news.

Well, actually, it's beer, but news is second.

Half a world away from their base in Fort Bragg, N.C., the troopers' only newspaper is Stars and Stripes, the U.S. armed forces publication. And that's delivered late.

"If it's a Sunday edition, you might get it on Tuesday," says Spc. Kendra Leonard, 23, a Tripoli, Iowa, native who rigs parachutes for the 782nd main support battalion.

A giant television screen in the mess tent carries the Armed Forces Network, which splices in CNN or Fox News, but troopers have trouble hearing over the mealtime din and can't linger after eating because other hungry soldiers are lining up.

The "news from the states" reports on English-language radio station 99.7 FM from Kuwait City are largely updates on the Middle East.

"The way to get news is letters" from home, says Spc. Danny Garay, 20, of the 2nd brigade headquarters company. The troopers are hungry for such tidbits as the start of Major League Baseball spring training, much more than the latest timetable for a United Nations vote.

Write to us about "the simple things," says Pvt. Sharon Bauer, from Delaware, Ohio, a 19-year-old parachute rigger with the 782nd main support battalion.

_ Mark Johnson, Charlotte Observer


IRBIL, Iraq—On Friday, under scudding clouds and a warm sun, in a stadium once used for public executions, a team from "Free Iraq" defeated a team from Saddam Hussein's home region.

The host squad from Irbil, the capital of autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, beat "Team Regime" from Samarra 4-0. Saddam's home village of Awja is close to Samarra.

The heavily guarded game had two political oddities.

The winners were coached by Hakim Shakir, a retired colonel from Saddam's military who once had coached the team formed from, get this, the Iraqi Air Defenses.

After the game, Shakir was asked if he fears for his military comrades back in Saddam's Iraq.

"Iraqis fear no one," he says. "Honestly, even if an American fighter aircraft had landed on this soccer field today we would have continued playing, just to satisfy the fans. Sport has nothing to do with politics."

The other oddity: Irbil's first two goals were scored by striker Ahmed Judai, the son of a farmer and a legitimate soccer superstar in Iraq. He hails from the pro-Saddam region of Anbar, which the Iraqi leader appreciatively calls "My Well-Tempered Sword."

"I oppose a regime change, whether it's peacefully or not," Judai says. "Everyone knows what this war's about. It's about oil, absolutely."

_ Mark McDonald, Moscow Bureau


CAMP MAINE, Kuwait—Pfc. Tim Nordstrom isn't awed by celebrity. He's gotten a few autographs: country music stars Kenny Chesney, Aaron Tippin and a few others. It's just a hobby, he says.

But he never thought he'd see newsman Ted Koppel in the Kuwaiti desert.

Koppel arrived Friday at Camp Maine to do a piece for ABC news.

Nordstrom casually strolled up to Koppel, and asked for and got a photograph and an autograph.

The 25-year-old father of three from Huntsville, Ala., downplayed it.

"No, he didn't just land in those pants this morning. He put his pants on this morning just like I did," Nordstrom says. "He threw down his cigarette when I walked up. If I was fanatical about it, I'd have gone over there and got it."

_ S. Thorne Harper, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer


CAMP COMMANDO, Kuwait—After a blinding sandstorm Wednesday, which even Kuwaitis said was one of the worst in memory, some of the 164 journalists in the desert with U.S. Marines wrapped their laptops in plastic wrap to keep out the sand.

One layer went around the screens and a second around the keyboards. But even a few minutes outdoors to send stories and photos over hand-held satellite telephones left the computers covered with a film of sand.

At least two journalists reported that their computers had died, and made quick trips back to Kuwait City to buy new ones. Others bought spare keyboards in case of a breakdown.

The Force Reconnaissance unit of the 55,000-strong 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, which scouts far ahead of attacking troops, has been equipped with especially toughened and dirt-proofed laptops.

Staffers at the Red Cross tent at the MEF's headquarters at Camp Commando said they spritzed their laptops with cans of compressed air several times a day to keep them clean and working.

But two regular laptops and a stack of three VCRS at one Marine Corps office were covered with thick, grouty layers of sand. "Haven't cleaned them for two months and they're still working," the young Marine sergeant said.

_ Juan O. Tamayo, Miami Herald


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