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U.S. troops prepare to feed Iraqi refugees

KUWAIT CITY—Maj. Charles Brown, a Green Beret with squared shoulders and a bulletproof vest, is girding for the battle that follows the war: feeding thousands of Iraqi refugees.

Brown corralled local truck drivers around a Kuwait City warehouse complex Thursday, loading up on water and MREs (meals ready to eat) for the 82nd Airborne Division, but also packing nearly an entire truck with yet another acronym, HDRs, humanitarian daily rations.

Paratroopers from the Fort Bragg, N.C.-based 82nd plan to pass out the food to Iraqis after coalition forces seize control of Iraqi territory.

Groups such as the Red Cross have tons of food in warehouses in and near Iraq, but they can't distribute it while bombs are falling.

"Once conflict stops," Brown said, "it might take them a week to 30 days to come back in and to set up."

Brown, an Airborne Army Ranger, is the senior civil affairs officer attached to the 82nd division. His goal is to fly in humanitarian rations quickly when the shooting stops. The division's troopers then can parcel them out to Iraqis whom the war has forced from home.

The boxes bear a graphic of clasped hands and a label: "Food gift from the people of the United States of America."

"It's vegetarian," said the warehouse manager, who asked not to be identified. "So you don't have to worry about accidentally giving pork to a Muslim."

These are the same types of rations that U.S. forces dropped over Afghanistan after toppling the Taliban regime in 2001. Unfortunately, the yellow ration packs occasionally were confused with the yellow tags attached to air-dropped mines.

"They learned their lesson in Afghanistan," Brown said. "We'll distribute the rations on the ground."

Sixty percent of the Iraqi population depends totally on the food-for-oil exchange program administered by Saddam Hussein's government, according to the World Food Program in Geneva. Saddam doubled the rations in recent months while preparing for war, but the flow of food shut down last week and won't restart if Saddam is ousted.

One difficulty for soldiers in the 82nd is that they will need to keep citizens away from U.S. troops until hostilities end and some degree of stability is established. Soldiers will, at first, have to ward off approaching refugees, only to turn around days later to try to win their confidence.


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