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Bombs begin falling, but ground troops wait for word to advance

ON THE KUWAIT-IRAQ BORDER—Early Thursday 150 men of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, 1st Brigade Combat Team awoke groggily just yards from the Iraqi border to learn that bombs had fallen over Baghdad. But there was still no order for them to advance from the attack positions they had taken up more than 17 hours earlier.

"I don't think anything is going to happen here for the next couple of hours," Lt. Col. Jack Kammerer, commander of Task Force 3-7 Infantry, told his unit via radio. "I don't think anything is going to happen here for the next couple of hours. But we need to be ready to breach early if necessary."

Many of the soldiers remained asleep and there was no effort to wake them. Others learned of the Baghdad strikes via a short-wave news broadcast from the BBC.

Since about 2:30 p.m. local time Wednesday, more than a dozen Bradley fighting vehicles of Apache Company the 30th Infantry Task Force 3-7 Infantry, 1st Brigade Combat Team have been poised within 100 yards of the fence that separates Iraq from Kuwait.

But instead of crossing, members of what one commander called "the lead force of the lead brigade of the lead division" that will invade Iraq spent the night pulling two-hour guard shifts and trying to catch up on their sleep.

"It's important to get as much sleep as you can right now," said Sgt. Matthew Gadzalinski, 24, of Milwaukee. "Because when you are moving you never know when you are going to get it."

When Apache Company arrived at the border they found that Kuwaitis already had cut a passageway through the wire, which was a surprise, said Maj. Frank McClary, 39, of Andrews, S.C., the operations officer for Task Force 3-7 Infantry. Plans were for U.S. combat engineers to do that job.

Throughout Wednesday, most soldiers gathered around the backs of the vehicles, a few shucking off their helmets and heavy flak vests. Some of them pawed grubbily at MREs. Others simply chatted. A few dozed in the backs of their vehicles.

In the rear of one Bradley Fighting Vehicle, a soldier leafed through a copy of the men's magazine Maxim, a favorite among the infantry for its pictures of scantily clad women.

A few gave thumbs-up signs to a couple of passing reporters who had walked up to take a closer look at the border. Some of them sounded anxious to get the war started.

"So, what's it look like?" asked one. "When are we gonna go? Are we gonna do it or not?"

As darkness fell, with a wan moon barely visible through cloudy skies, Apache Company troops moved their vehicles into defensive positions. When word arrived that at least 17 Iraqi soldiers had surrendered to U.S. soldiers about 12 miles to the northeast, the soldiers built a holding pen, in case more decided to give up during the night.

Sentries kept watch on the dark desert landscape, scanning for movement. Most men bedded down. A few wondered about the fate of the Iraqi soldiers they would encounter on the other side of the border within the next couple of days.

"Can you imagine being in their shoes right now?" asked 1st Lt. Blaine Kusterle, 24, from St. Petersburg, Fla. "Knowing what's coming at them?"

But most men just slept. Once the order comes to roll across the border, they know the most sleep they'll get is maybe a few hours a night.

With the men buttoned up in their vehicles for the night or snuggled in sleeping bags on the sand, company and battalion radio nets crackled with occasional traffic.

Around 8 p.m. local time, Lt. Col. Jack Kammerer, Task Force 3-7 Infantry commander, came on the radio to thank his men for a job well done.

"You came up here and secured an international border on short notice," Kammerer said. "You are the lead force of the lead brigade of the lead division. I know it doesn't sound like a big deal to most of you. But you've done a good job."

The radio traffic eventually died out as men drifted off to sleep. Only sentries were left awake.

One Bradley commander called in with a report of a suspicious heat signature through his thermal night sights. The source appeared to be a small campfire about 3 miles across the border to the west. Possibly Iraqi scouts. Possibly deserters waiting for morning so they could give up. Possibly just a shepherd bedding down for the night. It was unclear. But the sentries kept watch just in case.

Thursday morning, soldiers said the heat-detection devices showed a group of about five Iraqi soldiers at an outpost a mile across the border. "They look like they just woke up and came out of the building, " said 2nd Lt. Mike Washburn, 32, of Yorktown, Va. "We don't think they even know we're here."


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

PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ-BORDER