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CAMP BETIO, Kuwait—While it may not sound as nasty as, ahem, "Pork chop, chunked and formed, in a Jamaican-style sauce" the definite loser in the MRE sweepstakes among these Marines is "Minestrone Stew."

The MRE, (or Meal, Ready to Eat) is a constant form of joking among all branches of the service. And there are certain meals among the 24 varieties that gain almost universal praise, Chili and Macaroni (ChiliMac) being prime among them. But in the Delta Company tents for the 7th Engineering Support Battalion, there's a small cardboard box where Marines toss out what they don't want to eat in an offering to others of different tastes. Although the young Marines pride themselves on eating just about anything, even cold, ("I bet those lizards would taste pretty good," one says, sitting on a Scud shelter and watching a three-foot-long beast sun itself) more than half the items in the box are Minestrone Stew.

Sgt. Chris Tracy laughs when this is pointed out.

"The problem," he says, "is that Minestrone Stew is just gross."

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UNDISCLOSED PERSIAN GULF AIR BASE—No muscle mags or Cosmo for the fly boys.

So as not to offend local sensibilities, Air Force officials here have laid down the law on reading material: No "displays of the human torso, (that is, the area below the neck, above the knees and inside the shoulder.)"

That means Sports Illustrated's swimsuit edition it out, as is the Victoria's Secret catalogue.

"It will offend Muslims," said Major David Andino-Aquino, commander of services.

Movies on loan at the rec center, too, are heavy on war, light on sex.

"Nothing too racy," he said. "Obviously we won't show `9 { Weeks,'" he said. "We try to keep it PG-13 as much as we can. Action movies—the `Die Hards'—are really popular."

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CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait—Where are the baby wipes?

That's what tens of thousands of soldiers in the Kuwaiti desert want to know.

"The PX rarely has what we need," said Capt. Deidra O'Leary at Camp Virginia. "Chairs for little kids, lacy bras, charcoal, lots of stuff we don't need, but no baby wipes."

Any soldier in the Kuwaiti desert will tell you that the No. 1 item in demand is baby wipes. Without showers and water for washing, everyone relies on moist wipes to stay clean. But where are they?

"I've never seen anything like it," said Brian DeMoss, general manager for Army PXs in Kuwait. "Everyone wants them. We cannot get enough no matter what we do."

Arifjan doesn't have them, neither do Army outposts to the north, camps Virginia, New York, Victory or New Jersey.

DeMoss, who is based at Arifjan, sent a dozen workers to Kuwait City on Friday to raid drug stores, supermarkets and general stores. Their job: "To get all the wet wipes they could get their hands on," he said.

No matter what the cost, no matter what the loss reselling them.

"The Marines said no to scented ones a few weeks ago, but they've given in," said Arifjan PX site manager Beth Goodman.

"Everyone is desperate," said Marie Clift, distribution manager for Kuwait PXs. By week's end, a cargo of 480,000 boxes of baby wipes is due to arrive in Kuwait City from the United States on airborne express, but they will be delayed in Kuwaiti customs for at least a week.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of soldiers in the desert, covered in silt and grime, are moving toward Iraq without them.

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KUWAIT CITY—When troops from the Army's Camp Virginia arrived at the port near here Sunday morning, they weren't surprised that the supplies they were picking up were delayed and that they couldn't leave with them until after midnight.

Then the trip back to their desert post, which usually takes an hour, went awry.

In the dark, the convoy of 61 vehicles made three U-turns looking for a way out of the port. At the exit, a Kuwaiti police car began to lead the convoy to the highway. After 45 minutes, the convoy leaders looked for the military airfield that marks the final turn into the desert but couldn't find it.

After another 20 minutes, the convoy made another 61-vehicle U-turn and traveled 40 minutes back up the road without luck. Finally, the convoy stopped, and soldiers jumped out of vehicles to relieve themselves in the middle of the night.

A Kuwaiti driver agreed to take the lead. After leading the convoy through three more U-turns on streets in and around Kuwait City, that driver stopped and went into a store, apparently to ask directions, during which trucks at the back of the convoy broke off and went down another street before doubling back to rejoin the group.

Another half hour passed, and local police arrived to lead the convoy to the airfield. As daylight peeked over the horizon Monday, the convoy finally arrived at Camp Virginia.

Among the missions for this Army unit: directing traffic in the battlefield.

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(Matthew Schofield, Sara Olkon, Meg Laughlin and Scott Canon contributed to this report.)

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

Iraq

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