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Reporters' notebook

CHAMPION MAIN, Kuwait—Three hundred paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division rose from their bunks at 4 a.m. Tuesday to watch President Bush's speech on a large-screen TV in their mess tent. They gave no cheers at the end. They just filed quietly out into the darkness before dawn.

"Bush is ballsy, and if he goes through with it, I'll be genuinely surprised," said Spc. Alexander Wood, 19, of Seattle, with the 319th Airborne Field Artillery Battalion. "For him to go in without U.N. support, it takes a lot of backbone. He's saying, `Screw what you guys want me to do. I'm going to do what I see fit.' We need a president who will get things done."

Next to him at the dinner table, an infantryman, Pvt. Luke Robinson, was less certain. "It's kind of scary," said Robinson, 22, of Rochester, Minn. "We're kind of out there on our own now."

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CAMP BETIO, Kuwait—Apparently on the edge of war, Staff Sgt. Jeremy Baker gave the Marines of the 7th Engineering Support Battalion what might be a last minute run-through on the Iraqi opposition.

The activated reserve Marines of Delta Company went through classes Tuesday on everything from the look of Iraqi vehicles, Iraqi mines and Iraqi culture to Baker's class, on how to identify an Iraqi soldier.

"They have dozens and dozens of uniforms," Baker said, pointing to pictures on a white board.

The Iraqi military bought many of its uniforms before 1991, and they come from all over the world: U.S. helmets, French, British and Pakistani shirts and pants, Russian rifles.

"They wear a wide variety of berets. Most are black, some are maroon, some are red. The special forces wear maroon," Baker said.

"Only officers wear insignia in the field, so if you see leaves and stars on their shoulders, you know who they are. The Republican Guard wear a red triangle and wear a wide variety of camo, not for hiding, but for the quality of the uniform. If you see a red triangle and the solider doesn't have his hands up, shoot; that's Republican Guard."

And so he went, through paramilitary groups of Iranian exiles ("remember, despite what you've heard about how they treat women here, about half of these will be women") and religious-oriented militias thought to be tied to suicide bombings.

After an hour, Baker turned to the class and asked, "Did anyone learn anything today?"

"Rrrrr," the Marines answered.

"Good, so tell me what a red triangle means?"

"Kill them," comes the answer in many voices.

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CAMP MAINE, Kuwait—"Damn it! STOVALL!"

Any time of day or night, Army Sgt. Ed Stovall's name can be heard preceded by an expletive.

"It's an everyday thing," said the 33-year-old Stovall, of Phenix City, Ala. "I get used to it."

In the computer-sickening dust of the Kuwaiti desert, the 12-year Army veteran is Camp Maine's digital doctor. He's good at his job. A tweak here, a button pushed there and the screen comes back to life more times than not.

And he makes tent calls, 24 hours a day, with good laptop-side manner to boot.

"It's usually something simple," Stovall said. "But I'll make a few calls if I have to."

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(Mark Johnson, Matthew Schofield and S. Thorne Harper contributed to this report.)

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

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

Iraq

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