OUTSIDE AL SAMAWA, Iraq—On the long drive from the relative safety of Kuwait into Iraq, the squad from the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, had plenty of time to think about combat.
Most of them didn't.
"Sometimes when you think, bad things happen. Reaction is what I do. I don't think," said 29-year-old Spc. Team Lowe, who calls Fort Benning, Ga.'s Kelley Hill home.
Last weekend, the eight members of the Charlie Company squad knew they were supposed to capture the Tillil airfield near the town of An Nasiriyah in southern Iraq. They knew they were drawing near when they heard artillery pounding. But most of them said combat wasn't exactly what they were thinking about.
Lowe, who's in charge of the squad's M240 machine gun, said he was thinking about women when the Bradley fighting vehicle's ramp dropped at Tillil.
Pvt. Logan Lonkard, who was the squad's point man in building-clearing operations, said his mind was blank. "I can't think about `What's out there?' `What's it going to be like?''' he said. "I have to push it out of my mind. You just have to keep moving and try to get behind something."
What the squad found were Iraqis who seemed to have been expecting an airborne assault. The airfield was protected by anti-aircraft, one of which seemed brand-new. Concrete blocks had been placed along the runways.
The U.S side had howitzers, multiple launch rockets and M1A1 tanks. The Iraqis had small arms and mortars. The battle lasted two hours. One American soldier was wounded and 25 Iraqis were killed. Another 200 were taken prisoner. The airfield is now the Iraq command center for the Marines.
"There was so much smoke you couldn't see to the other side of buildings," said 24-year-old squad saw-gunner Pfc. Michael White, a Browns fan from Cleveland. "You don't know what you're walking into. You've got to think fast."
Squad leader Sgt. David Turner, 22, wearing an olive drab bandanna over his head, seemed more concerned about whether someone in the squad had stolen the picante sauce sent to him from back home in Virginia Beach, Va.
"There'll be a rumble in the desert if my picante sauce doesn't show up," he said.
What's really on his mind?
"With deployments, school and training and everything, I've seen my daughter only nine months of the 20 months she's been alive," Turner said. "Everybody here wants to get the job done and go home."
(Harper reports for the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer.)
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ-INFANTRY