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For Delta Company, pullout from Kuwait put on hold

CAMP NEW YORK, Kuwait—They left them there to turn out the lights. At least that's how it seemed.

Most of the 2nd Brigade of the Army's 101st Airborne Division cleared out of Camp New York for Iraq on Thursday, with the remaining foot infantry troops set to fly in that direction via helicopter by Friday.

A convoy of trucks lined up early Thursday morning, with music by the rock band Metallica blasting, and rolled northward with grunt soldiers and headquarters personnel alike on board.

But the men of Delta Company, their armored Humvees lined up by the portable bathrooms, were left behind. They were caught in the oldest maneuver in the Army handbook: Hurry up and wait.

It wasn't clear when the anti-tank unit would set out, or how far into Iraq it might go. What was clear, though, was that it was being yanked around by mission changes that continued up to the final hours before the pullout.

Initially, the Delta Company's larger battalion was to move into Iraq earlier this week in a large caravan known as a Ground Assault Convoy. Then the convoy was shortened because some of the men were going to be flown in by helicopter, meeting the rest of the battalion at a forward operating base in Iraq. The route changed several times—sometime twice in a day—as word came down from the larger brigade to the battalion.

By Wednesday night there was a final plan—the 90 men of Delta Company would use their Humvees to protect a slimmed-down battalion convoy moving north. All Delta needed to do was to wait for one of its platoons to return from patrol, then they would move out.

The men made final preparations. There was an exercise planned at 6:30 p.m. for one last look at the scenario.

But the meeting never happened. Delta Company was staying put, again.

"It's big-picture stuff that's out of my control," said the company's commander, Capt. Kenneth Hutchison.

The circumstances left three platoons—about 50 men—hanging out at the camp Thursday. There was some maintenance and packing to do, but mostly the soldiers leaned against their vehicles, spit tobacco and told jokes. It looked like a scene out of some bizarre summer camp in the desert.

One sergeant beat his hands against his chest in a pitter-patter rhythm and said, "I know, let's do an air assault." A few men, laughing, mimicked jumping out of a helicopter.

"It's like waking up in the same day, over and over, just waiting for something to happen," said Spc. Antonio Gattis, a 24-year-old medic from Salisbury, Md., who's attached to Delta. "It's the same routine stuff; I'm really anxious to start moving."

All the moving Gattis did Thursday was to walk to the post exchange store, which had no line to speak of. Usually, there's an hour's wait to enter. A group of Kuwaiti men stood to the side of the store, selling faux-diamond Rolex watches, designer sunglasses and Persian daggers from picnic tables. They had a credit card machine at the ready, and said they were offering special one-time-only-prices.

Staff Sgt. Michael Becker stayed in a tent for some of the afternoon, playing spades with cards that featured women in various stages of undress.

"I wish we could be in the fighting, truthfully that's where I'd like to be," said the 24-year-old from Fort Wayne, Ind.

Hutchison said he understood the frustration, but knew that he was seeing only a small slice of the planning.

"The dynamics of this thing changes hourly," he said. "Who knows, it probably changes after every bomb is dropped."


(Tom Lasseter reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.)


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