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Sleep scared, troops are told

NEAR NAJAF, Iraq—You gotta sleep scared.

That's the instruction we got as the 100 troops of the 7th Combat Support Group bedded down Tuesday for the first night at the supply base—code-named "Rams"—that they will build near the road to Baghdad.

Before midmorning Tuesday, four days after leaving Kuwait, the unit reached its destination outside Najaf, a holy Shiite city about 70 miles south of the Iraqi capital. I traveled with the unit, part of the crucial supply line of food, water, fuel and ammunition for Army V Corps.

A few hours after we arrived, a terrible storm came up. It was the weirdest storm any of us had ever seen, and it hampered military operations in most of the country Tuesday.

The sky was clear, then suddenly there was a huge sandstorm. The whole world turned bright yellow, then orange, as if on fire. And then it rained, the oddest wet sand-filtered sun combination.

Sgt. Joseph Davis of Poplar Bluff, Mo., a tough old bird who's been through storms in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, said he'd never seen one as bad as this.

The unit couldn't get any equipment set up, and people waited in their trucks and Humvees most of the day. As night fell, the enlisted men and women were ordered out to set up a tent that would be the first structure of the new supply camp.

They fought huge winds. It was almost impossible work, but they did it.

The intelligence officer in the unit learned more about the attacks on other U.S. forces by the fedayeen, paramilitary troops who are said to be intensely loyal to Saddam Hussein. One of their tactics is to lead combat supply groups into traps by changing road signs.

We've also heard they're infiltrating combat support groups like ours, because we're much more vulnerable than combat units.

The area around us isn't that secure. We're hoping some tanks and Bradlees are out there.

We're all praying that we're at the lowest of the low right now.

On the road here, Capt. Tim Bostick of Orlando, Fla., dubbed our journey "Operation Enduring Convoy." As the storm pounded us Tuesday, he quipped, "We're in a new phase: Operation Enduring Sandstorm."

We're enduring.


(Meg Laughlin reports for The Miami Herald.)


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