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In Kuwait, Humvees getting ready to roll

CAMP NEW YORK, Kuwait—For the past two days, anti-armor Humvees have been stocking up on ammunition for their .50-caliber guns, automatic grenade launchers and missile systems.

Although there has been no public word of the vehicles' imminent departure to Iraq, they've been getting ready to roll at a moment's notice.

Crews for the vehicles, from the 2nd brigade of the Army's 101st Airborne Division, have flipped down the passenger seat behind the driver to make more room for bullets. Bright orange flaps are on the back of the Humvees for identification by U.S. planes during the day and underneath are thermal markers for night travel.

Rucksacks and duffel bags are strapped to the sides. Bottled water and boxes of military Meals Ready to Eat are crammed inside wherever there is space.

Several Humvees went to a firing range Monday, where their missiles let off loud explosions before scorching thousands of meters downrange and leaving a cloud of smoke and heat. All but one hit its mark. (A second missile didn't make it very far downrange due to a mechanical glitch, not shooter error.)

There had been a last-minute scramble when the power source for the trucks' missile guidance system didn't show up. Apparently the equipment is on a ship headed for Kuwait City. After some thinking and tinkering, personnel figured out that they could link the guidance system directly to a Humvee's battery.

It was far from an ideal setup. Because there was no surge protection, if a driver left the system on when he turned the ignition, he could have fried the wiring to his weapons systems.

While the rigged-up system worked at the range, fortunately for the Humvee teams, their battalion found another Army group willing to lend them some of the batteries.

The only glitch during the live-fire exercises was the ride back to Camp New York, led by a relatively new lieutenant guiding his driver. After a few minutes, the trucks ended up in the firing range. Although there was no shooting, there was unexploded ordnance—rockets sticking halfway out of the ground—littering the desert. It was a potential minefield for the errant Humvees.

Capt. Kenneth Hutchison, riding a few trucks back from the front, pulled up and led the trucks to safety.

"A dud can have a shelf life of forever," he explained as the convoy made its way out. "You could just kick it one day, and that's all it takes."


(Tom Lasseter reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader)


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