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`Cheesy' movie resonates with Marines at camp in central Iraq

CAMP AA ANDERSON, central Iraq—The dangers are straight out of the movies:

On Saturday, a Marine who made the mistake of poking his head above the sand berm was shot by a sniper.

A rogue Iraqi tank platoon is rolling through the area, apparently cut off from its command, trying to wreak havoc on its own.

Iraqi ambushers have been stringing concertina wire across roads, attempting to snag gunners whose heads are poking out of Humvees and trucks.

And Marines have been tearing across farmland and desert pursuing suspected spies trying to sneak into U.S. camps.

Officially, this fueling and ammunition supply dump carved out of the sandy soil of central Iraq is known as Camp AA Anderson. But the Marines of Delta Company of the 7th Engineering Support Battalion have a different name for it:

"We're turning this place into Fire Base Gloria," Capt. Sean Riddell said.

Fire Base Gloria is a reference to "Siege at Fire Base Gloria," a 1989 movie that many Marines describe as both cheesy and central to being a Marine.

To get an excited conversation going here, just ask for a favorite scene.

Lance Cpl. Brian Hevlin, a physics major at Oregon State University, called it "perhaps the best bad war movie of all time.

"There's this scene, where this sergeant major walks into camp holding these two heads in his hands, just by their hair, and he says, `Does anybody know who these heads belong to?' Isn't that great?"

Sgt. Neal Dickey, a business major at Portland State University, jumped in with a scene in which two young Vietnamese girls are smiling and waving at a young Marine.

"So he says, `Should I invite them into camp?' and his officer says, `No, I smell a setup. Cut them in half,' " Dickey said. "The young Marine hesitates and the officer grabs his gun and shoots the women, and they explode, they were rigged with explosives. The officer then says, `They are the enemy.' That's a great scene."

The movie is set during the Vietnam War. Two tough Marines come across a slovenly American fire base, right in the path of an advance by a division of North Vietnamese. Defense is lax, the Marines are stoned and their captain is insane. The two new guys have to take over the camp by knocking out the captain, then arrange the fire-base defenses and shape up the Marines in time to save the day. Which, of course, they do.

"It's almost required viewing for Marines," 1st Sgt. Mike Barnhill said. "I mean, it's cheesy, but you've got to see it."

Riddell explained that by "Turning the camp into Fire Base Gloria," he didn't mean the troops should knock out the captain or gun down civilians. He was talking about shoring up the defenses, to make it a spot where they could hold off an overwhelming force.

"We're going to turn the desert outside the berms into a football field, no holes and no mounds, so we can see everything leading up to this place," he said. "If it impairs our sight at all, we're leveling it. We're finishing the berm, expanding it quickly."

They'd planned to finish Saturday night, but brought the bulldozer drivers in after the sniper shooting.

They've preset target ranges for areas they can't cover with fire, so a quick phone call will result in an immediate mortar shot. They've added a grenade launcher to their defenses. They've wired phones within the camp for better communications.

"We're putting security teams on the roads with night-vision goggles, just to see if anything is moving," Riddell said. "And we're getting some tanks out there to chase down the Iraqi platoon. We're cracking down."

After all, nothing sells like a happy ending.


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