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Waiting to go to war has its own kind of stress

FORT RILEY, Kan.—At 4 a.m. Tuesday, the men of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 13th Armor, awoke to ringing phones. Within two hours they had to be at a loading dock with all their combat gear, ready to deploy to Iraq. The men knew it was a drill, but they forced themselves to take it seriously.

The rehearsal helps to make sure that when the real call comes, the soldiers will have all the necessary gear, properly marked and tied down, Sgt. 1st Class Curtis Stanley said.

By midmorning the soldiers were still on the loading dock, awaiting further orders.

As he puffed on a cigarette stub, Stanley explained how each soldier's duffel bag and rucksack are marked with numbers and color codes. The markings make sorting out the gear easier when the soldiers arrive in the Iraq region.

Alpha Company will leave any day now. It won't be soon enough for Stanley, a 32-year-old tank platoon leader from Grain Valley, Mo.

"Waiting, I think, is almost as stressful as being there," he said.

Some soldiers used the time on the loading dock to sharpen their bayonets on stones conveniently embedded in the scabbards. As they rubbed their knives across the gray, glistening stones, some joked about how, as tank crewman, you know things are bad if you have to use your bayonet, the weapon of last resort.

Although the men lost some sleep because of the drill, Stanley saw the benefit. It means that when the real order comes, the collection of soldiers and gear should go quickly, giving the men more time to spend at a gym saying goodbye to their families.


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

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