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Troops become masters at improvising

RUMAITHA, Iraq—Staff Sgt. Joe Recabo, sleeping under the Iraqi desert sky and a few yards from a 105 mm howitzer, woke up every couple of hours and pulled a cord. The cord started his Humvee. When the engine had run for a few minutes, he pulled another cord that shut it off.

Recabo, of the 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, was recharging the Humvee's battery without ever getting out of his sleeping bag. He had rigged up the two cords from where he slept into the Humvee and around the ignition switch, which is separate from the key.

Army sergeants and officers teach new soldiers in survival and combat training to improvise and to adapt, and a knack for innovation stretches all the way to rest room facilities, or lack thereof, and to food preparation.

Soldiers can't dart to the store in a war zone, so anything usable is snatched up for possible use in some other form later.

A paratrooper from the 82nd Airborne Division temporarily based at an abandoned Iraqi airfield saved up three packages of "cocoa beverage powder" from his meals-ready-to-eat, along with three packages each of sugar and nondairy creamer. He poured all the packages into part of a bottle of water and shook it furiously, calling it the "MRE Yoohoo."

Improvising replaces convenience.

When the temperature reached 106 degrees one day last week, Recabo took a case of bottled water and buried it in a mound of moist dirt.

"Nature's refrigerator," he said.

A poncho plus a couple pieces of cord makes a rain shelter. Bottle caps and MRE boxes can be turned into game boards and pieces.

The lack of plumbing often presents the greatest challenge. Soldiers upend empty ammo boxes as makeshift toilets. On the rare occasions when they come across discarded plastic chairs, soldiers have seized them and cut out large holes in their seats.

They don't teach that stuff in basic training.


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