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`Sand Slug' a tight home, a prime target

CAMP UDARI, Northern Kuwait—They call her Sand Slug, and she was built long before many of the soldiers tucked inside her laminated aluminum belly were born.

She's an M113, an armored personnel carrier used as a scout car by artillery units. The troops named her so they could talk to her.

"We need to encourage her to keep running," said Sgt. Donald Bango from Philadelphia.

Four soldiers in the fire support team live, eat, work and sleep in the crammed hull of the FST vehicle. I am No. 5.

The team was very accepting of a 6-foot, 200-pound reporter riding along. Frankly, I'm a little concerned about riding in the tiny vehicle they affectionately call the RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) Magnet. Because their crews call in artillery fire for the cavalry, enemy forces like to target them.

"We're what we call a high-payoff target," said Sgt. Dwayne Dwyer, 29, from Sumter, S.C.

"Every time I mention the vehicle I'm riding in, soldiers smirk knowingly and say, `Good luck.' "

But Dwyer calms my nerves. "You'll be all right," he said. Dwyer aims the vehicle's high-tech eyeball at enemy positions before asking artillery units to rain fire and metal on them.

Dwyer is reflective, talking, for example, about the many names of god. He's also practical, stuffing a sleeping bag into a gaping hole where the high-tech battlefield computer sat before they took it out to repair it.

"I hope they don't bring that thing back because I could use the space," he said.

Also on board is Sgt. Bango, a stocky 25-year-old from a tough neighborhood in Philadelphia. Bango can make anyone laugh, but mostly he makes up humorous nicknames for Dwyer.

The lieutenant, or fire-support officer, is Joe Justice, 25, from Norfolk. Va. He had just finished college at Virginia State University when the Army called him to Fort Hood, Texas, and told him he would soon be going into combat. Justice showed up the next day, ready to go.

Pfc. Patrick Guy, 20, of Arlington, Texas, is the radio operator and driver, although he would tell you his job is gopher. As a private, he is the lowest-ranking member of the team. He got married Dec. 7 to Colleen and has seen her only for two weekends since. The other night, he talked to her on the phone.

"It was nice to hear her voice and know she's all right," he said.

Guy later said the first thing he wants to do when he gets home is go fishing. "I bought a license before I left and only got to use it once," he said.

"What about seeing your wife?" I ask.

"Oh, she comes with me, sir."

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

PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): PHOTO of John Sullivan available on KRT Direct under `Columnist mugs'

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