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Nature finds its way into troops' tents

CAMP PENNSYLVANIA, Kuwait—For the past week, the soldiers of 1st Battalion, 13th Armor, from Fort Riley, Kan., have been staying in massive tents at this sprawling base camp while they wait to go to Iraq.

The tents have cots and wooden floors. The headquarters tent even has air conditioning to keep the computers from frying. It's almost civilized.

But nature has a way of crawling and blowing in.

Pfc. Eric Lambkins II, 20, of Los Angeles was on radio watch in the headquarters tent early one morning when he felt something gnawing at the leather of his boot near his big toe. It was a rat about 8 inches long, which had crawled between his feet as he sat in a chair.

"He just kind of looked up at me," Lambkins said. "I kind of kicked him in the butt."

One afternoon, soldiers chased a 3-inch-long tan spider that darted down the center aisle of their tent. In another tent, a soldier spotted a scorpion.

But nature's most pervasive uninvited visitor is dust, blown in by sandstorms that darken the daytime sky.

Even the soft breezes leave a fine, medium-brown powder that coats sleeping bags. Some nights, the soldiers wake up to sandstorms that whip the tent flaps. The dust-filled air leaves a bitter, metallic taste in their mouths and clogs their nostrils.

Every day, the fastidious soldiers brush off the dust and sweep it into piles only to have it come back the next day.

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(Potter reports for The Wichita Eagle.)

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

PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ-DISPATCHES-POTTER

Iraq

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