- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 25, 2002

CAMP COMMANDO, Kuwait Rolling past a camouflaged humvee mounted with a .50-caliber machine gun, Santa Claus paid a Christmas Eve visit to U.S. Marines in the Kuwaiti desert.
Some 12,000 American servicemen are in Kuwait, preparing for a war with Iraq.
For many, the holidays are the first they are spending away from their families.
"You are the nation's true patriots," Lt. Gen. James T. Conway boomed in a speech to several hundred troops at Camp Commando yesterday. "The Christmas of 2002 in Kuwait is one that will remain deeply in your minds."
Set up just weeks ago, Camp Commando is the headquarters for Marines in the Persian Gulf. Most of the troops hail from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, based in Camp Pendleton, Calif.
The troops stood at attention in a concrete-walled obstacle course called "the Coliseum" as Gen Conway, the commander of the expeditionary force, praised their sacrifice and patriotism.
Col. John T. Cunnings, the headquarters' commandant, then took the microphone and announced the imminent arrival of "someone with lots of hair something that is not normally associated with a Marine."
A pickup truck with sirens and flashing lights then arrived in the Coliseum and parked next to a humvee.
A Santa Claus appeared, waving to the soldiers and yelling "Ho, Ho, Ho" from the back.
A few gag gifts were distributed to senior sergeants, and a selection of special presents a television, camp stove, and the like were presented to four female Marines who had wrapped gifts for the other soldiers.
Lance Cpl. Peachetta Reid, 20, of Killeen, Texas, got a stereo.
"I wasn't expecting this," she said. "We don't have much electricity in our tents, but it is good for when we get home."
For her, this Christmas is her first away from home, and takes place at what is likely be the front line of any invasion into Iraq if President Bush gives the order.
Though Kuwait is a Muslim nation where Christmas is a foreign tradition, a local organization prepared 17,000 gift packages for U.S. soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen here.
Some were distributed to the other forces and included caps, playing cards and writing paper.
Many soldiers were looking forward to watching classic Christmas films.
In the back of an Army Bradley Fighting Vehicle, during the biggest live fire exercises since the 1991 Gulf war, soldiers debated last weekend which video they would watch first when they returned to camp "It's a Wonderful Life," "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," or a "Miracle on 34th Street" the original not the remake.
Others spent Christmas Eve calling home or sending e-mails to their families, something soldiers couldn't do during the Gulf war.
Now they have access to the Internet, and they treasure it because telephone use is often hampered by bad connections and time limits.
Pfc. Max Guerra, 25, of the Army's armored 3rd Infantry Division, said that he wouldn't try calling home until Dec. 26 because "the line will be too long."
But his brother, Gonzalo, 23, who serves in a different company, said that he would try to get through to their mother in Miami.
"She hates it that we are over here," he said. "I will just talk to her for a few minutes. Any longer than that and she will cry."


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