- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2003

RISHON LE ZION, Israel, April 20 (UPI) — Hundreds of soldiers and sailors of a U.S. Cobra Joint Task Force, which helped protect Israel from the potential firing of Iraqi ballistic missiles, cased the force's colors Sunday in a brief ceremony in sand dunes south of Tel Aviv.

Some 700 soldiers were in the joint task force that included three U.S. Patriot missile batteries deployed on the seashore in northern Tel Aviv, just south of Jaffa port, and in a military testing ground near Rishon le Zion, south of Tel Aviv. The USS Porter with Aegis advanced communications and early warning systems was off the Israeli coast.

U.S. Air Force members were in Israel's Nevatim air force base in the northern Negev desert and a communications unit was stationed on a hill west of Jerusalem communicating with headquarters in Europe and units in Iraq.

Sunday morning, rows of trucks carrying Patriot missiles, communications and other electronic equipment of the 69th Air Defense Brigade lined up to leave for Nevatim. Their dark brown colors stood out against the lighter tan of Israel's military vehicles. The U.S. forces are awaiting a ship to carry their equipment back to Europe, early next month. The brigade is normally stationed in Wurzberg, Germany.

The first missile units began moving to Israel last December. The two armies' air defense units held a joint exercise that culminated with firing 14 Patriot missiles, and as Israel stepped up its alertness on the eve of the war in Iraq, the U.S. and Israeli batteries took up positions. A joint air defense command post operated from an old Israeli air force base north east of Tel Aviv.

Israel is the only country in the world that has a two-tier air defense system. It comprises locally developed Arrow missiles for intercepting ballistic missiles virtually on the edge of space, and U.S.-built Patriots for lower level intercepts.

This enabled the U.S. officers to test such operations, noted U.S. Major Gen. Stanley Green, the 5th Corps Air Defense commander, who commanded JTF Cobra.

Officers and soldiers talked of the different culture they encountered in Israel.

Pointing to several Israeli soldiers in a tent where he was interviewed, the 69th Brigade's commander, Col. Rogger Mathews, noted Israeli military men who get together behave like members of a family.

Some 50 soldiers were invited to Israeli homes for the Passover eve dinners and the brigade's deputy commander, Jim Gomes, said he then realized the origins of some Easter traditions.

Other soldiers talked of the warm welcome they encountered from adults and children alike.

Israel "reminds me a lot of America. There is so much American influence," Chief Warrant Officer Greg Riggins of Kingwood, Texas, said.

Some soldiers missed warm showers and cheeseburgers, and Pfc. Lynn Sinderson of Los Osos, Calif., had her mother mail cereal.

In recent days they had to make do with substitutes for bread because of special Jewish dietary laws on Passover.

Soldiers swam in the Dead Sea, visited the Jordan River, Massada where Jewish zealots fought the Romans, and Tel Aviv but did not go to Jerusalem. Col. Mathews said he felt it would be unwise to bring U.S. soldiers on tours there.



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