- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

CAMP GRIZZLY, Kuwait, March 12 (UPI) — More than 20,000 U.S. Marines, spirits high and prepped for battle, assembled Wednesday on a non-descript patch of desert in northern Kuwait, awaiting orders for what a senior officer called "their Guadalcanal" and the test of military and personal willpower.

Target Iraq is within 30 miles. Mesopotamia and the ultimate prize, Baghdad, lay beyond.

The order to move to dispersal areas and lines of departure, however, are still missing. That hangs on President George W. Bush and his expressed determination to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein — with or without sanction from the U.N. Security Council.

The Security Council vote on a resolution granting such authority is perhaps only a few days away. France and Russia have threatened vetoes. That leaves it on the president's desk, and he has repeatedly said he will not allow U.S. national security to be governed by the will or whim of others.

"I have no execute order. I'll tell you that up front," Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis told reporters embedded with the 1st Marine Division at Camp Matilda, the mother base of the division. "The president has not issued an order.

"But we can move very, very quickly. A lot of my guys grew up in Southern California and they're fast on the freeway."

The division is the oldest in the corps and one of the most fabled; none of its units more so than the 5th Regimental Combat Team at Camp Grizzly, a sub-section of Matilda.

Belleau Wood and the Argonne in World War I earned the 1st Marines French as well as American honors. It also picked up an admiring sobriquet from their German opponents – "Devil Dogs," for the ferociousness of their fighting.

Guadalcanal and Okinawa followed in World War II — with between battle basing in Australia, hence the "Waltzing Matilda" division song – while Inchon, Chosun and Seoul figured in Korea.

During Vietnam, the First was famous for smashing North Vietnamese regular forces and Viet Cong guerrillas in the bitter battle for the old Vietnamese capital of Hue.

Mattis said command staff were using limbo time to prepare for possible battle against Iraqi forces, and was "unconcerned" about the delay in an attack order. But "the young guys are impatient … (and) as long as we keep the spirits of the young people up, we'll be all right.

"We'll do that. We're pretty irrepressible."

Activity Wednesday with the Marines at Camp Grizzly was probably much like that for most of the other 150,000-plus U.S. troops assembled in the region for Desert Storm II: repeated weapons and tactics training, repeated seminars on rules of engagement, namely, when to shoot.

Mattis said this conflict will differ from the campaign to oust Iraq from Kuwait in 1991 in that civilians will eventually be in the battle area the deeper troops penetrate Iraq. That means civilians not only in population centers or on roads, but also next to facilities where the Iraqi regime has placed them — and those places reportedly include military targets as well as power plants and hospitals.

"We're telling our Marines, to engage their brain before they engage their weapons," Mattis said. The Marines will take their objectives, he added, but would hold to the "highest moral standards" possible in warfare.

"Our fight isn't against the civilians. Our fight is against Saddam Hussein and his small clique," he said.

As the sun climbed high Wednesday over Camp Grizzly, Lt. Dave Denial of Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion of the 5th Marines, sat in a corner of a broad tent with a handful of sergeants. The purpose was what-if training on when to fire in various situations, including when taking prisoners but being attacked by others, when encountering civilians on the battlefield. Lessons learned and impressed again and again will then be given again and again to rank and file.

As many as 600 journalists are embedded with U.S. forces for possible war against Iraq. The formal embedding process, in which the journalists live and travel with specific units for the duration of the conflict, hasn't been seen since World War II and Korea. In Vietnam, journalists were accredited with the military and then moved freely between units and battlefields, more or less choosing where, when and for how long they would accompany troops.

Reporters in Desert Storm II are under few restrictions and those are geared toward maintaining operational security.

"If unsung, the noblest deed will die," Mattis said, quoting an ancient Greek saying.

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