- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2003

CAMP GRIZZLY, Kuwait, March 14 (UPI) — The Bush administration's apparent decision to not push a Friday vote in the United Nations on punitive action against Iraq comes at a critical time for U.S. military personnel poised to invade the country.

Many of the 200,000 soldiers, airmen, Marines and sailors have been awaiting an order to begin hostilities for weeks, others for months.

Training, more training, and more training still may be beneficial, but the long wait on the seas and deserts is a threat not only to morale, but also to the sharp edge troops need for battle, if it ever comes.

The president's decision, and lack of a clear target date for Saddam's compliance with disarmament mandates, heaps uncertainty upon uncertainty.

Three times in the past month the men of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, have moved out of their rear area tents to a dispersal area close to the Iraqi border to prepare to forcibly disarm Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction. Three times they have stood down and returned to base. Three times nervous tension had been racheted up by imminent combat — and possibly death — and three times kept from release in what one could argue amounts to a form of psychological and emotional ping-pong.

"As long as we keep the spirits up of the young people we'll do all right," Marine Corps Maj. Gen. James Mattis said recently. "And we'll do that. We're pretty irrepressible."

In northern Kuwait, more than 20,000 Marines are under the command of Mattis, who acknowledges the impatience of younger Marines. On Thursday he traveled from his headquarters to Camp Grizzly to personally address a line company, one of whose members had written him complaining about slow mail service.

The general's message to the troops: Be patient; conditions are less than ideal, but compared to 30 years ago, it's much better. Be Tough. Be resilient. Be Marines.

The general's presence at Grizzly, within 30 miles of the Iraqi border, underscores the determination of the Marines to head off any potential morale problems as troops live a "Groundhog Day" existence of eating, sleeping and training in a dustbowl, with literally no distractions other than those they make themselves with card games.

Even a visit by a mobile PX — a Seven/Eleven of sorts for troops with snack foods, clothing, cigarettes, sodas and other items — fails to elevate spirits. The wait to get into the PX tent on its one or two visits to Grizzly each month can take two hours or more. When Marines finally enter, the number of food and drink items they can purchase is restricted — if any are left after the first hour.

Camps Grizzly's lacks the amenities of Camp Doha, the long-established Army base in Kuwait. No ice cream, no hamburger joint, just empty shelves.

"What's our greatest enemy right now?" 1st Sgt. Bill Leuthe asked a group of squad leaders Friday from the battalion's Bravo Company. "Boredom," he answered himself. "Boredom and complacency."

Leuthe spoke to the men on a sand dune not far from the company tent, where, earlier, Company Commander Jason Smith held what amounted to a pep rally. While Smith spoke of the Marine tradition of overcoming hardship and the reason they were in Kuwait - to liberate a people and to prevent the horror of Sept. 11, 2001 occurring again — Leuthe and Gunnery Sgt. Ron Jenks personally taxed the squad leaders with specific tasks — from keeping the men busy, to giving them responsibility, to remaining strict in the normal procedures of the operational area.

"It's like your father used to tell you," Jenks said. "Boy, go out and do something constructive. Don't just sit around doing nothing."

A slackening of vigilance, which includes safety measures, may have contributed to a female Marine in another company breaking her back in an accident; or it may ultimately have been behind a Marine in Kuwait losing both legs after being run over by an armored assault vehicle.

"Watch out for your men," he said. "Get them to watch out for each other. If anyone goofs off, get on 'em and have their buddies get on 'em."

The men of Bravo appear to be holding fast to discipline. But already a few minor incidents — incidents civilians would pass off without thinking twice — have caused concern: Ignoring the buddy system of never going anywhere alone and rough-housing in the tents.

Don't dwell on "negative feelings about living like a beggar in the dirt," Smith had said earlier. "It's not in your best interests or anyone else's."

One man who keeps his spirits up is Lance Cpl. Richard Gunter, from Woodland, Calif. Gunter volunteered for the Marines nearly a year ago, at an age often thought of as being too old for the service.

He is now 28. After Sept. 11, 2001, he kept thinking about the nearly 3,000 people who died in the terrorist attacks.

"I wanted to do something for my country and sat and thought about it for a couple of months," he said. "I didn't want to be 50 and feel guilty that I hadn't done something to help, so I went down to the recruiting office."

Gunter views the boredom and endless waiting as simply part of the job.

"It's our job," he said. "If we can't go now, our job is to wait. I'm in a tight unit, so that also helps a lot."

If war doesn't materialize and he ships off to Okinawa — the units original destination — after 90 days at home? "I wouldn't be disappointed necessarily," he said. "I want what's in the best interests of the country and the world."

Smith, from Louisiana, spent nearly an hour Friday in a huge tent speaking to his men. America, he said, would be fighting for a principal and to rid Iraq of a dictator.

Marines in the tent come from many different backgrounds and were in the service for many reasons, he added, but they all vowed to protect the Constitution, they all took the oath as Marines and together "can accomplish anything" — even ridding the world of Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction.

The men of Bravo Company will be the tip of the spear in an attack on Iraq. Each morning gear is packed and ready to go. Vehicles are loaded with fuel and ammunition.

If word does come to enter in battle, they'll have less than a handful of hours to proceed to dispersal areas and get into attack formations before rolling across the border.




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