- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

CAMP GRIZZLY, Kuwait, March 18 (UPI) — Thousands of Marines were moving out of this camp in northern Kuwait at midweek to conduct exercises in preparation for a possible invasion of Iraq.

Details of the exercises, at a location that cannot be disclosed for reasons of operational security, would include infantry, armored and aviation units of the 5th Regimental Combat Team of the 1st Marine Division.

For two days at Camp Grizzly, within 30 miles of the Iraq border, Marines have busied themselves loading their armored amphibious assault vehicles, trucks and HUMVEES with supplies they would cross the Iraqi frontier if such an order were to be given by President George W. Bush.

Various aircraft, including helicopter gunships, have conducted independent exercises overhead.

It was unclear Monday what other units of the 1st Marine Division would be involved in the midweek training to fine tune command and control operations, or if British military units attached to the 5th RCT would also be involved.

The 1st Marine Division, numbering about 20,000 men, arrived in Kuwait in early February, diverted from an Okinawa deployment by the showdown with Iraq.

The division is part of the large U.S. troop deployment to the region, said to number as many as 250,000 people, five aircraft carrier battle groups and more than 800 combat aircraft.

The 5th RCT makes up about one-third of the force of the division, with units mainly from San Diego.

News of the exercise followed the first free day Marines of the RCT's 1st Battalion have had since landing in Kuwait on Feb. 6.

But a day off did not translate into doing nothing. Under a blazing sun and a constant cloud of dust, the more than 1,000 Marines of the battalion had field competitions to the sound of music blared from loudspeakers atop a HUMVEE of a psychological operations unit.

"Sweet Home Alabama, I'm coming home to you," ran one refrain.

"Going off the rails on this crazy train," said another.

The competitions — from pushing HUMVEES to physical exercises — were a morale boost for the Marines, who are living in the most austere of conditions.

The winner of the push-up contest performed 140 repetitions in 2 minutes as fellow Marines shouted "aargh, aargh," and "hoorah" in encouragement.

Pfc. Thomas Groff of New York won honors for his company by creating the tastiest and most imaginative meal using the ingredients of available MREs, the field rations issued to troops. His concoction was chicken spiced with Tabasco sauce and paired with noodles; a biscuit smeared with peanut butter and topped with Skittles candy; teriyaki beef mixed with rice and crackers, and a mixture of coffee, chocolate drink, sugar and water for a beverage.

Other competitions, which added to unit bonding and were just plain fun, included fireman carry relays, pull-up contests and the old favorite, tug-of-war.

"It's fun. It's something to do. It takes minds off just sitting around here in the dust and the heat," said Lance Cpl. Gordon Sutton of Virginia. "You don't really have to do anything, just enjoy yourself."

It turned out a red-letter day for Bravo Company. Not only did it win the overall contest — and could therefore chose its place in meal lines daily — it received a bag full of mail, the first sizable delivery in weeks.

Military authorities said Monday the training exercise would last several days, and troops would then return to Grizzly to await the president's decision on whether to forcibly disarm Iraq and topple the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

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