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Dispatches from the Gulf War

January 23, 1991

Undated (AP) _ NORTHEASTERN SAUDI ARABIA (AP) - Marine units crept up to the Saudi-Kuwait border and unleashed a barrage of 155mm howitzer fire on Iraqi units that have been disturbing U.S. troops with harassment fire since the start of the war. The two Marine artillery batteries opened fire on the Iraqis just north of the Saudi border town of Khafji early Monday, in what is believed to be the first significant response by allied ground forces to Iraqi volleys.

A pool reporter at the scene said the Fox Battery of the 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, fired 71 rounds of special artillery shells that explode above ground level, releasing 88 grenade ″bomblets″ each. The Marine fire lasted just six minutes.

No official damage assessment was available. But Capt. Phillip Thompson, the battalion’s fire direction officer, said he was confident the shells were on target.

″I think everybody took a great deal of pride in knowing we were the first to fire back at the Iraqis, especially after receiving incoming fire,″ Thompson said.

Gunnery Sgt. J.D. Williams, 34, of Brooklyn, N.Y. said the unit needed to get close to the border to inflict heavy damage.

″We knew we were going into a hotspot,″ Williams said. ″It was like sitting in a frying pan up that close. But we sure rocked ’em, they weren’t expecting us up that close.″

Cpl. Stephen Stemler, 23, of Clarksville, Ind., said it was about time the Marines fired back. ″After receiving incoming for two days, we were ready to return some fire,″ he said.

Lt. Anthony Sellitto, 26, of Honolulu, said that after the mission was over, the Marines sat back and enjoyed the fireworks. ″It lit up the sky like you would’t believe,″ he said.

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WITH THE MARINES, Saudi Arabia (AP) - Cpl. Christopher Flaherty, crouched in his foxhole watching dawn break after all-night sentry duty, said he feels like a spectator watching the gulf war unfold.

All through the night, the 25-year-old native of Holbrook, Mass., said he listened to low-flying fighter bombers hitting targets somewhere across the Kuwaiti border to the north.

″It seems real and unreal all jumbled together,″ said the Marine infantryman. ″We hear the bangs, we see all those jets but the battle isn’t ours yet. You think of the chemicals and the missiles and you feel in danger, but you also feel like a spectator.″

A few Marine units have come under intermittent artillery fire, and some reconnaissance patrols have engaged in brief small-arms skirmishes with the Iraqis.

But for grunts like Flaherty, the war has settled into a routine of waiting for the half-dreaded, half yearned-for order into combat.

″It scrapes on your nerves, living in your fighting holes and waiting for the real fight to start,″ said Cpl. Brian James, 21, of Gulf Breeze, Fla.

″We’ve got past the point where we sit around talking about how tough and leatherneck-mean we are. We have got to the point where we know the day is coming when we’ll have to prove it.″

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IN EASTERN SAUDI ARABIA (AP) - Allied troops are getting jumpy after repeated chemical attack alerts. One British unit donned protective gear in response to an explosion that turned out to be caused by an allied exercise.

Nevertheless, the British troops reported that the alerts were less unnerving in the desert than in Saudi towns.

Brig. Chris Hammerbeck, commander of the 4th Armored Brigade ″Desert Rats,″ visited one Saudi town during a night when Patriot missiles were fired to fend off attacks from Iraqi Scud missiles.

″I was in and out of my bed constantly″ in the air raids, said Hammerbeck. ″It’s good to be back in the sand.″

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