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U.S. Ground Forces in Kuwait Battle the Elements

September 16, 1996

UDAIRI RANGE, Kuwait (AP) _ Hunkered down Monday in his makeshift shelter of ponchos and camouflage netting, U.S. Army Spc. Matthew Wooten was more concerned with his flimsy desert refuge than with the diplomatic maneuverings of the United States and Iraq.

Defense Secretary William Perry appealed to Kuwait’s emir this week to let troops from Fort Hood, Texas, reinforce Wooten and the other members of the 1st Cavalry Division stationed near the Iraqi border. Kuwait consented on Monday.

But with temperatures reaching 130 degrees and the wind blasting desert sand into every inch of exposed skin and equipment, the concerns of the soldiers spread across this artillery range were more immediate.

Wooten’s encampment is in pure desert. Lawrence of Arabia country. Camels and a few birds are the only visible forms of animal life. The sands blow so hard the horizon is a brown blur. Sometimes you can see for only a few yards.

Wooten, of Jacksonville, N.C., and his two bunkmates have been trying to perfect their patchwork tent in their losing battle with the sand.

``The sand still gets in, only now it takes a little longer,″ Wooten said.

Outside the shelter is Wooten’s M1-A1 Abrams tank, one of a dozen that surround the encampment, their barrels pointing over a sandy berm topped with coils of barbed wire. Outside the circle is wasteland. A few miles away is a junkyard of Iraqi tanks and artillery, captured during the Gulf War, that the 1st Cavalry now uses for target practice.

The rest of the 1,200 American soldiers in Kuwait are spread out in similar encampments. They begin drilling at 4:30 a.m., occasionally firing live artillery rounds, and seek shelter during the midday heat.

They probably will never put their training to work.

The White House has threatened more attacks against Iraq, but it is unlikely that ground forces would participate. The Pentagon seems more inclined to order into action F-117A stealth attack planes _ which arrived in Kuwait on Friday _ B-52 bombers and carrier-based fighter planes.

Allied jets can be seen streaking through the cloudless sky as they head toward Iraq to patrol the ``no-fly″ zones. But the now-ebbing Iraq-U.S. conflict seems distant from Wooten’s encampment.

Rumors blow through this U.S. Army desert camp as freely as the wind.

One had it that the soldiers near the Iraqi border would be staying there beyond December. Another had it they were going to war.

One rumor seemed unbelievable, though, and Wooten had to check with a visiting reporter.

``We heard Tupac, the rapper, was dead. Is it true?″

Told it was, Wooten shook his head, and the helmet and goggles strapped to it.

``Damn,″ he said. ``We hear a lot of rumors and never know what to believe. He is? Damn.″

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