ABOARD THE USS HARRY S. TRUMAN (AP) _ The task of disarming any weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq could fall to small groups of American sailors. One six-member team ready for such a contingency is standing by aboard this aircraft carrier in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Two, Detachment 26, is part of an elite force trained to defuse all types of weapons _ including nuclear, chemical and biological.

Invading U.S. troops could face chemical or biological agents sprayed from unmanned aerial vehicle, fired at them in missiles or contained inside land mines, Lt. Hung Cao, who commands the team, said Monday.

``Our mission,'' he said, ``is to make the way safe for the naval forces or even land forces such as the SEALS and Marine reconnaissance.''

Cao, 32, from Annandale, Va., says his team is ready to go within 20 minutes of receiving the order from the commander of the USS Truman battle group. The unit, based out of the Naval Amphibious Base in Little Creek, Va., is trained to operate on land, underwater and from helicopters or airplanes. It takes nearly two years to train an EOD technician.

The unit has its chemical suits and ordnance disposal gear packed and ready to go.

__AP Writer Miron Varouhakis


NORTHERN KUWAIT (AP) _ The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit is one of the first American military units to serve under British command since World War II.

``We have been assigned to the British and it is a nice tactical fit,'' said the unit's commander, Col. Thomas Waldhauser. ``It is also a way to demonstrate that this is not just a U.S. operation. It's the first time in a while that a MEU has worked for the Brits, and that's very interesting.''

The 2,200 men and women of 15th MEU are under the command of Brig. Jim Dutton, commander of the British Royal Marine 3rd Commando Brigade.

``It is a relatively rare event,'' said Dutton, 49, of Plymouth, England. ``The operation is going extremely well. We traditionally have very strong links to the U.S. Marine Corps.''

The 15th MEU is expecting to be part of the ``tip of the spear'' _ among the first units to attack on the ground _ in the looming war with Iraq.

The unit, based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., was part of another desert action just over 15 months ago when it seized an Afghan air base later called Camp Rhino.

``The 15th MEU has earned their pay,'' Waldhauser said.

Before heading into Afghanistan in November 2001, the 15th MEU was focused on avenging the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States.

``The focus has passed, and now it is more about Gulf War: Part II,'' said Staff Sgt. Jamie Nicholson, 24, of Porterville, Calif. ``Afghanistan was more of a reckoning for 9-11. This is more about finishing what was started more than 10 years ago.''

__AP Writer Doug Mellgren


ABOARD THE USS KITTY HAWK (AP) _ Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeremy Chitwood and 16 other weather specialists aboard this aircraft carrier in the northern Gulf are working closely with land-based counterparts to build an hour-by-hour picture of conditions throughout the region.

The job involves calculating temperatures, wind speed and direction around the ship as well as over Iraq, where a third of the more than 60 flights a day launched from the Kitty Hawk patrol the southern ``no-fly zone.'' The team also tracks ocean conditions for submarines from the United States and other nations.

That information is passed to top land and sea commanders, who consider weather conditions when making combat decisions.

As spring approaches, conditions for fighting in Iraq will worsen steadily, said Chitwood, 25, of Fort Payne, Ala. Temperatures, now in the mid-60s, should rise to about 80 by April and continue climbing.

The sand storm season, which hobbled U.S. troop activity in the Kuwaiti desert last week, is only just beginning. Forecasters are tracking a major storm expected to strike March 19.

Lt. Cmdr. Tim Gallaudet, head of the Kitty Hawk's weather division, said thick sand clouds can clog engines, make takeoffs and landings more difficult and interfere with radar and the guidance systems of precision bombs.

__AP Writer Rohan Sullivan


NORTHERN KUWAIT (AP) _ The Catholic and Protestant chaplains at the Marine Expeditionary Unit's desert base say attendance at their services is increasing as combat draws near.

Catholic chaplain Navy Lt. Ken Medre, 41, of Slippery Rock, Pa., set up a folding card table as an altar. The altar cloth, which looked like an Army green scarf, was held in place against the wind by four ammunition clips. Fifteen Marines sat on sandbags for a Saturday service, the wind whipping sand at their eyes.

``The closer we get, the more reflective they get,'' said Medre, who often counsels Marines. ``There is a lot of bravado, but under that bravado there is a lot more searching.''

Protestant chaplain Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael Greenwalt, 47, of Lynnwood, Wash., said some Marines ``struggle with the thought of having to take someone's life.'' He tells them: ``We have to identify the enemy not as an individual but as an entity.''

Lance Cpl. Robert Zurheide, 19, of Tucson, Ariz., said the services make him realize that ``somebody is out there, other than the man on your right and the man on you left, looking after you.''

__AP Writer Doug Mellgren