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Army Soldiers Anxious About Continued Stay

March 30, 1991

CHECKPOINT BRAVO, Iraq (AP) _ At this dusty checkpoint, U.S. Army doctors deliver babies and sew up wounded from the Iraq civil war. U.S. soldiers, who blasted through the Republican Guard, now hunt bandits preying on the tide of refugees.

The army’s flexibility is impressive, but to many American soldiers it means something else.

It might be time to go home.

″I’m happy that I’m helping people,″ said Capt. Luis Rodriguez Betancourt, a 30-year-old doctor from Puerto Rico. ″But is this what we came here to do?″

During the war, Betancourt saw two American wounded. At Bravo he’s delivered two babies and treated hundreds of Iraqi wounded in that nation’s civil war. He’s also making sandals for babies out of moleskin and shoestrings.

In Kuwait City, U.S. Army lawyers, who were supposed to investigate and prosecute war crimes, now spend a lot of their time advising American soldiers on legal matters.

Soldiers from Civil Affairs units, meanwhile, train Kuwaiti police. In several cases, they’ve been caught in shootouts between Kuwaiti security forces and mysterious gunmen.

Some officers say their men were worried about attacks from angry Palestinians, who have been beaten by Kuwaitis for allegedly collaborating with Iraq’s occupying army.

″We don’t want to get involved in this political stuff but if we continue to stay here it’ll get more difficult every day,″ said Lt. Jeff Robshaw, 24, a Civil Affairs officer from Green Bay, Wis. ″I’m just hoping they sign the peace treaty and we can all go home safe.″

Throughout Kuwait and occupied Iraq, the first question on the lips of every soldier, pilot or tank gunner is: ″What’s up with the treaty?″

Few answers are available. The United Nations Security Council is working on a permanent cease-fire resolution. It could be at least one week away. After that, there’s no telling how long American soldiers will be in the gulf.

Just outside Safwan, Iraq, at Checkpoint Charley, Warrant Officer Roscoe Shepherd, 37, of Toledo, Ill., tosses a softball to a fellow soldier.

″We’re really done with our job out here,″ he said. ″Any longer and it’s like we’re just sitting ducks. They said win the war and go home. Well, we won it so let’s get going.″

He recalled the deaths of more than 250 U.S. Marines in a suicide truck- bomb attack on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in October 1983.

″It’d be a damn shame if that happened now,″ he said.

The point is perhaps best illustrated at Checkpoint Bravo, a dusty tank- infested pit-stop about 50 miles northwest of Kuwait.

More than a month ago, the men manning the checkpoint were blasting through the Republican Guard, driving 250 miles into Iraq at the head of the 1st Armored Division.

Capt. Charley Ard, a self-described hillbilly from Blue Ridge, Ga., commanded a company of men who destroyed 15 Iraqi armored personnel carriers and assorted trucks and vehicles.

Now, Ard, 28, and his men are handing out food and water to thousands of Iraqis running from Saddam Hussein’s bloody crackdown on the rebellion in southern Iraq.

So far, more than 35,000 Iraqi civilians and another 1,700 Iraqi POWs have passed through Ard’s checkpoint. Many of them are hungry, some are wounded, all are afraid.

″This is by far more emotionally demanding than the war was,″ Ard said. ″We did most of our killing at 3,000 meters, or almost two miles. But this, this brings the whole conflict up close and personal.″

Soldiers say they are worried about what will happen to the refugees when they withdraw from Iraq.

″These people could be abandoned,″ said battalion commander Lt. Col. Stephen Smith, 40, of Fayetteville, N.C. ″There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of interest in the international community.″

Some of his military police have arrested five bandits but he doesn’t know whether prosecution will be possible.

A gunner on one of Ard’s tanks, Cpl. Dean Brown, 25, from Kansas City, Mo., spent the 100-hour ground war against Iraq destroying four tanks and three armored personnel carriers from his seat in an M1-A1 Abrams tank.

On Saturday, he persuaded an Iraqi woman to drink water out of a water tanker by first taking a sip himself.

″You sit here and watch cars coming through with coffins on top,″ Brown said. ″It really brings home the reality of it all.″

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