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Infantry Hates Wait, But Hopes Air War Will Take Toll

February 13, 1991


IN NORTHERN SAUDI ARABIA (AP) _ Spc. Steve Imus peeks across the border to where the Iraqis are dug in, but the men in those foxholes across the sand are not his only enemy.

Twenty-seven days after the air war began, the infantry grunts in the most forward fighting holes - commonly called line doggies - are fighting the boredom of waiting for G-Day, the start of the ground war.

″The wait’s been killing everybody, but the Army wants to minimize casualties,″ said Imus, 23, of Orange Park, Fla., who mans a forward ambush point for the 82nd Airborne.

Saddam Hussein’s troops just across the border are taking a daily pounding from U.S.-led warplanes.

″Waiting a little longer is worth lives. ... I’d rather wait a little and let the Air Force soften them up,″ Imus said.

Still, waiting is tough to swallow for these troops who landed in Saudi Arabia more than six months ago, expecting to get into a fight right away.

Their hearts say go so they’ll be home sooner; their heads say be patient so the Iraqi war machine will be less formidable when they do jump off.

The calling card of the 2nd Brigade of the 82nd’s 1st Battalion, reads: ″No mission too tough. You call, we fall. Service anywhere in the world in 18 hours. Our work is permanent.″

For those infantrymen who are impatient, 1st Lt. Buck Dellinger, 24, of Cherryville, N.C., has this thought: Look at all the faces around you and ask if it’s better to get home sooner if half the men don’t make it.

″It’s more important we take everybody back,″ said Dellinger, the executive officer of a rifle company of paratroopers.

The Pentagon calls the war Operation Desert Storm, but some ground troops call it Operation Desert Wait. Their only contact with the war is the short- wave radio and its static-ridden broadcasts from the Voice of America and the British Broadcasting Corp.

The sameness of the desolate terrain, the cold nights, the sandstorms and the prepackaged meals make the waiting even harder for some.

Their primitive life includes cold shaves and washing clothes with hand brushes in plastic tubs.

″Anything it takes I’ll do. All I want to do is go home,″ said Spec. 4 Chris Jusiewicz, 20, of Beverly, Mass.

U.S. officers concede that complacency could dull the troops’ fighting edge if they stay entrenched for weeks on end, but they insist morale and capabilities remain high.

″The edge is honed sharper now than at anytime we’ve been in country,″ said Maj. Robert Pinson, 39, of Columbia, S.C., executive officer for the brigade.

″What they’re doing now is totally realistic training,″ he said.

There have been sporadic skirmishes and exchanges of mortars and artillery along the front, and patrols are rotated so everybody stays fresh and alert.

Soldiers also continue to train for attacks and practice coordinating movements with tanks and trucks.

They also try to have a little fun.

One squad of military police lined off a baseball diamond in the dust with a sandbag as home plate. The ball is a rock in a sock wrapped with tape. The bat is an ax handle. Rainouts are unheard of, but there are sandstorm delays.

Other troops play football with an MRE - Meals, Ready to Eat - pack.

Meanwhile, days fade into days.

″I couldn’t tell you the day or the date. But I’m not getting shot at, so that’s good,″ said Spec. 4 Brannon Lamar of Columbia, S.C.

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