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U.S. Marines Prepare for War Games

March 27, 2000

SUVA REKA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Smeared in camouflage grease paint that turned their features into swirling blobs of green, it was hard to tell the difference between Lance Cpls. Nick Downey and Jeremy Diola.

Then there were the matching fatigues decorated with medusa-like trains of burlap they’ll use Monday as the sticky backing for branches, grass and leaves, creating moveable camouflage blankets that will help them blend into Kosovo’s rugged terrain.

Diola, of Santa Cruz, Calif. and Downey, of Edinboro, Pa., are among the 1,100 U.S. Marines taking part in NATO war games named Exercise Dynamic Response 2000. The three-week exercise will give the two 20-year-olds a chance to roll around in the dirt and test their professed ability to hit a target from 1,000 yards.

Marine Lt. Col. Tom Rollandini described the exercise as a sort of scouting mission to help the Marines learn the terrain, to be better prepared if called in to support the alliance.

Military officials deny that the exercise is a show of force to Milosevic’s forces at a sensitive time, even though it coincides with the anniversary of the start of NATO’s 78-day air campaign to stop Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s repression of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians.

The exercise also features troops from Argentina, Poland, the Netherlands and Romania.

To kick off the war games, military officials flew reporters to the NATO’s Camp Casablanca, 40 miles south of the capital, Pristina, to a sort of armored open house, featuring groups of smiling Marines who stood by their weapons and explained how they worked.

Many of the Marines seemed more than slightly bemused by all the attention, fending off the questions even as they tried to explain that the Kosovo war games were just a multinational practice session.

The ethnic Albanian population, however, didn’t let them forget that any member of the American military is more than welcome here.

Sgt. Jason Hopper, 22, of Memphis, Tenn. described crowds of people smiling and waving as troops were driving across the region on their way to Camp Casablanca _ the only point they are likely to have contact at all with local civilians.

Though the troops aren’t thinking about sending political messages, they are away of the sensitivity of the war games venue, he said.

``That really doesn’t even concern us,″ he said. ``We’re just here to do an exercise. But we understand where we are.″

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On the Web: Kosovo Peacekeepers, http://www.kforonline.com

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