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Desert Training: Afternoon Rests, No Guns, But High Spirits

November 12, 1990

IN EASTERN SAUDI ARABIA (AP) _ Boot camp for the first Kuwaiti volunteers would astound an American drill sergeant: cheating at push-ups, weekends off and no weapons in sight.

″This isn’t going to make us great soldiers, but at least we can go fight,″ said Ahmad al-Dhafeeri, 21, who dropped out of Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va., to volunteer for the Kuwaiti Army whose remnants are now in Saudi Arabia.

About 600 Kuwaitis in the one-month training program say they want to be in the first wave to liberate their homeland, even if it means death.

″We are not soldiers, believe me. We are not fighters. We are not politicians. I think we are lovers, looking and trying to find a place to live,″ al-Dhafeeri said.

While some of the 230,000 American GIs deployed in the Persian Gulf region are still sleeping under the desert stars, most Kuwaiti tents have rugs on the floor and ice chests.

About a dozen Bangladeshi cooks were preparing roast chicken for the Kuwaitis’ Sunday lunch while the Americans were partaking of cold, pre- packaged rations.

Reveille is at 6 a.m., long after most U.S. Marines are out doing morning exercises. Every day, the Kuwaitis have a post-lunch siesta until 3:30 p.m.

More than 100 cars were in the parking lot, many luxurious models with cellular phones, for weekend and possible evening escapes.

Still, it’s tough getting into the military routine for some.

One volunteer, who gave his last name as al-Odwani, said all the volunteers are losing weight.

With daytime temperatures down to the mid-90s, the volunteers are training more, he said. ″But psychologically we are tired.″

Col. Sedy Faleh al-Shammey, the Kuwaiti commander, said the main aim of the intensive training, which was compressed from six months, was to teach the volunteers to use machine guns.

Only 10 day from graduation, however, the men had still not seen a gun.

’We want it now,″ said al-Odwani, 30, who had been studying for a master’s degree in economics at California State University in Fresno. He was in Kuwait visiting his family when the Iraqis invaded on Aug. 2.

″We are all anxious ... to get some machine guns and get inside (Kuwait),″ he said.

Al-Shammey assured reporters that no volunteer would graduate without knowing how to fire a machine gun and invited them back to watch target practice.

The volunteers’ training started with physical fitness and company-sized units were double-timing through camp out of step chanting ″God 3/8 Our Country 3/8 The Emir 3/8″

Maj. Qubil al-Rawshidi, 42, a burly Kuwaiti Army veteran, led one company through hand-to-hand combat, showing them how to karate-chop the necks and pluck out the eyes of an enemy. There was more enthusiasm than finesse among the volunteers.

When it came to push-ups, however, many volunteers grunted and only managed to get their shoulders off the ground. At one point, the major held his leg under a volunteer’s body so he couldn’t cheat.

Al-Shammey said 7,000 Kuwaitis had volunteered for military service in Saudi Arabia and at Kuwaiti embassies abroad.

The Kuwaiti Army set up a training center here which opened with the current class of 600. Another center in the United Arab Emirates graduated its first class on Saturday, he said.

The U.A.E. armed forces headquarters announced in Abu Dhabi on Sunday that it will continue training more Kuwaitis.

No decision has been made yet on whether the volunteers here will be held as a reserve or go on active duty with the 5,000 Kuwaiti troops who escaped and are now massed near the Saudi-Kuwaiti border, Al-Shammey said.

The volunteers, aged 21 to 35, want to join their countrymen on the front line.

″The Iraqis have great missiles and they are well trained,″ Al-Dhafeeri said. ″But we are going to win because we are fighting for a goal and they are fighting like animals. We are fighting to free our mothers and fathers, our families and our country.″

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