KUWAIT (AP) _ Gen. Anthony Zinni has a way of sneaking up on people.

The four-star Marine Corps general, visiting U.S. troops under his command this week in the Persian Gulf region, likes to drop in without fanfare or introduction. At air bases, Marine motor pools, Army observation posts and Navy supply docks, Zinni walks down the line, catching service members in the middle of their tasks.

``How are you, my friend?'' Zinni said repeatedly as he greeted Marines cleaning their equipment Monday following a desert war game. ``Take care of each other. We're proud of you. ... We know you're out here.''

To enlistees who seldom see anyone above a lieutenant colonel, the sudden appearance of a four-star general can be a jarring experience, particularly if the timing is bad.

One Marine in the back of an Assault Amphibian Vehicle, a tracked armored personnel carrier that also floats, was in the midst of changing his pants when Zinni and his entourage of captains, colonels and generals marched into view. The flustered Marine saluted, shook Zinni's hands and then did about the only thing he could do: he carried on.

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Zinni was visiting Marines who are part of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, just back from 24 days in the Kuwaiti desert conducting live-fire war games.

The mock night raids and armored assaults were as realistic as the Marines could make them. There were, however, some obstacles that didn't fit into the war scenario _ such as camel and sheep herders.

Kuwait has had one of its rainiest falls on record and grasses sprouting in the normally barren desert have attracted the flocks.

``Every morning we'd have to do range-sweeps to get shepherds out of there,'' said Capt. Robert ``Ogre'' McCarthy III. ``We'd bring our civil affairs people and the translators out and say, `Hey, could you please move so nobody gets hurt?'''

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Troop morale has been a key underlying theme of Zinni's visit. The demands of 24-hour air patrols over southern Iraq have taken their toll on all the military services, but particularly the Air Force.

Thousands of Air Force pilots, technicians and support personnel are involved in the deny-flight effort. Unlike sailors and Marines, who expect to be at sea for six months, the Air force is largely a U.S.-based service. A high pace of deployments can take a toll on morale. That, combined with a booming commercial airline economy, has meant an alarming number of pilots and other skilled service members are opting out of the service.

As a result, much of what Zinni has seen during his four-day visit to the region has had less to do with guns, bombs and planes than with swimming pools, tennis courts and big-screen TVs. Some of the tent-city living areas would look familiar to fans of the TV series ``M A S H.'' Regulation olive-drab tents stand decorated with Christmas lights and are often augmented with handmade additions such as sun porches and indoor-outdoor lounges.

These and other amenities are helping to make life easier in these austere encampments for service members on what is considered a hardship deployment.

Zinni's U.S. Central Command, the military headquarters that oversees the region, has responded by shortening deployment times in some specialties. But that means that instead of going to the Gulf for one long deployment, service members are going for two short ones.

``Once was enough,'' said one officer. ``Twice was more than enough.''