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Profile: War Preparations At U.S. Military Camp In Kuwait

Morning Edition: February 27, 2003

Kuwait Build-Up

BOB EDWARDS, host:

In 1941, Nazi Commander Erwin Rommel said, `The battle is decided by the quartermasters before the shooting begins.' The Desert Fox, as Rommel was called, knew well the challenges of outfitting and resupplying a large army in tough environments, like the desert. While high-tech improvements have made the work easier, it's still an enormous task to keep troops supplied with all the tools of war. As tens of thousands of US forces assemble in Kuwait for a possible invasion of Iraq, Camp Arifjan is now the military's main supply center. NPR's Eric Westervelt has this report.

Unidentified Man #1: Pull up trucks.

SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY

ERIC WESTERVELT reporting:

These days, Captain Shawn O'Brien's(ph) world is filled with dust, a snakelike line of trucks and large shipping containers. They're stacked high in this desert supply yard near a southern Kuwait port. The metal boxes, which are being pushed out fast to the troops amassing near the Iraqi border, might contain ordnance, food, tents or spare parts.

Captain SHAWN O'BRIEN: Absolutely everything you could imagine is in those trailers to include, I mean, even matting to build air fields for helicopters to land on.

SOUNDBITE OF HONKING HORN

WESTERVELT: While soldiers of all ranks repeat the Pentagon mantra that the president has not made any decision on whether to use force in Iraq, this is clearly an Army readying for war. The logistics war, anyway, has already begun. The mechanics in Sergeant Chris Byer's shop can measure that readiness in sleep deprivation.

Sergeant CHRIS BYER: Tanks, ambulances, anything that are, like, really important to the mission. Those are the ones that they'll work around the clock to get fixed before anything else.

SOUNDBITE OF HAMMERING

Unidentified Man #2: Pelletier(ph).

WESTERVELT: Not far from a north-facing Patriot missile battery, carpenters from an Engineering Battalion quickly build a wooden guard tower. Fernando Rodriguez's(ph) strong forearms and biceps could easily handle a heavy machine gun if he were asked to, but the Army specialist with the 183rd Maintenance Company has mastered a different war tool: the sewing machine. Armed with two spools of heavy thread, Rodriguez is a master with heavy canvas.

Specialist FERNANDO RODRIGUEZ (183rd Maintenance Company): Tents, vehicle covers. Anything and everything that can be done with my sewing machine and some threat, I pretty much do. As I always say to everybody, I'm the best at what I do. Trust me, I can handle a large workload. No problem.

WESTERVELT: Many of the tens of thousands of troops passing through Arifjan sleep on cots bunched tightly in crowded warehouses. But to ease that pain, the troops are also offered a big slice of Americana, including four mobile fast-food outlets, a coffee shop and three-chord rock on the radio.

SOUNDBITE OF RADIO BROADCAST

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Pour some sugar on me, ooh, in the name of love.

WESTERVELT: But these creature comforts do little to ease the old Army scourge of homesickness. Army chaplain, Captain Scott Kennedy(ph), talks with these rear-guard soldiers all the time. While most take fierce pride in their vital, if unsung work, he says some do grumble about not being closer to the fight.

Captain SCOTT KENNEDY (US Army Chaplain): There's some people, they were nicknaming this Operation Enduring Boredom or something like that, and I don't see that personally. I mean, I had, you know, four hours' sleep the other night, you know, after working all night. Some people, I think, do sometimes feel, `I want to be where the action is, you know, more.' I think it's probably younger, more immature soldiers who don't know what it is.

SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER

WESTERVELT: A Chinook supply helicopter lifts off, kicking up a cloud of sand. If there is a war in Iraq, supply lines will have to move forward quickly, and 'copters like this will play a key role. For political and military reasons, any Iraq war will put a premium on quickness, an imperative the desert doesn't always accommodate.

Major General DAVE KRATZER (377th Theater Support Command): The desert is the tactician's dream and the logistician's nightmare.

WESTERVELT: Major General Dave Kratzer is in charge of the 377th Theater Support Command, which runs Arifjan. A veteran of the logistical and real battles setting up bases in Afghanistan, Major General Kratzer knows the unique obstacles of the desert would only get harder if the US should attack Iraq.

Maj. Gen. KRATZER: The lack of water. The weather can be quirky and windy and dusty. And if there were a need for us to go north into Iraq, then that is a major planning challenge. How do you keep fuel? How do you keep water? How do you keep all of these troops resupplied as they would have to move forward?

WESTERVELT: It's a challenge made a little easier by the fact that the US has been readying for any contingencies in the region since the 1991 Gulf War. Long before Iraq entered President Bush's `axis of evil,' the Pentagon had prepositioned supplies in warehouses in Kuwait, Qatar and on ships at sea. Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.

EDWARDS: The time is 19 minutes past the hour.

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