WITH THE U.S. ARMY VII CORPS IN IRAQ -- From the air over the scrub-covered Iraqi desert, the scene yesterday was one of both majesty and utter menace: more than 100,000 U.S. fighting men and their machines stretching from the border of Saudi Arabia north into the dusty horizon, deep into the core of enemy territory.
Officers described this huge convoy as the single largest U.S. troop movement since World War II.
Everywhere, desert sands that had been marked until Sunday only with the hoofprints of camels and the footprints of their Bedouin masters had become a frantic thoroughfare for the day-old northward push of troops, weapons and equipment of the Army's VII Corps.
The men and their heavy armor, which included thousands of tanks, stretched as far north and south as the eye could see beneath darkly overcast skies.
During a helicopter trip with corps officials yesterday deep inside Iraq, it was possible to make out individual U.S. soldiers as they peered into the distance.
"When you look down, almost every soldier would give you a thumbs-up or wave a small flag," said Sgt. Maj. Martin Shupe, 44, of Palm Springs, Calif., describing the U.S. convoy in a helicopter yesterday morning on a mission to photograph the advance.
The VII Corps, which forms the leading edge of the U.S.-led ground assault against Iraq, first crossed the mine-studded border from Saudi Arabia early Sunday morning.
By yesterday afternoon, the corps' chief scouts, the men of the Army's 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, were reported to have reached as far as 80 miles north and east into Iraq. As the most XTC powerful U.S. military unit deployed in the war against Iraq, the VII Corps, which is based in Germany, has been assigned what is arguably the most important mission of the land campaign: destroying the Republican Guard.
At the front of the trail snaking into Iraq yesterday were heavily armored scouting vehicles of the 2nd Armored Cavalry, an elite, largely self-contained unit that had been at the head of Patton's 3rd Army as it battled across Europe during World War II.
Behind the 2nd Armored Cavalry came the vast forces of the Army's 1st Armored Division, the 3rd Armored Division, the 1st Infantry Division and the British 1st Armored Division.
For the allied generals here, it was an emotional reunion of sorts for three of the divisions -- the 1st Armored, the 1st Infantry and the British 1st Armored -- which had last fought together in the North African campaign of World War II.
"When you see a moving armored division, it's awesome," said Lt. Col. James W. Gleisberg of VII Corps headquarters. "It takes 30 minutes to go by. There are moving vehicles as far as you can see, in both directions."