For U.S. troops, airstrikes come as surprise, relief

At base in Kuwait, daily routine remains intact, but adrenaline is pumping

War In Iraq

March 20, 2003|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

CAMP PENNSYLVANIA, Kuwait - Word of the airstrikes on Iraq came as a surprise to some officers with the Army's 101st Airborne Division this morning.

Here at Camp Pennsylvania, 30 miles from Iraq, commanders got the news from a reporter as they awoke at 6:30 a.m: The U.S. military struck Baghdad with Tomahawk cruise missiles and precision bombs from F-117 fighter-bombers in the opening salvo of military action to oust Saddam Hussein.

But at Camp Pennsylvania, the humdrum rhythms of the camp made it seem like any other day. A line of soldiers out for a run resembled a centipede in the hazy distance. As always, water trucks rolled in to replenish the shower tanks.

"We have our own timetable," said Lt. Col. Edmund Palekas, commander of the division's 3rd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment. "It's naive to think that now that war has begun, we're moving out. It's a big country, a big theater."

Before convening his staff to discuss classified battle plans, Palekas switched on his short-wave radio and tuned it to BBC news so he and his aides could get the latest information.

As when President Bush delivered his 48-hour ultimatum, there was no cheering among soldiers here. But the atmosphere seemed more charged, and some troops said adrenaline was pumping.

"I am packing my rucksack for combat," said 1st Sgt. William Karpowecz, a 19-year veteran. "I have been waiting a long time to do this."

"Sweet!" said 22-year-old Pfc. Ryan Aiello, after hearing the news while waiting in line to call home.

Others had mixed emotions.

"I feel a little nervous inside, kind of feel my heart racing, a little excitement," said Pfc. Jeff McKinney, who fires mortars. "I'm ready to get it over with."

And one soldier, Pfc. Edward Fulner, 21, said he would not mind if the war ended so quickly that he never got close to firing his machine gun.

"I could sit here at the back and do nothing," he said.

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