Missing soldiers rescued in desert

U.S. servicemen stranded in southern Iraq for 7 days with limited food, water

War In Iraq


WITH THE 75TH EXPLOITATION TASK FORCE, in northern Kuwait - Two young American soldiers have been rescued by Marines after being stranded in the southern Iraqi desert for seven days.

Spc. Jeffrey Klein, 20, and Sgt. Matthew Koppi, 22, mechanics with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, were in good spirits, if thirsty, hungry and tired, after their rescue Friday, when Marines in Chinook helicopters spotted them dug into trenches in the flat sand.

No one was quite sure yesterday whether or why their unit had failed to notice their absence or that of an officer's Humvee.

Asked about the incident, officers at the headquarters of the coalition's land forces said they were trying to find out what had happened.

In interviews, the soldiers said they were stranded after being sent out to tow an officer's Humvee that had broken down as the division was traveling north toward Baghdad. When their own truck's clutch failed, one of their unit's staff sergeants ordered them to stay put, saying he would send for them as the convoy moved on.

As days passed without rescue, the soldiers dug trenches to defend their position, alternated night watch, and drew "SOS" in the sand. They said they gave much of their food to hungry Iraqi civilians who approached their truck.

Klein, who is from Independence, Ky., said suspicious white vehicles with passengers in Arab dress slowed down to get a better look, but they did not stop. Some supporters of Saddam Hussein have been cruising the sandy roads of southern Iraq in such vehicles looking for vulnerable Americans and trying to ensure loyalty to the government among the populace of the largely Shiite Muslim towns of southern Iraq.

"Some of those rogue guys may have passed us," Klein said. "But when they saw that we were armed and really dug in, they may have been discouraged."

The soldiers were found by an unidentified Marine unit and were taken to Camp Udairi in northern Kuwait.

After a medical checkup, the soldiers were given new uniforms, a hot meal and a full night of sleep. Meanwhile, officers sent word to their unit about their rescue and sought information about why they had been stranded.

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