TOM ASHBROOK: The first correspondent we're going to hear from is ScottCalvert, a correspondent with The Baltimore Sun. He is embedded with the 101st Airborne Division and traveled with those troops fromFort Campbell, Ky., to Kuwait last week. He joins us from what is beingcalled Camp Pennsylvania in the Kuwaiti desert. When I spoke with him hewas in the midst of one of many sandstorms. I asked him to tell me wherehe was and why.
SCOTT CALVERT: I'm actually sitting inside a Scud bunker in CampPennsylvania because a sandstorm came out of nowhere and this was the onlyplace I could get to, one of the only dry spots I could find to get out ofthe sand.
TA: Scott, what is a Scud bunker?
SC: It's a concrete structure that can hold approximately 40 guys if theyare packing them in here pretty tightly. There are sandbags on the top andthe sides. Basically if they got the alert that a Scud had been launchedthey would come out here and kind of cram inside and see where the thinglanded.
TA: You're with the 101st. Can you tell us where you are or how long you'vebeen with the troops there?
SC: I am about 30 miles from the Iraqi border. This is a one-mile squarecamp -- there are several of these in the Kuwaiti desert. As far as the eyecan see there is sand, sand and more sand. The 3rd Infantry Division ofthe Army was here prior to our arrival, so it was a fairly well-established camp. It's not exactly luxury living, but we've got showersand there is hot food for breakfast and hot food for dinner. We sleep intents, and I'm actually pretty lucky, I've got a cot to sleep on.
TA: What is the level, to your eye, of war readiness in the camp thatyou're sitting in at this moment?
SC: Well, I think they're getting pretty ready. During the day the guysare out training. They're working on urban-warfare drills, they're doingnight-vision goggle drills in the evening. They're doing all sorts ofphysical training. At the same time, there is a lot of lying around andsort of kicking back and letting the soldiers chill out a bit. They don'twant to work them so hard that by the time a war should start, they're justtoo tuckered out.
TA: You mentioned a sandstorm there before. You've written about sand asbeing the ever-present element in a soldier's life. How bothersome is itnow, and how bothersome might it be in battle?
SC: You know, it's funny. We had a really bad sandstorm Thursday night, andmost of Friday that made it really unpleasant to be outside of your tentfor any length of time. At its worst, you can't see more than 50 feet, andit's like a blizzard, only you're being pelted with sand. It gets intoeverything. It gets into your tent, it gets into your mouth, food you'retrying to eat. It's really a menace. The one upside for the Army here isthat they say that it would affect the Iraqis just the same, and in fact itmakes it much more difficult to launch any sort of chemical attack, becausewhen the winds whip up like this it just disperses it and makes it hard tocontrol. That is sort of the silver lining.
TA: Do the soldiers see that silver lining? How much on their minds is thepossibility of chemical and biological attack?
SC: Not a whole lot. I mean, they don't talk about it, but you don't heara lot of war talk. It is hard to know if they are trying to keepthemselves distracted and not dwell on the possibility or just what. Thereis no question that this is a very stressful environment and people'snerves are getting frayed. They are living on top of each other 24/7, theyare away from their families and friends, and they are in this unforgivingclimate. Then add to that that they might be going to war soon.
TA: You describe a scene where a young private inadvertently took someoneelse's anthrax pills and it just about turned into a melee.
SC: It was a simple mistake, more or less. This private saw some anthraxpills on the floor and put them into his gas mask case. Then when they didwhat they call a "sensitive-items check," another private couldn't find hisanthrax pills, and that is when it was discovered that this other privatehad taken the pills that weren't his. He and his sergeant really got intoit, and it actually turned into a fight. A second sergeant who saw thisjust came sprinting down the tent and tackled the guys.
TA: Did you have a chance to talk with U.S. troops about -- or do they talkabout -- the why of the war? Do they believe that they will soon be at war ordo they think that it might still be averted?
SC: No, I think they think that they will indeed be at war pretty soon. Ifthey are having doubts about the why, or the reason for doing this, theyare not talking about that too openly. That's a pretty heavy thing, ineffect, to contradict their commander-in-chief. It's pretty taboo, moretaboo, I think, than having that illicit porn that they are not supposed tohave, or trying to brew up some home-brew in their tents. You know, formost of these guys, this is the first time around. Some folks were here inthe Gulf War in 1991, but you know, 12 years is a long time in the militaryand there are a lot of guys who are just out of basic training who arehere. They look like young kids. They are 18 or 19. They just don'tknow, just what to expect. Even the veterans will admit to feeling alittle bit queasy. After all, if there is a war, then who knows what willhappen?
You know there is one thing that I want to add that is kind ofinteresting. If you do talk with soldiers, one of the things that you heara lot is, 'Saddam Hussein, he was involved in bringing down the twin towers,and so therefore, this is payback.' I thought that was interesting to hearso many guys state as fact that Saddam Hussein was behind September 11th,when nobody has, really, documented that that link does exist. But thebottom line is these guys are ready to go. You know, there is sometrepidation, some nervousness, but after living here for a couple of weeksand dealing with the sandstorms, such as the one that is blowing all aroundmy head now, any place is better than this, almost.