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The war of words keeps troops alert


EASTERN SAUDI ARABIA -- Sanitation and security measures are constant and labor-intensive in this camp as American soldiers prepare for an Iraqi attack.

The soldiers here had heard that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein promised to send Americans home in bodybags as Christmas presents.

At his guard post at a bunker on the perimeter of the 400th Military Police Battalion Camp, Spec. V. Stewart wished the Christmas Eve carolers would keep their voices and their flashlights down.

"I've seen a lot of strange things I can't explain," Stewart said, thinking about two men he saw get out of a car on the road ahead of him, possibly for a look around. Then they drove off.

"I don't take anything for granted," Stewart said. "Not when you have an adversary who wants to take you home in bodybags for Christmas."

Still, Christmas Eve was not without its special touches.

A paunchy soldier who needed no padding inside his Santa Claus suit posed for pictures behind a 50-caliber machine gun mounted atop a khaki-colored troop truck.

Many soldiers began the day with religious services, such as the Catholic mass in which a visiting priest said that the soldiers' families at home were "the real heroes" of Operation Desert Shield.

For Christmas dinner, soldiers got turkey and shrimp cocktail appetizers. Some did not take part in the holiday dinner, so they may not have been reminded of what they were missing at home.

For Spec. John Wright, a steelworker from Salisbury, Md., this was a special Christmas because he believed he was spending it where the three Magi must have crossed on the way to Bethlehem.

"Makes you feel closer to life itself," he said.

For Spec. Terri Huber of Parkville, Md., there would be no Christmas. "I'm trying to block it out," she said. "Latrines still need to be cleaned. It's another day."

And in many ways, it may have been a typical day.

Sustaining about 700 soldiers in a camp in Eastern Saudi Arabia is a massive operation, an accumulation of small details that most Americans at home never have to think about.

Sgt. Ray Staniewski of Catonsville, who is part of his company's sanitation team, builds seepage pits for the water that collects beneath the shower stalls and the 400-gallon tanks on wheels, known as "water buffaloes," where soldiers wash.

If water is allowed to collect under the spigot, it becomes a breeding ground for flies.

The showers are wooden stalls with shower heads suspended from water boxes on top. Soldiers generally take showers quickly and usually late at night, when desert temperatures plummet. The water is cold.

During the day, Staniewski must think about the heat that adversely affects purification of the chlorine in the water buffaloes. He checks the chlorine levels three times a day.

And about every fourth day, it's his turn to scrub the latrine seats. At first, Staniewski and others on sanitation teams scrubbed with a local disinfectant that seemed to attract more flies. Improvising, they discovered that scrubbing with Chlorox kills the flies.

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