U.S. forces in gulf aware, unbothered by protests WAR IN THE GULF


DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia -- They have watched their countrymen and women stage intense protests against the war they were sent here to fight.

They've heard the voices raised against the bloody ground war they very likely will soon begin waging.

But many of the U.S. personnel of Operation Desert Storm, who watch the protests going on back home and abroad on CNN International, say the demonstrations back home have not begun to destroy their will to fight or erode their morale.

Unlike the troops of a generation ago who fought what became an immensely unpopular war in Vietnam and returned home to a largely unappreciative public, these military men and women said they respect the right of protesters to demonstrate.

"Well, that's part of our country," said Air Force Lt. Michael Coubrough, 23, of the San Francisco Bay area.

"That's part of an open society. The people who don't believe in something are expressing that," said Lieutenant Coubrough, who is attached to the Headquarters Central Command in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. "I'm just glad they're non-violent."

Both Lieutenant Coubrough and Sgt. Robbie Hoyle, 31, of Gastonia, N.C., said they believe today's better-educated, all-volunteer military is more likely to appreciate the protesters' free-speech rights.

"I'm not offended by it, and it doesn't bother me," said Sergeant Hoyle, who joined the Army 11 years ago and came to Saudi Arabia Aug. 23.

"I understand what they're saying. They've got to consider that we joined the Army on a volunteer basis, which means that we go where the president says."

The protests, like the war, have only just begun. And the soldiers' attitude toward the protests could change as the war progresses. But interviews with military men and women on Sunday and from pool reports from personnel near the front indicate that the protests have not begun to affect them.

"I don't particularly agree with them, but I'm glad they're able to express their opinions," said Lieutenant Coubrough.

Lieutenant Coubrough, who has been in the Air Force for a year and a half and in Saudi Arabia for five months, said troops rarely discuss the anti-war protests among themselves.

Some U.S. service personnel said morale has been soaring since the allied bombing attack on Iraq and Kuwait began. Before the war started, they said, the mostly idle troops were affected more by the demonstrations.

"Now, everybody's just too damned busy trying to wipe out that madman Saddam Hussein," said a 24-year-old serviceman from South Carolina.

Closer to the front, opinions on the protests varied. According to pool reporters traveling with the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, the protests were affecting soldiers differently.

"We don't want to get spit on when we get back home," said Spec. 4 Daryl Smallwood, 21, of Gainesville, Ga. "That means we'd have to kill them."

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