| The passport of peace activist James Derieg from New Mexico burns near the US airbase at RAF Fairford. (AFP)
Assembly Area Hammer (Kuwait), March 17 (Reuters): Crewmen on US tanks which rolled back into their camp in the northern Kuwaiti desert today know the next time they leave the base, it may be for their first experience of combat.
Military activity is increasing near Kuwait’s border with Iraq, as US troops and armour move into place ready for a war expected to start within days. The skies buzz with heavy-lift and attack helicopters and tank-busting aircraft.
Soldiers have been told to prepare for imminent war.
“Steel yourselves for combat,” one US Marine company commander, Captain Brian Collins, told his men, arrayed in full battle gear in soaring desert temperatures.
At Assembly Area Hammer, one of the many makeshift desert camps, tanks returned in the early morning light after a day and a night practising manoeuvres and formations.
They are all members of the 2nd Battalion, 70th Armoured Regiment. The most decorated tank battalion in the US army, it has combat veterans throughout its ranks. But it also has many young men who have only ever fired from their tanks in training. Some of them voice no fears or simply try not to dwell on what lies ahead. But others acknowledge some apprehension.
“Having a little bit of fear is healthy. It’s going to keep you alert,” said Private Tynan Perry, 22, a shaven-headed driver from Dallas, Georgia, sitting on the front of his desert-coloured M1A1 Abrams tank in the sunshine.
“I just cope with fear by not thinking about it,” said Sergeant Jonathan Rae of New York City, the tank’s gunner.
The tank’s commander, First Lieutenant Derek Drummond, says he has thought about the loss of life he could cause. But in combat, he says, each side will be looking out for its own.
“You wanna get them before they get you. It’s kind of cruel to say that, but that’s the reality of it,” said Drummond, a 29-year-old from Chicago.
Quite apart from the danger they may face, both Drummond and Perry have good reasons to wish they were elsewhere right now.
Perry was due to leave the army soon to begin studying veterinary medicine but now has to stay on until further notice.
“I don’t like it but you know that (your term can be extended) when you sign up,” he said.
Drummond’s father died a few days ago but he opted to remain with his unit rather than travel home to be with his family. “I’m needed more here. This is my family right now,” he said.
The tanker’s life can be an arduous one. The heat can be intense inside the cramped, heavily armoured interior. The whine of the turbine engine is constant background noise.
“Tanking is hard work —heavy lifting and maintenance and stuff like that,” said Rae, aged 26. The tankers, however, take comfort from the fact that their vehicle is generally regarded as superior in terms of armour, range and equipment to anything Iraq possesses.