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Gulf War Veterans Help Train US Troops in Kuwait - 2003-01-03

In 1991 the United States sent military forces to the Persian Gulf to help oust Iraqi troops from Kuwait. Now, 12 years later, the United States is preparing for another fight against Iraq. Gulf War veterans are providing insight and guidance to a new generation of troops who may soon face Saddam Hussein's forces.

Dan Hubbard was a young Marine when he fought in the U.S.-led war to drive the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. The war was brief, lasting only several days. But the intensity of the fighting during those few days is still fresh in his mind.

He says he will never forget the fear he felt when he confronted an Iraqi soldier for the first time. "It is a shock that hits you. But it's gone pretty fast because your instincts kick in with fight or flight," he recalls.

Today, Dan Hubbard is a 34-year-old captain in the U.S. Army. He commands Bravo Tank Company, 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, which is currently deployed in Kuwait. His prematurely gray hair makes him stand out among the 80 men in the company, who are mostly in their early 20s and are facing for the first time the possibility that they may die in battle.

Captain Hubbard says he believes it is his job not only to lead his men, but to also pass down his experiences from 12 years ago to better prepare the soldiers for warfare.

"The training we have received here is the closest that they would actually see to real combat and [I am] trying to use my experiences to help replicate as close as we can, the confidence that we can do it," Captain Hubbard said.

Gulf War veterans in the U.S. military are hardly rare. But because the ground war was fought primarily by the 3rd Infantry Division, the division has a high proportion of veterans.

Some of those veterans were prominent during recent live-fire exercises in Kuwait, the largest ever held in the Gulf. For days, scores of tanks and armored vehicles clattered across the desert, fighting mock battles.

After one of the training missions, a veteran of both the Vietnam War and the Gulf War gave the troops a detailed performance evaluation. He ended the lecture by talking about what they may soon face across the border in Iraq, just a few dozen kilometers away.

"Gentleman, it's not like a Rambo movie. It's not like John Wayne. And if you've never been, you're probably be a little scared and that's quite okay. But if you do all that we've taught you to do, you will do it. You know you will do it," he said.

The veterans, as well as the Pentagon, are especially concerned about the military's ability to deal with wounded troops. To test the Army's medical response capabilities, mock battlefields included vehicles, which were designated as having been hit by enemy fire. Casualties had to be treated and evacuated under fire.

Twenty-four-year old Army medic Sergeant Jason Schwartz says the exercises have given him a good idea about the horror he may encounter on the battlefield. But he admits he worries about the prospect of having to treat casualties in a real war.

SCHWARTZ: I don't know if anyone can actually prepare for it. There is no way to imagine it, if you haven't been there before, how it's really going to be.
RYU: Is it sobering for you?
SCHWARTZ: Absolutely, absolutely. I have spent a little over five years training as a combat medic and I can't say I'm looking forward to actually using my training.

Captain Hubbard says he knows too well the anxiety his men are feeling right now.

"The one thing you can't replicate in all their training is the element of fear. If we do go into combat, they will face them," he said. "They will be scared and I will be, too, because even though you've done it before, there is still that uncertainty in the back of your mind."

U.S. troops here see mid-February as the deadline for the start of any war. They say an attack any later than that would be difficult to carry out because soaring desert temperatures would reduce the effectiveness of the men and the equipment.

Meanwhile, Captain Hubbard is telling his troops to get in the habit of conserving water, fuel and food. He knows first-hand how rough and unforgiving it will be for all combatants, if and when a real war gets underway.