As the deadline nears for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq, about 250,000 U.S. and British troops in Kuwait are making final preparations to go to war with Iraq. The pilots and crew members of the U.S. Army's 12th Aviation Brigade are in northern Kuwait and the mood there is serious, but calm.
The more than 1,000 troops of the 12th Aviation Brigade are a mix of combat veterans and new soldiers.
One of the Chinook helicopter units attached to 12th Aviation, Bravo 159 Hercules, was recently in Afghanistan for seven months, where it supported U.S. ground forces hunting for al-Qaida fighters.
Some in the unit, like Staff Sergeant Sandy Spencer also served in Desert Storm in 1991, the first U.S.-led Gulf War that liberated Kuwait from Iraqi occupation. He says he is not yet feeling the nervous fluttering in his stomach that he had 12 years ago, when he was a young soldier going to war for the first time. "I do not think I will have that until we start [the war]. I have been there before," he said. "We know what we have to do."
Even those facing combat for the first time, like Private First Class Scottie McWilliams, say the prospect of going to war is something everyone accepts and is well-prepared for. "We have had a lot of training for it," said Private McWilliams. "I am sure when the time comes, I will have my share of nervousness, but I try to maintain focus."
For many U.S. Army units, maintaining good mental focus is an important part of preparing for war against Iraq. Another crucial part involves being physically ready to move thousands of troops, vehicles, and equipment safely and efficiently through potential combat zones.
Bravo 159's First Sergeant, Lester Day, explains what will happen soon after U.S. ground forces begin their move into Iraq from Kuwait. "This unit is going to do something it has never done before, and a lot of other units in the Army have never done before," he said. "They are going to conduct a convoy up north that is going to last anywhere between 72 to 76 hours, non-stop, night and day."
First Sergeant Day says the 12th Aviation Brigade convoy will involve 400 vehicles carrying everything the brigade needs to set up a base in Iraq that cannot be delivered by its fleet of helicopters. The convoy will stretch more than four kilometers. The brigade's destination is not known, but each vehicle in the convoy has been issued enough food and water to sustain four men for a minimum of five days.
Preparing for such a trip has triggered a flurry of activity.
Soldiers are packing up personal belongings, doing last minute errands and cleaning their weapons. Many are writing letters to families and loved ones.
Mechanics in the field are fine-tuning trucks, Humvee jeeps, fuel tankers, and other vehicles around the clock. Near the brigade headquarters compound, heavy forklifts move hundreds of containers into military moving vans.
For drivers in the convoy there is no time to rest, even when the sun sets. They are taken to a training area where they are being given daily lessons in the use of night-vision goggles. No one in the convoy will be allowed to turn on their headlights at night and there is concern that insufficient training could lead to accidents that will jeopardize the entire convoy.
In the barracks where one of the helicopter units is housed, a television is tuned 24 hours a day to Fox News, a U.S.-based all-news channel. People glance at the screen from time to time, but few sit down to watch.
One veteran soldier says part of preparing to go to war, is not letting anything interfere with his concentration and his instincts. He says right now, his instincts are telling him that the time has nearly arrived when he will have to put all his training to the test, in combat.