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US Troops Ready to Carry Out Presidential Orders Against Iraq - 2003-02-26

French and German opposition to a U.S.-led military showdown with Iraq has become a serious topic of discussion among U.S. troops in Kuwait. Some of the soldiers recently spoke about their views at Camp Virginia, one of about a dozen U.S. military base camps recently established in northern Kuwait.

Several young men of Charlie Battery show their pride in being soldiers during a break from a day of exhausting maintenance work.

The men, part of the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division's artillery battalion, have to make sure its half dozen 155-millimeter artillery guns are in perfect working order. They have no doubt that these massive guns, used mainly to clear the way for ground troop assaults, will have to be deployed quickly if President Bush decides to take military action against Iraq.

The diplomatic reception rooms of Washington, Paris, and Berlin are far away. But what is going on there is having an impact among the soldiers in the Kuwaiti desert.

The soldiers say they are ready to go, but Charlie Battery's commander, Captain Matthew Payne, says some of his men are voicing concerns about going to war without the support of two key European allies, France and Germany. "Some of them are wondering in their minds, 'Okay, what are we doing? Are we going to go do this alone? Is this the right thing to do'", asked Captain Payne.

U.S. soldiers, like First Lieutenant Kevin Kroger, say they are particularly perplexed by France's vehement opposition to U.S. preparations for military action against Saddam Hussein, if he does not give up his weapons of mass destruction immediately. "It is a little disheartening," he said. "We liberated them in World War I and World War II. But then, you have to look at all options. Maybe they are looking at things we have not had a chance [to look at]."

While France has not ruled out the use of force, it insists U.N. weapons inspectors searching for evidence of Iraqi non-compliance be given more time. As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, it has hinted that it may use its veto power to block U.S. moves toward war.

Captain Mike Dolge says he does not understand why traditional allies like France are opposing the use of military force, which he believes would benefit France as well as the United States. "I do not think it is just our fight," said Captain Dolge. "I think it is a world-wide fight, if there is a fight, because obviously there is some sort of worldwide threat out there and it does not just affect us."

Across Camp Virginia, in the army communications area, Christophe Drouet is personally feeling the confusion and disappointment some American troops are expressing about France's anti-war stance.

At the start of the Gulf War in 1991, Mr. Drouet was a French citizen, who was drafted into the French Air Force to help the United States liberate Kuwait from occupying Iraqi forces. After the war, he emigrated to the United States and joined the U.S. Army. He is now a U.S. citizen and army officer.

While he has not been discriminated against for being born in France, he acknowledges that the current political standoff between the two countries has put him in an awkward position among his peers. "It always starts off a little bit as a joke. 'Hey, why are not the French coming? Why don't you tell them?' It is really a shame that things have been exacerbated to this point," he said. "These countries do share a lot of values that in time will bring the people back together. But there will be some work necessary." U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Maika Seymour says she understands First Lieutenant Drouet's feelings of frustration.

She was a German citizen until she married a U.S. soldier several years ago. She is now in Kuwait as an American soldier, preparing to fight a war that Germany opposes.

Staff Sergeant Seymour says she has been trying to explain to some of her colleagues why she thinks Germany does not want a war. "They [the soldiers] are trying to see from my point of view; the way I was raised and my upbringing in Europe, why they would not join us right away without having all the proof they think they need," she said. "So, I try to bring up the war situations that we have been through before and they understand that point of view."

Neither First Lieutenant Drouet nor Staff Sergeant Seymour have reservations about participating in a war against Iraq. They say they are U.S. soldiers now and will abide by whatever decision President Bush makes.

But they fervently hope, as most U.S. troops here do, that decades-old transatlantic friendships do not become the first casualty of a war that has not begun.