CAMP PENNSYLVANIA, Kuwait – April 9th
Around the clock, the 4th Infantry Division’s tanks, howitzers and other vehicles are being hauled into this camp near the Iraq border to make sure they are ready to roll within a week, a commander said Wednesday.
With a battalion of 18 Paladin howitzers, two armored battalions with 44 Abrams tanks each and two infantry battalions, the 1st Brigade will be the first part of the division to move north across the border.
“We’ll have 80 percent of the brigade here today, and we expect to be going into Iraq in a week,” said Col. Don Campbell, commander of the 1st Brigade.
This camp, about 25 miles from Iraq, was nearly empty a week ago. Now armored fighting vehicles, Humvees and trucks pack wind-swept motor pool areas around the inside perimeter. Bradley fighting vehicles test-fired their guns at a nearby range Wednesday, and tanks and howitzers are scheduled to calibrate guns there within the next few days.
Though resistance in Baghdad is crumbling, Campbell said he still expects his soldiers to see combat. “We’ll make a contribution,” he said.
If the Fort Hood, Texas-based division does see action, it will be the first time since Vietnam.
Its 14,000 pieces of equipment sat for more than a month off Turkey’s coast before Washington gave up on waiting for the Turkish government to allow American troops to cross the country and open a northern front against Iraq.
The ships were diverted to Kuwait to be off-loaded. Now the vehicles are being sent to Camp Pennsylvania and others nearby to be repacked for combat, loaded with ammunition and tested.
The 1st Brigade’s most important equipment is now fully off-loaded. All 5,000 of the soldiers in or attached to it are now in Kuwait.
The starter on Staff Sgt. Ollie Estell’s Paladin howitzer, which arrived Tuesday night, was acting quirky during a test. He decided to replace it here, where parts are readily available.
“They came in and we got straight to work,” said Estell, 30, of Birmingham, Ala., with the 4th Battalion, 42nd Field Artillery Regiment. “It felt good to finally get our pieces after them being two months on the ship.”
In addition to making sure equipment is prepped, Campbell plans to review rules of engagement to help prepare troops for combat. “Soldiers in the battlefield need to make split-second decisions, so it’s important they understand,” he said.