Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bikes, Boats and Scuba: A Taste of Home for U.S. Troops in Kuwait.(Foreign Desk). USA, LLC

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Only a few American soldiers actually landed here before President Clinton called off air strikes against Iraq last weekend. Most of them are going home soon.

But the camp itself, the main funnel for Army troops into Kuwait, stands as evidence that military planners expect their return, or at least a long American presence, in the Persian Gulf.

There is a movie theater here, with free popcorn, that runs all day. There are 2,000 bicycles, six personal self-propelled watercraft, two boats, sailing lessons and 85 sets of scuba gear, as well as a growing number of private or semiprivate rooms with television sets, videocassette recorders and microwave ovens. Soldiers can eat free hot dogs and hamburgers at Uncle Frosty's Desert Oasis.

Today workers busily spackled the joints of new walls and set up ventilation ducts in a new section of a gymnasium that is already huge, with dozens of treadmills, Stairmasters and Nautilus machines, a basketball court and an aerobics room, not to mention the big television set that blares MTV.

''I believe they are going to put in a sauna,'' a spokeswoman for the Army, Capt. Tamara Parker, said as a group of visiting British soldiers gawked at the distinctly American scale of the gym.

What all the amenities boil down to is making a larger number of troops comfortable for a longer period of time. The complex, Camp Doha, was founded in the gulf war in 1991. It has slowly expanded into a permanent and extremely well stocked post for 800 or 900 soldiers.

''It is certainly an ongoing United States commitment to assure our neighbors here in the Middle East of our long-term commitment to this region,'' the head officer, Lieut. Col. Sean M. Finnegan, said today. ''We are also here as part of deterrence.''

Apart from the frills the camp, on the gulf outside of Kuwait City, has a major military objective. The Army keeps on standby enough tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, artillery, medical helicopters and other gear to outfit 5,200 soldiers.

The theory is that troops can arrive here, receive their equipment and be armed and in the field in less than a day. That is exactly what happened in February, in the last American confrontation with Iraq.

In more peaceful times up to 1,500 soldiers rotate through Doha to a desert firing range 30 miles from the Iraqi border for three months of training, partly with the Kuwaiti military. In addition to keeping a force in the region the training also keeps the equipment ready for battle.

If the accommodations seems deluxe, military officials say, it is to make up for the higher potential for danger. The soldiers seem blase about their surroundings. Specialist Kasson Carter, 23, of Charleston, S.C., who was watching friends play video games in Uncle Frosty's, said Doha reminded him of another posting where the United States has had to keep its soldiers for a long time.

''It's O.K., but I'm used it,'' he said. ''I've been in Korea, where they have as much as here.''

Source Citation
Fisher, Ian. "Bikes, Boats and Scuba: A Taste of Home for U.S. Troops in Kuwait." New York Times 19 Nov. 1998. Academic OneFile. Web. 29 Oct. 2009. .

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