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U.S. Undersecretary of the Army Les Brownlee meets with soldiers Thursday at a Patriot missile battery at Al Jaber Air Base, Kuwait.
U.S. Undersecretary of the Army Les Brownlee meets with soldiers Thursday at a Patriot missile battery at Al Jaber Air Base, Kuwait. (courtesy of Dan Reynolds / U.S. Army)

KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait — As the U.S. military continues to mass troops in the region, Undersecretary of the Army Les Brownlee visited soldiers in Kuwait this week to check on their progress.

Brownlee, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, visited the Army’s newest base at Arifjan, as well as port facilities, logistic hubs and marshalling areas on Thursday.

On Friday — the 12th anniversary of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait — Brownlee headed to the desert to check on troops living in austere camps near the Iraq border.

“I wanted to get my own personal assessment of how they’re doing — how we’re progressing toward getting ready to go, in case the president makes that decision,” Brownlee said during an interview with Stars and Stripes on Friday. “These people are very much prepared to do what they have to do.”

Brownlee also planned to visit troops at Coalition Forces Land Component Command headquarters at Camp Doha, south of Kuwait City.

Without much fanfare or media coverage, thousands of troops have arrived by sea and air into Kuwait in recent weeks. Marines from the 1st Expeditionary Force were off-loading personnel and equipment Friday at Kuwait City’s port facilities. Additional Army troops from the United States and Europe also are moving into Kuwait.

Brownlee, a retired Army colonel, has been in his post since November 2001. He is charged with helping recruit, organize, supply, equip, train and mobilize the Army and manage its $80 billion budget and more than 1.3 million active-duty, Reserve and civilian personnel.

Brownlee had lunch with troops on Thursday. “I talked to them a little bit about dedication and commitment ... but they’re very serious young people, and when you talk to them about those things, they get very quiet and steely-eyed and look right back at you. They know what they’re doing,” he said.

Brownlee was on the Senate Armed Services staff during the Persian Gulf War and made several trips to Kuwait and southern Iraq before and after Operation Desert Storm. So much has changed since that 1991 campaign, not the least of which is the country’s revival since being occupied by Iraqi forces that looted and damaged much of Kuwait City.

“It’s a different situation today totally,” Brownlee said. “Kuwait has rebounded and become a good ally, one that is very accommodating of our presence and willing to do whatever it takes to assist us.”

The Army has rotated a brigade through Kuwait since the war to protect Kuwait from Iraqi incursions. About 12,000 coalition troops were in Kuwait before the latest buildup. Fighters are deployed to a U.S. air base here to patrol the southern no-fly zone over Iraq. Another air base hosts cargo planes that ferry troops and supplies to the area.

The 3rd Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade has been in Kuwait since October. Two more brigades from the mechanized division recently were activated and are now arriving in Kuwait. Eventually, the division will have around 17,000 troops here.

“The Army is now moving itself here and it will be disposed to fight if that’s what the president decides is in the national interest,” Brownlee said.

Repeating the Bush administration’s mantra, Brownlee’s spokesman, Lt. Col. Jeremy Martin, said the troop buildup is not a guarantee of war, but rather a means to give the president “the flexibility” to act against Iraq if necessary.

After leaving Kuwait, Brownlee will continue his weeklong trip in the region to visit other forces in Southwest Asia, Martin said.

During two tours in Vietnam, Brownlee served as a rifle company commander and as an adviser to a Vietnamese parachute battalion. His decorations include the Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Bronze Star with two Oak Leaf Clusters and the Purple Heart.

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