1st AD troops pull roll-out duty in Kuwait
KUWAIT CITY — While most 1st Armored Division troops are awaiting orders in desert camps near the Iraqi border, some Old Ironsides soldiers are working by the sea.
The view of the Persian Gulf may be nicer than the sun-scorched desert, but the handful of troops unloading the division’s vehicles from cargo ships have little time to admire the scenery.
“We unload hundreds a day,” said Spc. Vito Felicciardi, 26, of Queens, N.Y. “You get one vehicle out, park it, then go back for another.”
The drivers’ 12-hour shift begins at 7 a.m. After the sun sets, they catch supper and a shower, before they hit the sack, the soldiers said.
They have little time for the few recreational activities the Army offers at the Seaport of Debarkation — known to troops as the S-POD. Their camp is within a secured Kuwaiti port, about 25 miles south of Kuwait City.
Most of the soldiers, like Spc. Kareem Devonish, 22, of Boston, Mass., had never been on a ship before.
But last week, they clambered inside the belly of the 950-foot USNS Mendonca, emerging from its aft at the wheels of large trucks. Now, Devonish has driven hundreds of Bradley fighting vehicles and other armored personnel carriers out of the ship’s hull onto the dock.
“This is definitely a new experience. We have to keep safety in mind,” Devonish said. “Our job is to move out as fast and safely as possible.”
During a break, some soldiers from the division’s 1st Brigade sat portside under a small patch of shade. As advance party troops who arrived in Kuwait several weeks ago, they had one question in mind. Would they receive the coveted combat patch for their right shoulders?
“There’s rumors about the patch. We might get it, we might not,” said Spc. Rick Swain, 25, of Lapeer, Mich., a tank mechanic assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 37th Armor Regiment.
“It was going around, that if we were in country before April 30, we’d get it.”
Meanwhile, more division troops continue to arrive daily at an air base adjacent to Kuwait International Airport. They are trucked north to camps near the Iraq border.
The division headquarters recently moved from Wiesbaden, Germany, to Camp Pennsylvania, a desert base 30 miles north of Kuwait City. Division soldiers also occupy tent cities at camps named Virginia, New Jersey and Udairi.
“The major effort now is the reception, staging and integration,” said Capt. David Gercken, a division spokesman.
“The troops in the camps are doing a lot of training. In addition to that, we’re planning for future operations.”
Training includes trips to the rifle range, lessons on desert survival, and refreshers on peacekeeping basics like convoy escort and checkpoint operations.
“We also offer some cultural training on Iraq,” Gercken said.
Troops from the Baumholder-based 2nd Brigade and Hanau-based 4th Brigade arrived last week. The division’s 3rd Brigade, normally based in Fort Riley, Kan., also has arrived in Kuwait.
Soldiers from the division’s Friedberg, Germany-based 1st Brigade are the last troops to leave Europe. They should be arriving this week, Gercken said.