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CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait — Hundreds of 2nd Infantry Division soldiers have hit the ground in the Middle East, setting up base at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, with hundreds more in transit from South Korea.

Camp Buehring will be home to the division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team — Strikeforce — while it prepares to deploy to Iraq over the next few weeks, officials said.

While soldiers in past conflicts sailed for weeks or months on troopships to reach battles, 2nd ID personnel took less than 20 hours to move from their South Korea bases to Kuwait using jumbo jets. Unlike commercial flights, the troop transports didn’t require passengers to pass through metal detectors before boarding. With virtually everyone bringing a weapon, that would be an exercise in futility.

On one flight, soldiers even humped heavy Mk-19 grenade launchers and .50-caliber machine guns to their seats.

“Place all weapons on the floor at your feet with the butts facing the aisle,” was the instruction to passengers through the intercom.

One soldier carried what looked like a locked box of ammunition.

“It has drugs in it,” he said, apparently joking before he explained, “I’m a medic.”

Air crew members on the troop transport got into the spirit, dressing up in American flag outfits and decorating the aircraft with patriotic red, white and blue ribbons.

Soldiers appeared to be in good humor during the flight, but not many people relish long-haul air travel. As Sgt. Kevin Thomas of 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment put it: “I don’t like being stuck on anything for 20 hours. Tell them to hook us up with first class next time,” he said.

When the soldiers arrived in Kuwait at 4 a.m., the temperature was 90 degrees. The first 40 soldiers out the door formed a baggage detail and started lugging packs out of the hold of the aircraft into a waiting truck. The rest of the soldiers piled into air-conditioned buses and watched as a large, dull, orange ball of a sun rose at the end of the runway.

As they day wore on, soldiers quickly noticed the stark and steamy difference in the heat between South Korea and Kuwait — all 111 scorching degrees.

The landscape visible on the drive to Camp Buehring was flat and desolate. Once the buses turned off the main road, they were driving along a track plowed through sand dunes where herds of camels grazed on sparse vegetation.

Their destination, Camp Buehring, formerly Camp Udairi, was named for Lt. Col. Chad Buehring, killed in Baghdad last year. The camp itself blends into its surroundings — a collection of dirt berms, a few hard buildings, and hundreds of tan and white tents buffeted by the desert sandstorms.

Soon after they arrived, the soldiers assembled in a tent to watch a video presented by the commander of the Combined Forces Land Component Command, Lt. Gen. David McKiernan.

“As you left the airplane, you entered a combat zone,” he told the soldiers. The enemy is not just in Iraq, he told them.

“There are no sanctuaries in this theater of operations. There are threats that are ongoing right now, both in Kuwait and other regional countries as well as Iraq,” he said, before the soldiers watched a series of videos detailing the threats they will face in Iraq.

So, how do the 2nd ID soldiers rate their new home?

One of the recently arrived soldiers from the 506th, Pfc. Socrates Joseph, was not happy with one thing in particular.

“The sand gets in your eyes,” he complained. “You have your goggles, but even with them it finds its way to get in.”

Others, such as Pfc. Christopher Brown of 1st Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, prefer Camp Buehring to South Korea. Brown said it is a big improvement on where he came from — near the Korean Demilitarized Zone at Camp Greaves.

“I like it better here. The heat is not what I thought it was going to be. It is a lot more comfortable than the humidity at Camp Greaves,” he said.

“The food actually tastes real. They have movies, ping pong, and basketball … and the latrines smell a lot better,” he said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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