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CAMP VIRGINIA, Kuwait — With the coming of the New Year on Wednesday, a skeleton crew of Germany-based V Corps soldiers was “keeping the fireplace going” at a headquarters unit in Kuwait.

Some 100 soldiers from the Army’s top combat command in Europe remain at Camp Virginia, one of a half-dozen kabals designed to protect Kuwait against any potential threat from neighboring Iraq.

They remained behind — most voluntarily — when 600 V Corps soldiers returned to Germany from exercises in Kuwait that ended in mid-December. Preparations are under way to redeploy those troops to Kuwait in the coming weeks.

“They basically went back to Germany for a short break,” operations officer Capt. Jim Reed said Tuesday night.

V Corps, along with the I Marine Expeditionary Force, are expected to form the two main ground combat commands under U.S. Central Command’s Coalition Force Land Component Command in Kuwait.

Additional forces are being mustered from around the United States and in Europe as a buildup continues in the Persian Gulf region in preparation for any conflict with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s forces.

On Tuesday, 3rd Infantry Division spokesmen announced that their entire division — some 15,000 infantry, armor, aviation and artillery units — would be heading to Kuwait in the coming weeks.

About 4,000 soldiers from the Fort Stewart, Ga., unit have been in Kuwait since mid-September, taking part in training exercises as part of Operation Desert Spring.

V Corps members arrived in early November to take part in the command and control exercise Internal Look. Since the bulk of those troops returned to Europe, remaining soldiers have been training with weapons and nuclear, biological and chemical gear, as well as maintaining intelligence and communications in the region, Reed said.

The pace in V Corps’ cavernous headquarters tent, outfitted with two wide-screen video screens and rows of desks with secret-message-capable computers, has slowed to a crawl in the past two weeks, Reed said.

“We’re the sole survivors,” said Maj. Al Burrs of the 17th Signal Battalion based in Kitzingen, Germany. “We’ve got just enough people to keep the fireplace going. That’s about it.”

Most of the troops haven’t been given an end date to their tour.

Support services in Kuwait seem lavish to some of the soldiers, who remember the spartan conditions during the Persian Gulf War 12 years ago. Camp Virginia has hot showers, two hot meals a day an exchange trailer and a sub sandwich shop.

“It has been tolerable, considering everything” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Robert Barczynski, a network specialist, with the 22nd Signal Brigade in Darmstadt, Germany.

But, Burrs said, they realize that those amenities will take a back seat to their mission should talk of a new war with Iraq become a reality.

“If and when anything starts, we’ll go right back to an austere environment,” he said.

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