CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait — Whether 2nd Infantry Division soldiers find themselves itching for combat, longing for home or just killing time, most want to head north and start.
The soldiers, from the South Korea-based 2nd Brigade Combat Team — the Strikeforce — have been in Kuwait for about two weeks preparing for their mission in Iraq. Exactly where in Iraq the 3,600-strong brigade will go still is a secret.
But most say the sooner the mission starts the better.
Thirty-seven-year-old Staff Sgt. Gary Talley, a squad leader with Company C, 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, has served 16 years and never seen combat.
The bulky squad leader from Trenton, Tenn., said he is looking forward to testing himself and the 10 soldiers in his unit.
“There is going to be a lot of muscle memory and remembering all the tactics we learned before coming over here. Our goal is to get rid of the insurgents who are keeping the regular people down in Iraq,” he said before heading off to a class on improvised explosive devices.
Not all the Strikeforce soldiers are as excited at the prospect of combat, but they still want to start the mission.
“We are done waiting here,” said Spc. Shawn Biederman, 27, a forward observer with 1-9’s Company A. “Everybody wants to go there and get it started.”
The Philadelphia native said most soldiers thought their Iraq tours started once they arrived in Kuwait but found out the clock doesn’t start ticking down until boots are on the ground at their forward operating base in Iraq.
Currently, the Strikeforce soldiers are confined to the isolated Camp Buehring and Udairi Range, deep in the heart of the Kuwaiti desert, training and preparing equipment.
With no bars or alcohol, which is illegal in Kuwait, and virtually no interaction with the Kuwaitis, soldiers spend free time watching DVDs, playing touch football, basketball and beach volleyball, working out or sending letters home.
“I just want to get it [the Iraq mission] started,” Biederman said. “My wife and daughter are missing the hell out of me, and I can’t wait to get it done,” said the shaven-headed soldier, whose 4-month old daughter, Shaina, is with his wife in South Korea.
Strikeforce deployed to the Middle East from bases near the South Korean Demilitarized Zone. Biederman had been on the peninsula two years before he deployed and recently extended his tour by another two years to give his Filipina wife time to apply for a U.S. visa.
As he falls asleep on his canvas stretcher in his hooch, Biederman thinks past Iraq, he said.
“I always think about my future. My future with my wife, and my wife’s future without me. I have a game plan in case things happen,” he said.
The young soldier is making voice recordings in Kuwait to send them to his daughter.
“Things [to tell her] if something happens to me,” he said. “I tell her to be good for her mother. I tell her there are bad people in this world, and she needs to be aware of who they are. I wish I could be there to teach her, and hopefully I will.”
Another Strikeforce soldier eager to start working in Iraq is Staff Sgt. Maurice Carson, 37, of Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment.
Carson also wants to get back home to be with his family at Fort Bragg, N.C., who have not seen much of him in the past two years.
First he deployed to Afghanistan with the Seventh Special Forces Group, then he went to South Korea, where he had been for eight months before heading for Iraq.
“I had already reached my halfway point in Korea,” he said. “I was just about to go on midtour leave for 30 days when we were notified we were coming here. We were allowed 12 days leave.”
Carson’s youngest son, Darrius, 12, did not take the news of his father’s deployment well.
“He was kind of concerned about when I was coming back. There is a little more fear about going to Iraq. He is still dealing with it as of now. I spoke to him two days ago, and he was still kind of on edge. I guess he is watching a lot of television.
“The first thing he asks me is am I all right, and then he tells me that he is praying for me,” he said.
For the moment, Carson’s biggest concern is the nine soldiers who work under him, he said.
“I have soldiers to take care of, and I am going to give them the best guidance and protection I can. I am more concerned about my soldiers than myself. My goal is to bring my guys back safe, sound and healthy.”
Some soldiers are nervous about the pending mission, which is understandable, he said.
“I can’t expect them to be totally comfortable, but I want them to be prepared for anything,” he said, adding he will do everything he can to help them.
“Prior to deploying I wrote a letter to each of their parents,” he said of his squad members, “and pretty much gave them my word I was going to bring their kids back safe and sound.”
Another soldier waiting at Camp Buehring, Pfc. Greg Calim, 21, a mechanic with Battery B, 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, works around the clock to check all of his unit’s equipment in Kuwait.
“We are making double-sure all the vehicles are top-notch,” he said.
Calim misses his fiancée, who returned to the Philippines from South Korea when he deployed to the Middle East. He also thinks often of his mother, raising horses in Colorado, who taught him to shoot as a boy on family camping vacations.
Mail and telephone provide a link with his family and future wife, he said.
“I try to stay in contact when I can because I might not get the chance to later on,” he said.
He writes letters but doesn’t use e-mail.
“It just feels more personal to me. I don’t mess with the Internet because you have to wait for the computer,” he said.
When he gets home he plans to marry and move to the States. But for now, Calim is focused on his mission, staying alert and staying alive, he said.
Two weeks ago, many of the soldiers at Camp Buehring had no idea if they would be in Kuwait for a few weeks or months. But the sooner they get on the road and head north, the better most will feel.