GAZIANTEP, Turkey — When, and if, thousands of U.S. combat troops pass through Turkey into northern Iraq, the first stop for most of them will be a small airfield tucked about 25 miles from the Syrian border.

Dubbed the Air Port of Debarkation, APOD for short, the Army camp is in its infancy with bare-bones facilities and only a few hundred troops setting up what could become one of the busiest terminals in Turkey.

“This is the beginning of the pipeline, where most of the troops will come in,” said Lt. Col. J.D. Davis, commander of the 51st Maintenance Battalion, based in Mannheim, Germany, part of the 21st Theater Support Command.

With troops still setting up gear and work areas after arriving a few days ago, Davis and his soldiers have taken over a civilian terminal under construction at an airport just south of Gaziantep, the first major city heading east from the Iskenderun port.

Iskenderun, already a turnstile for cargo ships unloading hundreds of Army support vehicles and equipment, will also serve as an industrial-sized welcome mat for the more lethal war gear of the U.S.-based 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized) and other war fighting units.

“We’ll feed and house the troops until their equipment is ready at the port, and then we’ll link them up with their gear and push them east,” Davis said.

From there, units will be supported by about a dozen logistics outposts being set up along the 400-mile route to the Iraqi border.

Those plans, however, are still awaiting approval from Turkish lawmakers. The Turkish parliament narrowly defeated a motion earlier this month that would have approved basing rights for 62,000 combat troops, plus hundreds of warplanes and helicopters.

“Everything still hinges on a ‘yes’ vote by the parliament,” said Davis.

In the meantime, he and his soldiers are doing what they can to lay the groundwork.

Protected by a company of infantrymen from the Germany-based 1st Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, as well as a cordon of Turkish federal police outside the airport, the new camp buzzes with activity.

Medics and doctors with the 1st ID’s 701st Main Support Battalion arrived Tuesday evening to set up an aid station. Like many of the 3,500 site preparation troops in Turkey, they’ve waited at Incirlik Air Base for about three weeks for the go-ahead orders.

“We’ve been itching to get moving,” said 2nd Lt. Jacqueline Blando as her troops unloaded a bus full of rucksacks, footlockers and other necessities.

The new arrivals hauled their gear into Quonset hut-like green tents. A thin walkway cuts a corridor between tightly packed rows of bunk beds stretching the length of the tent.

“This isn’t so bad,” said one surprised medic. “I was expecting worse.”

Nearby, Turkish construction crews worked to cover the unfinished roof on the new terminal building that will serve as barracks for units passing through. Like a massive “bungee hooch” which infantry troops commonly call elastic-strung poncho tents in the field, the construction crews lashed a giant plastic tarp to the roof to keep out the rain.

More than 100 green Port-a-Potties are lined up outside. While there are no showers, smaller Quonset tents with rows of metal wash basins are set up for scrubbing teeth and shaving faces.

Around the corner, soldiers guide Humvees and other military trucks off flatbed trailers.

Staff Sgt. Greg Wold waits patiently on the side of the hill as the truck hauling his Humvee slowly makes its way to the front of the line. A communications specialist with 121st Signal Battalion, Wold is responsible for setting up the camp’s secure data and voice lines.

“Phones and the Internet,” said Wold. “Everyone loves me until something network goes down.”

Standing outside the bare cinderblock building now being used as a command post, Master Sgt. Paul Coleman says everything is a far cry from what he remembers the last time he found himself poised on Iraq’s border.

A combat engineer with the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Coleman found himself in the deserts of Saudi Arabia by the end of that of that month.

“This is night-and-day different,” said Coleman. “Back then we just hit the ground and rolled straight out to the desert.”

And then they trained hard for seven months until Operation Desert Storm kicked off, he said.

“It was long wait, but we knew that we were going in,” he said. “There was no question of it.”

And while he finds himself waiting on Iraq’s doorstep again, this time there’s nothing but questions.

“The hardest part here is the uncertainty. We still don’t know if we’re going to be a part of this war or not.”

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