Local News

More 82nd Airborne Troops Deploy Overseas

Posted February 14, 2003 9:38 a.m. EST

— Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division began heading out Thursday for Kuwait to join thousands of United States forces already massed for a possible conflict with Iraq.

About 500 soldiers had left on commercial airliners by late afternoon and waves of them were scheduled to keep leaving through the weekend. In all, about 4,000 soldiers from in the division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team were headed to the region.

At neighboring Pope Air Force Base, soldiers wearing desert tan uniforms and carried their M-4 carbines, bayonets, helmets and gas masks marched single file to the awaiting planes.

Few family members came to see their loved ones depart because most had said their goodbyes earlier.

Spc. Ray Underwood, 29, of Clarkson, Neb., said deploying for a possible combat zone has been on his mind since terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

"It's been a reality for me every since then," said Underwood, whose specialty is military intelligence.

"I'm a little nervous," said Sgt. Christian Grau, 23, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. "I just had a son. He's 5-1/2 weeks old. I'm just hoping I come back in time to hear his first words and see him crawl."

Soldiers fiddled with their equipment and ate free hot dogs provided by the Army while they waited for their airliners. One soldier strapped a "Jimmy Dean" - a plastic wrapped tray of snacks for the flight - onto his backpack.

Sgt. Michael Commander, 23, of Hartsville, S.C., said he had been to Bosnia where he saw people living outdoors - something that made him appreciate his home. But he hadn't been in combat.

Commander said the main threat from Iraq was chemical or biological attacks.

"We've got equipment to help us take care of that," said Commander, a field artillery fire director. "I'm nervous, but I'm going to rely on my equipment."

Soldiers had been issued new, lighter chemical protection suits to replace the older, heavier models they had used in training. The uniforms and boots were new, too.

Col. Arnold Bray, commander of the infantry troops in the unit, walked through the soldiers, talking to small groups. One soldier sat on a bench reading "Bullet proof Faith," a religious book.

Two soldiers played handheld video games to pass the time. Spc. Marcus Lewis, 21, of Louisville, Ga., said he had packed nearly 300 spare batteries and hoped his family would mail him new game cartridges for his Game Boy Advance.

Sgt. Seth Harvey, 23, of Hammond, La., just got back from Afghanistan - where the 82nd has about 5,000 soldiers on duty - three weeks ago. His fluency in Arabic made him valuable for this deploy.

"In Afghanistan, that's a guerrilla war," Harvey said. "This is different. We're dealing with a large standing army and that is probably a greater threat."

The 82nd Airborne Division continues to support combat operations in Afghanistan and Operation Enduring Freedom with Task Force Devil and the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment.