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Fort Bragg's 505th a Key Element in Potential Ground War

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TIRANA, ALBANIA — American soldiers are not on the ground fighting in Kosovo, but they are on the ground getting ready to fight.

Portions of Fort Bragg's 82nd Airborne are now along the Albanian border and may be a tripwire for whatever happens next.

The Tirana airport has been transformed from a sleepy, third world airfield to a bustling military and humanitarian relief operation. Now, in the middle of it all is a key element of a potential ground war -- Fort Bragg's 82nd Airborne Division.

"Morale is high. Everybody, I think, is excited to be here," says 2LT Ryan Leigh. "It's an important point in history for us to be here, and I think everybody's looking forward to whatever may come."

Members of the 82nd Airborne cannot say much about their mission, but they do say they are here to do a job. They also cannot say much about their numbers, how many will come. But when asked, one officer says "expect a lot."

The soldiers are part of the 82nd's 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The 505th was the first of the American ground forces to take up position during Operation Desert Storm.

If it comes to a ground fight against the Serbs, it appears they will be the first here as well.

At the Tirana airport, people, planes and helicopters from 11 nations are crammed into an area about the size of two city blocks. But some say the toughest part is when they take to the air.

"One of the biggest challenges is just making sure that all these countries flying these helicopters do not have a mid-air collision in those narrow valleys," explains Airfield Commander COL Cliff Vray. "I have gone to fly up there myself, and it's the most spectacular and also the most treacherous flying that any helicopter pilot could have."

The Serb army is a 30 minute helicopter ride north of the airport. As the Fort Bragg soldiers begin to arrive, they say they are ready.

"I'm excited to be here," says Leigh. "I think what we are doing is the right thing. It's appalling, the stories that we've heard, and it's unfortunate something like that has to happen."

This is a first for many of the Fort Bragg soldiers who now wear the All-American Division patch. They are in a strange land with an uncertain future.

So far, the 505th has no orders to head north. Right now their job is to set up and wait.

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Mark Roberts, Reporter
Joe Frieda, Photographer
Michelle Singer, Web Editor

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