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Thursday, March 27

Infantry has bumpy ride into Iraq

By Matthew Cox | Army Times

FORWARD OPERATING BASE EXXON, Iraq - With a sandstorm raging, 13 soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment sat facing out of their trucks - eyes locked on their weapons' sights.

"They are taking the speed up to 30 miles an hour. Keep it wired tight, men!'' shouted Sgt. Timothy Wilson, 33.

As the 36-vehicle convoy rolled though a hole in three strands of concertina wire, Spc. Edward Cutter of South Boston, Mass., stuffed a scribbled note into the sleeve pocket of his chemical protective suit. It read: ``1:56 p.m., March 26, 2003 crossed into Iraq.''

Cutter, 27, is among some 20,000 soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) that continue to pour into Iraq by ground and air.

Crossing the border was a long-awaited event for soldiers of B Company, but there was little glory to be found during the 19-hour trek through a violent sandstorm to reach this forward base in southern Iraq on Thursday.Infantry soldiers squatted on small assault packs in the trucks, their weapons pointing out the sides. They're dressed in protective suits in case of chemical and biological attack.

Rucksacks were strapped to the outside the trucks, but the cramped compartment offered little comfort to soldiers trying sleep between security shifts.

"Just another day in the infantry,'' said Pvt. Shaun Redlinger, 20, of Gastonia, N.C., who would rather have ridden in on helicopters. "I thought we'd air assault in.''

The 3rd Infantry Division, for which the 502nd is securing supply lines, has enjoyed much success along its advance northward. But the heavy, mechanized infantry division's lightning drive northward has also left the area unprotected against diehard supporters of the Iraqi regime such as the Fedayeen Saddam.

The Fedayeen have been attacking ``soft'' targets such as support units traveling alone. And, they've been using guerilla tactics such as cloaking surprise attacks with white surrender flags.

This stubborn resistance comes as no surprise to the Screaming Eagles, as the division is known.

"I figured it wasn't going to be easy,'' said Staff Sgt. James Belt, a squad leader in 1st Platoon, B Company.

Belt, a 36-year-old native of Haysville, Ky., also fought in Desert Storm.

"The closer we get to Baghdad, the more (Saddam Hussein) is going to try different techniques,'' he said. ``He's going to get desperate and use desperate measures - anything he has to hurt us before we take him out.''

Sgt. Joseph Denny, 25, of Franklin, Ind., agreed.

"You are fighting a group that is in their home,'' he said. "If it was me and someone was to come into my home, I'd be throwing some lead down range.''

Despite their understanding of the enemy, soldiers from the 502nd are eager to join the fight. Not so much for the glory. Most just want to go to home, knowing that Saddam is gone for good.

"I just hope we finish it this time and don't have to come back here,'' Cutter said.