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Dispatch from the 101st

There's plenty to learn as war approaches

By WES ALLISON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 12, 2003
Dispatch from the 101st

photoTimes staff writer Wes Allison has been attached to the 101st Airborne Division. He is living and traveling with the troops as they are deployed abroad.

Reports from a region in conflict

CAMP UDAIRI, Kuwait -- Preparing for war isn't all target practice, obstacle courses and standing in long lines. The 19,000 soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division who deployed to the Middle East in the past two weeks also got some classroom schooling about the cultural situations they may face.

Let's have a look.

ON THE MEDIA: With reporters traveling and living with troops in numbers not seen since World War II, the Army has issued all soldiers and officers cards with some helpful interview tips.

(Politicians, please take note of the first one):

-- "Never lie to the media."

-- "Be brief and concise, avoid jargon and acronyms."

-- "Do not answer 'what if' questions or render opinions."

-- "Plan your message (garner favorable public opinion)."

-- "Show your message (media needs pictures)."

-- "Do not provide the enemy with propaganda material by complaining about things."

ON ARABS: All deploying members of the 101st Airborne have been issued handbooks called "A Soldier's Guide to the Republic of Iraq," which includes some of the history, culture and customs of Iraqis and other Arab Muslims.

It's designed to help invading Americans avoid awkward social missteps, such as flashing the thumbs-up or okay signs -- both of which, in the Arab world, are considered obscene. (The okay sign involves a donkey and its owner. You do not need to know more).

Other tips:

-- Men should not try to date Arab women.

-- Men should not stare at Arab women.

-- Do not ask direct personal questions, especially about female family members.

-- Do not argue women's rights.

-- Do not show the soles of your feet. When seated, keep your feet flat on the floor or folded under you.

-- Do not expect punctuality.

ON MOPP SUITS: U.S. officials believe Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has chemical and biological weapons, including anthrax, nerve gas and mustard gas. If past predicts the future, he won't be shy about using them.

U.S. soldiers have trained extensively on using gas masks and chemical-biological suits, called MOPP suits, to keep them safe.

They've also been given this warning: "There are approximately 250,000 potentially defective suits still not accounted for. Check your label for manufacturer Isratex or lot numbers DLA100-92-C-0427 (or) DLA100-89-C-0429."

Rewards of service

In one respect, at least, war pays.

Soldiers who deployed to the Middle East for the buildup against Iraq earn considerably more money than their stateside counterparts, thanks to extra pay for hazardous duty and tax exemptions.

Here's how it breaks down:

-- $150 per month, hazardous duty pay.

-- $100 per month, hazardous foreign pay.

-- $3.33 per diem allowance.

-- $100 per month family separation allowance.

-- Exemption from state and federal income taxes while in hostile areas, up to about $5,500. Soldiers still pay Social Security and Medicare taxes.

-- Exemption from income taxes on bonuses, usually ranging from $3,000 to $5,000, for soldiers who re-enlist while on hazardous duty.

-- Food allowance of $229 for single soldiers who normally live on base. Married soldiers already receive that benefit.

Overall, the extras can add up to $1,000 to $1,600 per month, depending on the soldier's pay grade, personnel officers say.

But before you rush to join, consider this, too: A rookie private makes less than $1,500 each month.

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