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Dispatch from the 101st

When siren wails, everybody runs

By WES ALLISON, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 21, 2003


At Camp Pennsylvania in northern Kuwait, home to the 101st Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, the first missile alarm sounded about 12:25 p.m.

It came as troops of the 327th Infantry, known as the Bastogne Brigade, prepared to follow the 3rd Infantry Division into Iraq in the next few days.

Men hung freshly washed clothes on tent lines and packed their rucksacks, and the scouts had finished spray-painting their guns desert brown and beige.

Mechanics worked on Humvees, and soldiers were issued grenades and ammunition for their M-4 rifles.

When the long, steady scream of the siren began, a female soldier from an engineering battalion -- one of the few women on base -- dashed from the shower hutch nude, then turned and ran back inside.

She returned with her mask and some clothes on, and Sgt. Maj. Richard Montcalm, 44, of Jacksonville, hurried her to a bunker.

"I told her her dignity is not worth her life. And the next time that thing goes off and you're in the shower nude, shove your feet in some boots and come over to the bunker with us," said Montcalm, the command sergeant major for the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry. "There's nobody in that bunker hadn't seen a naked woman."

For many, the alarm provided tangible evidence of the dangers they're about to face, and some were clearly shaken.

"That ain't funny," said Pvt. Brennan Hanke, 19, of Camp Point, Ill., a member of the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry. "That ain't funny. That scared the s--- out of me. I got to the bunker, and I couldn't breathe. That (Hussein) is gonna die."

The bunkers are precast concrete tunnels set on the desert and covered with sandbags. A concrete barrier protects each open end.

The troops were ready when the next one sounded an hour later, and they filled the bunkers in seconds. Troops sat there sweating and breathing hard from the adrenaline and the sprint, making jokes. Their voices were muffled by the heavy rubber gas masks.

"I lost my Scud virginity," said one sergeant, who had been doing laundry. "I've been Scudded."

"Sir, can we get our CIB (combat infantryman's badge) now?" joked Lt. Aaron Luck of the 2nd Battalion, 327th.

Later, while about 20 troops crammed into a bunker after the third alarm about 3:30 p.m., Luck said, "Hey, the good news is the Iraqi minister of defense says they don't have any Scud missiles."

After each attack, the soldiers go back to what they were doing, washing clothes, working on Humvees, standing in line at the post exchange.

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