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Boredom quickly replaces battlefield's excitement

By WES ALLISON, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2003

HILLAH, Iraq -- They gave their Humvees names like Apocalypse and No Mercy and Death On Call, and kept their long knives shaving-sharp. They blew into Iraq three weeks ago during a driving rainstorm, bristling with guns and an intent to kill.

Now they grumble about being "peacekeepers," and make unflattering comparisons to Bosnia and Kosovo: Tedious, ill-defined missions the public quickly forgets. Missions that don't make for movies.

As in any infantry unit, the men of the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division nurture a culture that celebrates bravery, that uses the word "kill" with neither discomfort nor regret.

Since arriving in Iraq three weeks ago, most soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, known as No Slack, have faced sporadic small-arms or mortar fire. All have been shaken awake by the crash and flash of Iraqi missiles.

They have captured dozens of Iraqi fighters and confiscated thousands of weapons and rounds of munitions.

But only a few have seen the firefights they alternately craved and feared.

Since Tuesday in Hillah, and for a week before that in Najaf, No Slack has been clearing military complexes, schools and industrial sites, searching for weapons and enemy fighters.

Day after day, they find hundreds of mortar shells, grenades and machine gun rounds, but no one to shoot them. The excitement of storming Iraqi strongholds has faded to a dull, tiresome exercise, with no end in sight.

"Guess I don't need these earplugs," Spec. Kevin Nettnin, 21, of Van Buren, Ark., said as C Company finished clearing a municipal motor pool and waited to hit the next target.

It was 10 a.m., and the platoon had been doing this since about 5. He and his friends were bored. They sat on the dusty concrete floor in broken window glass and discussed their heroic filth, noting that the flies preferred them over the piles of garbage nearby.

A block north, B Company cleared a cluster of warehouses, then blew the brick wall surrounding it. By squad, just like they practiced back at Fort Campbell, Ky., the soldiers dashed through the new hole in perfect order and sprinted across an open field to attack an Iraqi military complex.

Predictably, they found foxholes and bunkers, and loads of rocket-propelled grenades, a few AK-47s, uniforms, and boxes of 9mm pistols licensed by Beretta.

Pfc. Michael Krupp, 21, of Springfield, Va., dashed to a building and peeked around the corner with the muzzle of his M-4 rifle. He called to a friend manning the opposite corner.

"Look on the bright side," Krupp told him. "You'll be the only guy at the VFW to sit around and tell war stories about what you didn't do."

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