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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Deadly scorpions, Camel Spiders and snakes, Camp security in Southern Iraq sees more Iraqi wildlife than civilians


Story Identification Number: 200341720939
Story by Sgt. M. P. Shelato

AN NASIRIYA, IRAQ (April 17, 2003) -- Two Marines stare over sandbags at several square miles of empty desert and open roadway April 12 near a forward aviation operations base in Southern Iraq. Though ever-vigilant, the Marines have been on duty for several hours, and are becoming tired, as night slowly becomes morning.

Each Marine remains constantly alert and must be aware of their surroundings. There are hostile creatures everywhere out here, but the sentries aren't always worried about the human kind.

Marines occupying fighting positions throughout this section of desert in Southern Iraq battle extreme heat during the day, cold winds at night, deadly insects in their fighting positions and the monotony of duty at a remote post.

"The night shift out here can get pretty miserable, but we manage," said Cpl. Roger B. Kittle, Force Protection Platoon, Marine Aircraft Group 16.

Kittle, a reserve Marine called to active duty, has been in the Central Command Area of Operations for fewer than three weeks and already wears the look of someone who has worked hard in the desert sun for months.

The security Marines can have different duties while standing post here, such as machine gunner, roving security or vehicle inspector. Heavily armed, the Marines seem ready for action. In this area, Kittle explained, action may be hard to come by.

"The only constant traffic we see are (military) convoys," he said.

"Several hundred trucks go by each night, headed south from places like An Nasiriya and Baghdad. Between the convoys, it gets pretty lonely out there," Kittle continued.

In addition to the road, Kittle's fighting position has a view of several square miles of sand, with the odd scrub-brush thrown in intermittently to break the monotony. The only traffic in the desert here are aircraft flying to and from the nearby operations base.

"The only thing I've seen crawling around out there were a few lizards," said Kittle. "Anything moving around in front of us would instantly be visible, even in the dark."

The checkpoint's only permanent resident is a wild dog that was found living in the area when the nearby forward operations base was claimed for use by U.S. Forces.

The dog, little older than a puppy, has been living off meals and water donated by Marines occupying the security posts. The well-mannered canine seems thankful for each canteen cup of water or cracker the Marines give him.

"(The dog) will sit with us at our fighting hole all night long sometimes, waiting for handouts and keeping us company," said Cpl. Anthony L. Franco, Force Protection Platoon, MAG-16.

"The dog keeps us alert during the night," said Franco. "If anybody actually tried to sneak up on us, the dog would let us know."

The dog growls whenever anybody moves around in the darkness, including the Security Marines walking between posts.

"That dog's lazy," Franco, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native, said jokingly as he rubbed the dog's ears. "Actually, he's probably better company than some of the Marines out here; he's nice and quiet until you need him," he joked again, looking directly at Kittle.

The Marines' biggest task for the night was to rebuild their fighting position. It had been moved recently and was hastily reconstructed. While one Marine filled sandbags and laid the floor for the new position, the other stood watch over the desert in his field of fire.

"We look for something to do during the night to keep busy," Kittle said. "Re-building the fighting position should occupy a few hours and keep the boredom away."

The Marines, both reservists, talk about good times they had back in the United States before they were called up for active duty. Their conversations linger on memories like nights "out on the town," and going out to dinner with their friends and families.

"Conversations like these don't make the (Meals Ready to Eat) any better," said Franco.

To keep busy, Kittle, an Armuchee, Ga., native, begins what he calls a "Critter hunt." The Marine retrieved his flashlight and began looking for peculiar tracks in the sand just a few feet from the freshly constructed fighting position. Without looking very surprised, Kittle finds a small scorpion just a few minutes after the search begins.

"This is the kind (of scorpion) the docs say they don't have a cure for," Kittle remarked of the angry looking arachnid.

"I like to search for them just to know where they are," said Kittle. "One night we had to clear one of the fighting holes to look for scorpions after one surprised us. It was a small fighting hole, but we managed to get out really fast."

There are other dangerous creatures crawling through this part of the desert as well, such as the Camel Spider. Almost every Marine on duty here has come in contact with one or more of the aggressive arachnids.

The golf ball-sized Camel Spider is nocturnal, which means it begins hunting for its meal while Kittle and Franco are on post.

"A huge one crawled right up to me the other night and I almost didn't see it. I know they're not deadly, but I'm not going to let them bite me to find out - I got right out of its way."

Luckily, there were no attacks by the enemy or from the local wildlife during that night's tour of duty.

The Marines fought off the elements, but battled fatigue, a constant problem for the security force.

"It's too hot during the day to sleep well," said Kittle.

"The heat and the constant noise from the activity around the base gets unbearable after a while, so we usually give up and find a way to occupy ourselves."

The only member of the group that seems to have any energy is the dog, who sometimes runs at full speed from post to post, apparently out of boredom.

The sun has been up for almost an hour, and the Marines are ready to get back to camp.

They begin to watch for the vehicle carrying their replacements, and the ride back to camp.

"We always look forward to the vehicle that comes and picks us up after duty in the morning," said Kittle.

"It's the one that brings us out here that we're not so fond of anymore."

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