US Troops Angered By War Protests

By M.E. Sprengelmeyer
Scripps Howard News Service

CAMP UDAIRI, Kuwait - The peace protesters might as well be marching right under the tank barrels.
U.S. troops amassed in the Kuwaiti desert can't avoid news of anti-war protests sweeping the globe, and it is making some angry, defensive, fired-up and anxious.
They see scattered news reports of opposition to a possible war against Iraq, but the hardest-hitting bulletins come in phone calls home to worried wives and loved ones, said Sgt. 1st Class Victor Oravec, 41, of Fort Knox, Ky., of the U.S. Army's 3-7 Cavalry.
"They're saying, 'Why are we over here when everyone's over here saying we shouldn't be?' " Oravec said.
"They hear it. They bring it up to me, and I squash it by keeping them busy, reminding them why they're here," Oravec said Sunday, just before leading his tank maintenance unit in an all-night training battle across the Kuwaiti desert.
Just hours earlier, anti-war protesters wrapped up massive rallies in New York, London, Paris, Rome, Berlin and elsewhere across the globe.
Many of the soldiers who might be called to fight against Iraq were too young to remember the emotional protests that marked the end of the Vietnam War. Many had not even been born.
Still, some say they take the anti-war protests personally - questioning the jobs they do and their boss, President Bush.
"They get down," said Oravec, a veteran of the first war against Iraq in 1991. "That's when I come around, try to get them work to do. That's the only thing I can think of to keep their minds off home and what their wives are telling them."
Capt. John Turner, 26, of Colonial Heights, Va., whose father was a med-evac pilot for the Army in Vietnam, said soldiers are not decision-makers and can't afford to get distracted from their training.
"I'm not in this line of work for political reasons. I didn't come here to be a politician," Turner said.
Still, he's especially angry about opposition at the United Nations from France, a NATO ally.
"How would they feel if it was the Eiffel Tower that got hit into (on Sept. 11)?" he asked.
The troops see a possible war against Iraq as part of the ongoing war on terrorism, as the Bush administration targets alleged weapons of mass destruction that could fall into the hands of terrorists.
Protesters call that an unfounded or unproven claim being used to justify a war to control more of the Middle East's vast oil reserves.
The "No blood for oil" slogan was used in opposition to the 1991 war, too. But back then, in the war to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi invaders, the protests did not seem as widespread and the troops did not take them so personally, Gulf War veterans said.
"That's their right to protest, as long as they know that's their opinion, not ours," said 1st Sgt. Stephen Edgerton, 36, a Gulf War veteran from Blackshear, Ga.
"When you're younger, you're a little more eager to go out and pick a fight with somebody," Edgerton said. "With age, you're not as quick to jump into things without thinking them out first."
But for soldiers, he said, the bottom line is simple: "I support my Commander in Chief. That's my job."
Pvt. Wesley Carr, 23, of Virginia Beach, Va., said soldiers are the last ones who want to rush into unnecessary wars.
"I can understand why they want to protest, because they don't want any harm to come to us. But a lot of them don't understand," Carr said. "I hope, like everyone else, that it does end peacefully. But if it doesn't and we have to go to war, we have to think of the safety of the United States and all these people here."
Privately, some soldiers wonder if the patriotic mood and pro-military spirit in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks has evaporated.
With all its soldiers and high-tech war fighting machines, the U.S. military would not have had all its recent success if the soldiers didn't get so much support from the public, Edgerton said.
"They don't have to support what's happening," he said, "but at least support the soldiers."



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