EASTERN SAUDI ARABIA, FEB. 12 -- When Iraqi forces invaded his homeland last August, Nayef Temmeri was studying medicine at the University of Kuwait. Now he is about to take up a new occupation in the reconstituted Kuwaiti army: as a guide and interpreter for American troops in an expected ground assault to recapture the emirate.
Temmeri, 20, is among 610 civilians ranging in age from 17 to 50 who are nearing the end of a four-week course at the Kuwaiti Volunteer Training Center, a dusty parade ground surrounded by tents in the eastern Saudi desert. Standing bare-chested in the chill desert air after martial-arts exercises, Temmeri said his job after training would be to help U.S. troops find their way through the streets of Kuwait City.
"My first thought when I enlisted was that I am going to die," he said. But now, he added, "I am not afraid."
According to Kuwaiti officials, about 550 volunteers have been assigned to U.S. and other allied units as guides and interpreters for the anticipated ground campaign aimed at expelling the Iraqi army from Kuwait. Many of them are students who dropped out of American colleges to undergo training in the United States before being sent to Saudi Arabia by the U.S. military.
The commander of this camp, Kuwaiti army Col. Sadi Shamari, said 70 graduates of his crash military training course have been sent to work with U.S. forces and that the Americans have asked for 50 more.
So far, Shamari said, the camp has produced 2,400 trainees to augment Kuwaiti military support units, as well as two mechanized brigades that he said are now poised near the Saudi-Kuwaiti border. Similar training camps have been set up in Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, he said.
"Every Kuwaiti hopes to be in the front lines, to be the first into Kuwait," Shamari said. But he stressed that the Kuwaiti troops come under allied command as part of the U.S.-led coalition and that their deployment is up to Saudi and American generals.
Shamari, a 49-year-old veteran of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, asserted that Kuwait is building a new army of 30,000 men, double the size of the pre-invasion force. However, he said, many former troops who escaped from Kuwait but failed to report for duty here will not be in it.
"Some of our army, when they got out of Kuwait, just went to another country and didn't show up," he said.
Abdul Karim Enzi, a 24-year-old chemical engineer, said the lightning Iraqi invasion of his country had shown that "we have to better ourselves militarily."
At a demonstration of the training program for visiting reporters today, a couple of hundred volunteers in beige uniforms and various forms of footwear shouted slogans as they marched -- often out of step -- around the parade ground. Some practiced jumping off the back of a moving pickup truck and dropping to the ground in a firing position with their rifles. Others, wearing only sweat pants and running shoes, performed karate and tae kwon do drills under the guidance of a portly, bearded instructor and threw each other in the dust in sparring sessions.
What the recruits lacked in military skills, they appeared to make up for in enthusiasm.
"I want to kill Saddam," said Nasser Abeed, a 17-year-old high school student whose family fled Kuwait two months ago. "I want my country back." He acknowledged, however, that it had taken some maternal prodding to motivate him. "My mother said to go into the army of Kuwait, that we didn't come here to enjoy ourselves," he said.
While camp officials say the recruits live in the training center's tents, the distractions of eastern Saudi Arabia's oil-boom cities are never far away.
Lined up in a parking lot in front of the camp were about 150 cars, including an assortment of Mercedes and BMWs. The recruits "keep their cars here just to keep an eye on them," Shamari explained.
Included in the curriculum here are basic small-arms training and countermeasures against chemical warfare. The training goes on for six days a week, but the often well-heeled recruits also enjoy some leisure time between their drills and courses.
Abdullah Muteru, a 20-year-old former law student dressed in a black Gucci sweatsuit, was taking it easy when he spotted a reporter at today's exhibition.
Galvanized into action, he pushed through a crowd of fellow soldiers to say in broken English, "I love you, I love you, I love you, Bush."