Nothing to Fear -- Maybe Not Even Fear Itself

Standing beside a Bradley Fighting Vehicle with a map chalked on its side, Lt. Col. Gregory Fontenot held the rapt attention of about 150 troops of the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division as he prepared them psychologically for the fear, horror and carnage of battle.

It was one of many pep talks on the front lines of the Persian Gulf War in recent days as U.S. and other allied commanders ready their soldiers for what they expect to be the bloodiest part of the conflict -- a ground offensive to drive Iraqi occupation forces out of Kuwait.

But Fontenot, a battalion commander from Eunice, La., seemed to tackle the subject with unusual candor and poignancy. Here are excerpts from his talk to the assembled troops as recorded by a pool reporter at a desert camp in northern Saudi Arabia:

"I want to talk about fear. You will be afraid. If you're not afraid, there's something wrong with you. . . . You're going to be scared, and fear is not a bad thing. It can be used to advantage. . . .

"Physiologically, what fear does to you is it pumps adrenaline into your system. It does a couple of other things, because it drains the capillaries of the extremities of the body -- the arms, the legs. And what that does for you is, if you get shot in the arms or legs, you won't bleed as much. That's good news. The second news is, because the adrenaline pumps, you're quite strong. . . . So do not be afraid of fear. Rather, understand it, grapple with it and cope with it. . . .

"I can't promise you won't get hurt. I'll do my . . . best not to waste your life. That's the only thing I can do. Now let me tell you something else. I'm going to make mistakes. You probably are, too. The mistakes you make and the mistakes I make are going to cause some of us to be hurt. All you can do is have faith in the guys around you. . . . We're going to beat these guys. But it isn't going to be free. . . .

"Like I told you before, this is not the Izod, Polo-shirt, Weejuns loafers crowd. Not a whole lot of kids here whose dads are anaesthesiologists or justices of the Supreme Court. We're the poor, white, middle class and the poor, black kids from the block and the Hispanics from the barrio. We're just as good as the . . . rest, because the honest thing is, that's who I want to go to war with, people like you. And you guys will do great."

Better Living Through Technology

Faced with continuing supply shortages, the need to adapt to a harsh desert environment and the demands of warfare, American troops are innovating and improvising with everything from their high-tech antitank missiles to the lowly packages that contain their widely reviled MREs (Meals Ready to Eat).

In the sands of northern Saudi Arabia, U.S. Army troops armed with TOW -- for Tube-launched, Optically-sighted, Wire-guided -- antitank missiles have found that they can use the weapon's thermal sight to spy on Iraqi troops across the border at night.

The sight shows a human form as a red splotch, from emission of body heat, up to nearly five miles away, farther than the effective range of the missile. The scope also can show whether the engine in an Iraqi vehicle is running by the amount of heat it emits. It is so effective, soldiers say, that they can pick out desert mice running over the sands at two-thirds of a mile in the middle of the night. They appear as little red blips on the barren landscape.

One night recently, Spec. 4 George Johnson, 24, of Dallas, said he watched four Iraqis through his scope for four hours.

"I wanted to fire them up, but we weren't supposed to give away our position," he told a pool reporter. Instead, he contented himself with studying their tactics unobserved.

The ubiquitous MREs also have come in for improvisation, with soldier-chefs creating new recipes from them and even making use of the packages they come in. At the 13th Evacuation Hospital, for example, staffers have concocted "MRE chili" from beef slices, a substance called "bean component" and Tabasco sauce. The ingredients for MRE peanut butter fudge include two cocoa packets, four coffee creamers, one envelope of peanut butter and hot water.

The big cardboard boxes that hold an assortment of MREs are taped together to make chests of drawers. Another large box, stood on end with a rope through the middle, becomes a wardrobe.

Even the brown plastic bags that contain individual MREs are put to use by at least one doctor, Col. Margaret Lee, a cancer surgeon from Hawaii. Using a nail for a sewing needle and plastic twine from sandbags as thread, she has fashioned a pair of slippers, a vest and a pair of shorts. Now she is working on -- what else? -- a grass skirt.