DAMMAM, SAUDI ARABIA, JUNE 7 -- In the sun-blinded port of this dusty Persian Gulf town, 1,600 U.S. Army transportation specialists are still sweating through 12-hour work shifts. Mention "parade," and you draw mostly blank stares.

"What parade?" asked Pvt. Tosha Karr, 19, of Quanah, Tex., from behind the wheel of a mammoth military supply truck. "Oh, when is it? Which one?" asked 24-year-old 1st Lt. Amy Englund of Fairfax County, who runs the port's western pier.

Only Staff Sgt. Kevin Buckman, a Kentucky National Guardsman checking ID cards at the gate, thought he knew which parade a visitor was talking about. "We have to do it every year," he said matter-of-factly. "It's mandatory for us to work the {Kentucky} Derby. Crowd control. You're talking about the Derby parade."

For nearly 65,000 U.S. troops still deployed in the gulf, the Desert Storm victory galas in Washington and New York will be remote affairs. Great for the American people to feel good about their latest war. All in all, nice. But nicer still, they said, will be getting home.

"My big parade's at home -- with my husband," said 1st Lt. Gina Tanner, 30, of Manhattan, Kan., who like most of her colleagues in this port is a member of the U.S. Army's 24th Transportation Battalion out of Fort Eustis, Va.

The American deployment, which peaked in January with 540,000 troops, is dwindling daily as units pack up and depart for home. But the drawdown could last until the end of the year.

Lt. Gen. William "Gus" Pagonis, logistics czar for Operation Desert Storm and the most senior U.S. military official left here, gave his troops something to look forward to by decreeing that active duty personnel will have to spend no more than a year, and reservists nine months, in the gulf. Reservists account for 43 percent of the 64,800 still deployed.

About 5,000 of these American troops are stationed in Kuwait as a psychological deterrent to Iraqi adventures and as comfort for the still skittish Kuwaiti government. Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney has said they will be there until September.

Some 18,000 others are U.S. Navy personnel on U.S. warships or in the island nation of Bahrain. By far the largest group, about 33,000 U.S. Army personnel, are in Saudi Arabia, carrying out Desert Storm's extended postcript. U.S. military planners call it Operation Desert Farewell.

For those working in Dammam's port, this means cleaning, packing and loading vast amounts of unused ammunition and military hardware onto ships bound for home. Often, it amounts to closing a circle.

"We watched this equipment come in," sighed Pvt. Rachel Smith, 22, a reservist from Natchitoches, La. "And now we're watching it leave." Thousands of mobile artillery guns, armored cars, Jeep-like Humvees and tanks are parked in neat, silent rows in and around the port, awaiting shipment.

"It's the only war I know of where we take the stuff home," said reserve Chief Warrant Officer Edward Johns, 44, the Army's harbor master at the port. But since "our future Army is here . . . because of budgets going down," it has to be done, said the Baltimore native.

It's a far less glorious mission than the four-day allied blitz during Desert Storm's ground war, most of whose participants are already back home. "The combat types, they always get the parades," said Johns, voicing the widespread feeling among these support troops that their war contribution is underrated.

"Transportation types like us always miss the parades," said Johns. "The killer is that this was a logistical war. How long did the war last? A hundred hours? Transportation started six months before the war and will last seven months afterward. . . . The logisticians won this war. . . . You couldn't drop a bomb if we didn't get 'em here."

Daily life for these troops is no longer coiled with the tension of last January, when five months of frenzied battle preparation, known as Operation Desert Shield, erupted into combat at the outbreak of Desert Storm.

Instead, in what some call Operation Desert Calm, sleep now goes uninterrupted by Scud missile attacks. Military police are no longer jumpy. And people have time to take their turn on the "Love Boat" in Bahrain. A Cunard luxury liner rented by the U.S. military for troop recreation, the "Love Boat" offers alcohol, which is banned in Saudi Arabia, and free food.

Over at the Dhahran International Hotel, the sprawling Joint Information Bureau, where more than 1,000 international journalists waged their own war with U.S. military public affairs officers, has moved from the huge ballroom to a tiny room where phones ring intermittently.

"Most of life is really mundane now," said Maj. Garian Perugini, an Air Force public afairs officer.

Listener requests to the Armed Forces Desert Network radio stations for patriotic, soul-inspiring songs have gone down. And so has the mail.

People "think something's wrong with the {mail} system. But this isn't true. People have just stopped writing," said a mail clerk, Sgt. Tracy Kauszler, 24, of Elizabeth, N.J. "Many people forgot we're still here."

Her post office used to get a boxful of letters addressed "To Any U.S. Serviceman" once a week. "Now we get maybe one or two letters every other day. Families are still writing, but not as much. Everyone is expecting us to go home soon," Kauszler added.

During the war, the military-run Desert Storm radio stations, which now include one broadcasting in Kuwait, devoted most of their programming to news. Today, they're back to mostly music, interspersed with public service announcements about "redeployment, safety, morale and recreation issues," said one disc jockey, Spec. Adam Honore, 21, of Racine, Wis.

"During the war, there were key songs everyone wanted to hear," said the Dhahran station manager, Capt. Robert Close. "Patriotic ones like 'God Bless America,' or inspirational, like 'Wind Beneath My Wings,' and fun tunes like 'Another One Bites the Dust.' Nowadays, requests are just songs people enjoy hearing. "

Mail clerk Kauszler said the length of their deployment has been less difficult for her and her colleagues than the social restrictions. "I want to go home and be able to wear a miniskirt, and walk down the street and have nobody say nothing," she said.

But most of all, Kauszler is eager to be with her 2-year-old son, Justin, whom she has not seen since September. "I'll probably have to live with the baby sitter for a couple of weeks until my son gets used to me," said Kauszler, whose husband, Tim, is also stationed in the gulf.

Meanwhile, Desert Storm Radio will air news about this weekend's parades, said station manager Close. "The hoopla is good," he said, because "it's important for the American people to get out there and cheer, and feel like they're part of it too. It's their chance to go and say, 'We won.' "

But even as the celebrations honor "the guys who rushed in . . . {and} put their lives on the line," said Staff Sgt. Laura Martin, 40, of Anderson, S.C., "I don't think the world should forget about those people" in Iraq. "Their country has been destroyed. They're fighting over {U.S. food ration} MREs to eat. It's pathetic."

Martin said she's not disappointed about missing the parades. She's already had hers.

The other day on the phone, her 17-year-old son, Alfred, said, "Mom, I'm so proud of you."

"This, everything I went through, was worth it. To hear him say that," said Martin.