The day begins in Bay 7 of Warehouse 6 at oh-dark-thirty. Two hundred ten soldiers, most with the Screaming Eagles patch of the 101st Airborne Division on their uniform sleeves, stir from their sleeping bags. At this hour they are the yawning eagles, but soon the place bustles with a rattle of weapons and arranging of gear.
The troops are preparing for war, but for the next few days, until the division headquarters gear arrives by ship, they are living in this rear base before decamping for the northern Kuwaiti desert. One by one they walk 300 paces to the nearest sinks to wash their faces and brush their teeth.
A note taped to the warehouse door from the headquarters commandant warns: "Hotel 6 is coming under new management beginning 5 March. The bay will be straightened up and dressed right. We need to squeeze in more cots."
More cots have arrived overnight, giving the bay a fair resemblance to Calcutta. Maj. Brian Coppersmith, a division staff officer, offers a different metaphor. "It's like a Greyhound bus," he says, shouldering his rucksack. "The more people you cram aboard, the less they talk to one another."
In the faint light, a platoon jogs past doing physical training. The troops answer the sergeant's Jody call in unison: "Momma and me lyin' in bed, Momma turns to me and Momma says, Gimme gimme P.T. Good for you and good for me."
Most of Bay 7 then walks 700 paces to the mess hall, where it seems every soldier is wolfing down a 2,000-calorie breakfast. Good for you and good for me.
In the middle distance, two pairs of power plant smokestacks frame the camp; troops call them "Scud goal posts."
Screaming Eagle soldiers in desert camouflage toss off salutes and bark the division motto, "Air assault, sir!" In two days the division's helicopters will begin arriving -- several hundred Apaches, Black Hawks, Kiowas and Chinooks -- and the motto will evolve from boast to fact. For now the soldiers are building their desert encampments, while senior officers draft and redraft their battle plans.
Camp Doha has been here since the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, growing from an industrial park 10 miles west of Kuwait City to a sprawling camp with 7,800 residents and a $100 million annual budget. Increasingly it resembles Long Binh during the Vietnam War, a vast rear-area compound whose denizens were dubbed "Dial Soapers" by their unwashed comrades in the field.
Most of the Screaming Eagles here are pleased to be Dial Soapers. Warehouse comfort will not last long. The mess hall is a wonder. Short-order cooks whip up French toast, eggs, sausage and bacon, all free; tonight the menu includes steak and crab legs. Kayani's Ice Cream Corner offers the stuff hand-dipped, while Jungle Juice Junction provides mango, orange and kiwi concoctions. Fox TV and CNN blare from nine television sets.
At Frosty's Recreation Center, spades, domino and table tennis tournaments are held just past the video rental drop box. The camp theater is showing "Undercover Brother." Monday is bingo night. The recreation center is also a wonder, with indoor volleyball and basketball courts, yoga classes and dozens of aerobic machines. Good for you and good for me.
The bench-press contest this month is organized into eight weight classes, male and female, with trophies. Overachievers can qualify for the Camp Doha Physical Fitness Award by jogging 270 miles, rowing 180 kilometers, and completing 9,000 sit-ups and 9,700 push-ups.
The PX sells everything from Sony boomboxes and Rawlings baseball gloves to barbecue tongs and Jay-Z CDs. All day, every day, lines 25 deep form at the seven cash registers.
"An hour. An hour in that bleeding queue," a British soldier mutters. "Unbelievable."
Those with a few minutes to kill can sip coffee at a Formica table outside the camp barbershop ("Military haircut -- $5.25") and the camp dry cleaner ("DCUs laundered -- $3.50"). Patton Avenue seems a bit like the bar scene in "Star Wars." Tough-guy soldiers of half a dozen nationalities saunter past, Gurkhas and Kiwis, Czechs and Yanks; they brush sleeves with pot-bellied contractors, Pakistani cooks and Red Cross volunteers. Any semblance of female pulchritude draws admiring murmurs from a squad of British paratroops.
The combat troops sport berets and boonie hats, go-to-hell caps and Kevlar helmets; many carry the obligatory Big Knife. The only thing all have in common, besides a swagger, is the gas mask carried on the hip in a canvas sack.
An indoor mall next to the finance office includes the Pamas Souvenir Shop, with carved wooden camels and T-shirts displaying a mushroom cloud with the caption, "Weather Forecast: Baghdad 32,000 Degrees and Partly Cloudy." Other shops offer Iranian carpets, custom engraved wedding bands and Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200s. Enormous lines form at the Subway, Hardee's and Kentucky Fried Chicken counters.
"I am amazed at how civilized it looks," says Maj. David A. Accetta, who in May 1991 was here with the first Army unit to encamp at Doha. "It didn't look anything like this then. We had a wood-frame shower with a trash can on top, which had to be filled from five-gallon jugs of water."
Perimeter security and much of the camp's life support is provided by Combat Support Associates, a Virginia-based contractor, which hires Pakistanis and other third-country nationals to do much of the scut work.
"The CSA contract has grown extensively since the buildup for Iraq," says Col. Ulysses Brown Jr., the camp commander. "They were authorized 2,200 people last summer, and now it's up to 2,800, and still growing."
Such cheek-by-jowl crowding makes for aggressive claims-staking. Warning notices on the blue portable toilets outside Building 6 declare: "These dunnies are for the use of Australian Task Force personnel. Cheers, mate."
The day ends with another 700 paces to the mess hall, 700 paces back, and the 600-pace round trip to the sinks. Snores soon make Bay 7 sound like a sawmill. Oh-dark-thirty comes early.