Lance Cpl. Matthew Funicello expected war to be just like the more experienced Marines had described: hours of boredom punctuated by the occasional few seconds of sheer terror.
But after a bloodless romp through southern Iraq in which his battalion seized one of the country's most important oil processing facilities, at the Rumaila oil field, without firing a shot, he was starting to wonder when the terror might come.
"It feels like one big training exercise," Funicello, 21, of Los Angeles, said as he stood by the side of a highway while his broken-down Amtrak -- Amphibious Assault Vehicle -- underwent repairs. "I mean, right now we are disabled on the road, in a hostile country, and no one is even setting up a perimeter. Most of us just don't feel like we're in danger."
So far the conflict with Iraq has been easier than many of the Marines here expected. Just two of the more than 50,000 members of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in the region have been killed in action.
"I hoped I wouldn't be busy, because that would mean we were having a bad day," said Jaimer Cadang, 27, a Navy corpsman from Oxnard, Calif., who provides medical care to the Marines here. "But so far, the only people I've treated are wounded Iraqis. I never would have guessed that."
Another Marine compared the first two days of the war -- in which U.S. forces sped across the Iraqi border from Kuwait to seize key objectives -- to a "drive-by shooting."
All week, the commanders of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, have been warning their troops to remain vigilant, even as the Iraqi army seemed to melt away before them. "When you get complacent in combat, the critique is that you and your fellow Marines get killed," said Maj. Dan Healey, 36, of Worcester, Mass., as he briefed Bravo Company this week.
On their second day in Iraq, the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment encountered occasional pockets of resistance that some Marines said could prove more dangerous than the set-piece battles to seize strategic objectives for which commanders have had months to plan.
For instance, on a routine patrol through a village about two miles from the oil facility, Marines stumbled across 10 Iraqi T-55 tanks dug-in in a defensive posture and, in a battle, destroyed all of them with shoulder-fired antitank weapons and TOW missiles launched from Humvees.
"It's the aftermath [of seizing an objective] that can be the most dangerous," said Dave Jobe, a Bravo Company first sergeant from Mesa, Ariz. "I've said to the Marines all along that I am not as worried about the regular army as I am about the scattered bands and the potshot shootings."
After the excitement of the border crossing, the Marines handed off the oil facility this afternoon to a battalion of British Blackwatch forces. This evening the Marines made their way northwest in a convoy of hundreds of armored vehicles to a staging area for the next objective in the ground campaign.
Jobe said he reminded his forces that their job will get harder the longer it goes on, and that it could culminate in a difficult siege of Baghdad, the Iraqi capital. But that hasn't stopped many of his charges from referring to their procession north as the "Baghdad 500."