For the first time in the two-week-old war, U.S. soldiers in some parts of Iraq were permitted today to shuck the bulky protective suits that they have been wearing to protect against a chemical or biological weapons attack.
An order from the V Corps, which is coordinating the Army's ground assault in Iraq, allows troops in certain areas to carry the suits while at their bases, rather than wear the baggy trousers and tops all day, an official said.
"The threat level is less," said one U.S. base commander, who asked that the location of bases affected by the order not be released. Another reason for the decision, he said, was heat that soared to 95 degrees today.
Soldiers were thrilled at the news.
"Everyone was like, yay!" said Capt. Gary Marea, 36, of Astoria, N.Y., a planning officer who was wearing a crisp desert camouflage uniform. "It was like their team just won the Super Bowl."
"I felt about 50 pounds lighter," said Spec. Louis Sather, 36, of Madison, Wis., an intelligence analyst who, like other soldiers, has worn the chemical suit since he crossed the border from Kuwait shortly after the war started.
"Morale shot up 110 percent," said Tech. Sgt. Scott Darling, 38, of Tampa, an Air Force weather forecaster.
Troops will continue to carry gas masks in cases on their hips. They have drilled repeatedly on how to rapidly pull on their suits and masks in case of an attack. Troops on the front lines will continue to wear the outfits, officials said.
Mary Beth Sheridan