Jewish World Review
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (KRT) TIKRIT, Iraq -- Army Spc. Via Yang shares at least one wish with President George Bush: He'd like to find some chemical or biological weapons in Iraq.
As the designated expert in nuclear, biological and chemical weapons for G Troop, 10th Cavalry, a light reconnaissance unit with Fort Hood's 4th Infantry Division, Vang had helped fellow soldiers prepare for the worst.
"We were expecting a chemical attack," said Vang, 22, of Denver. "Since we've been here, nothing's happened. I'm glad it didn't happen, and I'm glad we had the training, but it's kind of awkward for me. … I don't have a chance to actually do my job."
U.S. military forces continue to scour the Iraqi countryside in search of proof that Saddam Hussein's regime did, in fact, have weapons of mass destruction. The Pentagon recently dispatched a team to collect information on Saddam's nuclear, chemical and biological programs, significantly expanding the number of personnel involved in that search.
However, the apparent failure to uncover such weapons, at least to date, has fueled criticism of the Bush administration's hard sell for the war and the quality of prewar intelligence on Iraq's purported weapons of mass destruction.
Senior defense officials confirmed Friday that a report by the Pentagon's intelligence agency last September expressed significant doubts about whether Saddam was producing and stockpiling chemical and biological weapons, as President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell all claimed.
But in the weeks leading up to the war, G Troop soldiers practiced donning their gas masks in seconds, and their chemical suits in minutes. At least once they exercised in full chemical gear.
They were instructed on the Pandora's box of chemical and biological weapons that were presumed to be in Saddam's arsenal, and the perils of a poisoned battlefield. They were among the hundreds of thousands of service members who received vaccinations for smallpox and anthrax.
By the time they rolled into Iraq from Kuwait, however, there was little to suggest that Iraq's military would use chemical or biological weapons - or even had them readily at hand. So the soldiers of G Troop went into combat with their protective gear close at hand, but not wearing it.
And that was a relief. Visibility and movement is limited in a chemical suit, a decided liability in combat, and wearing a suit in the desert sun is something akin to being in a mobile sauna.
"With this heat, wearing our MOPP (Mission-Oriented-Protection-Posture) suits, I can't even imagine the number of heat casualties that we would have had," said Capt. John McClusky, 27, of Twin Falls, Idaho.
As organized resistance in Iraq diminished, G Troop soldiers, like many thousands of other service members, kept a sharp eye out for weapons of mass destruction. They found abandoned gas masks and chemical suits, even drugs that can help victims of a nerve gas attack survive, but no chemical or biological agents.
Vang now worries that other soldiers won't take the risk of chemical and biological weapons seriously, the remaining time they are in Iraq and in future conflicts.
"The joke in the Army is that the NBC soldier is the `Nobody Cares soldier' because we'll never have an attack. That's the mentality," he said. "Now it's so relaxed that we don't even think about NBC training anymore."
Staff Sgt. Michael Crosby, 24, of Hollywood, Md., recalls pre-war briefings that left the clear impression U.S. forces would endure chemical or biological attacks.
"I had my NBC suit ready to go," Crosby said. "I had everything prepared. … I still carry it in the truck, but I haven't even looked at it … "
Still, many soldiers remain convinced that chemical or biological weapons will be found.
"There's no question, in my mind," said McClusky, who commands G Troop's 3rd "Striker" Platoon. "It's just, when are we going to find it? How much did he have?"
First Sgt. Bill Taylor, G Troop's senior enlisted soldier, suggested that Saddam had plenty of time to find good hiding places for his chemical and biological weapons after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, or to move them out of Iraq.
"I have no doubt in my military mind that someone knows where to get hold of something really nasty and is probably working out plans to use it," said Taylor, 40, of Purvis, Miss.
Sgt. Chris Clingempeel, 24, of Augusta, Ga., noted that U.S. forces have been concentrated in urban areas, or rural areas around cities and towns.
"Maybe further out in the west where it's wide-open desert, or maybe even further north where it's mountainous, there's probably a good chance that he's got something stashed that we just haven't found yet," he said.
Another possibility is that no chemical or biological weapons will be found.
"I really hope we do, but I won't be surprised if we don't," said Capt. Tyler W. Schaffer, 26, Pennsburg, Penn., G Troop's executive officer. "If I were Saddam … that would be the first thing I would get rid of."
Whether weapons of mass destruction are ever found, some soldiers said there are still other important reasons to be in Iraq.
"We're still helping these people out, giving them a chance for a better life," Crosby said. "It's still worth it."
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