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Saturday, March 22

'$10 billion on wheels' rolls through Iraqi desert

By John Bebow | The Detroit News

SOUTHERN IRAQ - A convoy of thousands of trucks filled with water, fuel, food and heavy equipment snaked across southern Iraq late Friday in what some Marines termed "The Longest Night."

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps convoy covered the horizon and took 14 hours to travel a distance that would take an hour on an American freeway.

As the trucks continued to roll all day Saturday, it was clear there is plenty of fuel and ammunition for weeks and weeks of shock and awe.

"It's just $10 billion on wheels," said Marine Col. Darrell Moore, who is leading the forward elements of the 1st Force Service Support Group in charge of replenishing supplies for front-line Marines moving swiftly through Iraq.

"When the nation decides to draw its sword, a lot comes with it. This scabbard seems bigger than the blade." 

Equipment and supplies started rolling through breaches in the Iraqi border about 12 hours after the first troops stormed into the country.

It took all day to grade roads for truck travel and all night to negotiate slim paths through potential mine fields to strategic desert bases. The need for supplies is immense. Marine fighting forces alone will consume 500,000 gallons of fuel per day.

Moore, who rolled through the man-made dust storm Friday night in a cramped Humvee, termed the roads "moon powder" as vehicles occasionally got stuck or broke down.

Convoys were further slowed when sleep-starved truck drivers dozed off, bringing one long convoy to a halt for more than 30 minutes before Moore could get it all rolling again.

Outside of a few minutes of screaming to get dozing drivers going again, Moore kept a portion of the miles-long convoy loose with off-the-cuff jokes.

"The eyes of Texas are upon you!" he shouted, passing another Humvee adorned with the Texas state flag. 

"Want a Pringle?" he offered his riders later. "Everything goes better with a Pringle." 

The convoy finally reached its destination at 8 a.m. Along the way, Marines and soldiers witnessed few signs of fighting, except for a demolished Iraqi checkpoint and large bullet holes in a U.N. observation post near the border.

The lack of damage surprised Marine Sgt. Andrew Lafranchise. "All that noise we heard the other night," he said, remembering artillery volleys and large booms the convoys witnessed on the northern horizon earlier in the week.

"It wasn't bad," Lafranchise said of his 14-hour drive.  He had time for a nap on the top of his Humvee Saturday as mine-sweeping teams cleared the way for a new camp. Then he did what many Marines do when they have spare time: He cleaned his rifle.

Detroit News staff writer John Bebow, a 36-year-old investigative reporter, is covering the U.S. Marines in southern Iraq for Gannett News Service.