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Tuesday, March 25

Marine supply convoy sidelined by breakdowns, sandstorm

By John Bebow | The Detroit News

SOUTHERN IRAQ - The war of shock and awe changed to stop and wait for a crucial Marine convoy trying to get supplies to the front lines Tuesday.

A 100-vehicle convoy carrying food and ammunition bogged down in a wicked sandstorm, brief periods of enemy fire, broken-down vehicles and exhausted and snoozing drivers.

The convoy, part of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, left a supply camp Monday afternoon. Nearly 24 hours later, it traveled just 90 miles and made it no farther.

As winds turned the sky yellow and reddened Marines' eyes, all Marines on the convoy abruptly were ordered out of their vehicles and into formation alongside an Iraqi highway.

Major Jeff Eberwein implored his crew to keep going, despite getting only five hours of sleep since they left Kuwait some 150-200 miles south on Saturday.

Front-line Marines ``are up there fighting the fight,'' Eberwein said after the convoy had to stop because a driver fell asleep. ``Every time we have a delay like this, it has the potential of shaping the outcome of battle.''

Earlier that afternoon, a truck carrying guided missiles broke down, creating surreal moments at the rear of the convoy.

Marines, knowing they were easy targets for snipers, yet unable to leave the weapons cache at the side of the road, had several tense standoffs with Iraqi civilians, who appeared suddenly like apparitions through the glowing sand storm.

A group of Iraqis carrying fresh tomatoes was stopped and forced to lay on the ground while their truck was searched.

``The heart is pumping a little bit,'' said Lance Cpl. Robert C. Kissman of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. ``We didn't know what was under those tomatoes.''

Moments after the Marines let the tomato truck by, another vanload of Iraqis appeared. As they were searched, four U.S. Army Bradley tanks rumbled up the road and briefly pointed their turrets on the Marines, before the tank drivers figured out they were friends, not foes.

``We might as well have sling shots,'' Kissman said.

Near dark, a tow vehicle finally took the guided missile off the convoy's hands. But the spookiness continued as word went up and down the convoy of enemy sniper fire.

At least one truck in the Marine convoy reported returning fire. There were no apparent casualties.

The sandstorm mixed with rain showers after dark as bright white and red flashes lit up the sky from distant fighting.

The convoy bedded down to wait out the storm and try again Wednesday.