TOPICS > Nation

Facing Forward

March 18, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT
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TOM BEARDEN: Central Command headquarters is a heavily guarded compound on the outskirts of the city of Doha. It’s a collection of football field-sized warehouses that are usually filled with tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. All that equipment is gone, moved to the front in Kuwait. The warehouses now serve as living quarters for the 3,000 service personnel assigned to the command. They pitched tents inside the climate-controlled buildings and added still more air conditioning capacity because in the summer temperatures can rise to 130 degrees. There are designated tents for people on day and night shifts because most people are working sixteen to eighteen hours a day. Sleep time is precious.

Across the street accommodations are a little better — steel cubicles that house two individuals affording them a quieter and more private environment. There’s even a swimming pool, although using it comes out of a person’s sleep time. And there’s a massive dining facility serving enormous quantities of food and the fries are still French. It’s all a far cry from a tent in the Kuwaiti Desert, and nobody knows that more than these four service members. Air Force Captain Terry Raines Perone, Navy Command Master Chief Donn Kaczmarkek, Marine Sergeant Ray Binney and Army Sergeant Derek Rosa.

CAPT. TERRY RAINES PERONE: We’re living the high life here. There are a lot of troops not eating hot meals, they’re not sleeping on a bed. They certainly don’t have a computer to e-mail their husbands or their wives or their kids at home. We have all those things.

TOM BEARDEN: Anybody feel guilty about that a little bit?

MATER CHIEF DONN KACZMAREK: Not a bit. No, but we… I mean, there are folks out there living it pretty rough. God bless them. If I had to be out there with them, I’d go in a heartbeat. But I’m enjoying it here.

TOM BEARDEN: Not too bad to have a pool available.

MASTER CHIEF DONN KACZMAREK: No it’s not.

TOM BEARDEN: They all watched Pres. Bush’s speech last night which aired at 4:00 A.M. local time.

CAPT. TERRY RAINES PERONE: I think there was a huge sense of relief, especially for those of us who have been here for a while to finally see, okay, we’re giving him a deadline. It’s for real. So that was just a huge sigh of relief.

MASTER CHIEF DONN KACZMAREK: What we’ve been pushing or going on 12 years now, it’s time to put his feet to the fire.

TOM BEARDEN: Anybody nervous about this going forward?

MASTER CHIEF DONN KACZMAREK: Our folks are trained. We’re ready. We’re the best force this planet has ever known. We’re ready to go and will do what the president needs us to do. I don’t know if it’s nervous or not. There’s some anxiety with it.

GUNNERY SGT. RAY BINNEY: It’s kind of a relief actually knowing that we’re finally having a deadline. Things are going to finally come to a head one way or another.

TOM BEARDEN: In the sense you might get to go home sometime soon.

GUNNERY SGT. RAY BINNEY: Exactly.

TOM BEARDEN: Sergeant Rosa volunteered to be here for a very specific reason.

SGT. DEREK ROSA: I was in Operation Desert Spring in Kuwait during Sept. 11 attacks. I watched as the planes hit and the buildings collapsed. I saw the men and women running around scared, the terror that was gripping them. And I was sitting there with my M-16 straddled by tanks and infantry fighting vehicles in the middle of the desert in the Middle East, and I felt helpless. Ever since I got back from Kuwait I’ve been trying to get out of here to, not to Qatar but Afghanistan or somewhere else in the Middle East so I can make a difference. That’s one of the reasons why I re-enlisted in Kuwait because I feel I haven’t done my part yet.

MASTER CHIEF DONN KACZMAREK: It was an emotional event. They hit us at our house with our own stuff. We’re America. You don’t do it to us.

TOM BEARDEN: Any concern that this action might cause terrorism at home as some have speculated?

MASTER CHIEF DONN KACZMAREK: Hate to speculate. I mean, the threat is always there. That’s one of the reasons we’re out here. We can stop the threat or at least minimize it as much as possible.

SGT. DEREK ROSA: Another reason why we’re here is for the Iraqi people — that those protesters exercising their rights to speak in public, we’re just trying to extend that to the Iraqi people so they can.

TOM BEARDEN: A lot of countries have made it very clear they don’t support the U.S. In doing this. What’s your reaction to that? Do you feel in some sense isolated here going against the will of the rest of the world community as some people assert?

CAPT. TERRY RAINES PERONE: I don’t feel isolated at all. I know I’m here for the right reason. I’m going to do what the president asks of me.

GUNNERY SGT. RAY BINNEY: There’s only really a small percentage of countries that really don’t think it’s the right thing. I think the majority backs what we think on this one. I think they back us.

TOM BEARDEN: Reporter: In the meantime not surprisingly, they miss their families.

GUNNERY SGT. RAY BINNEY: I’ve been deployed several times before. The only difference on this one that makes it a little bit difficult is that this time I have a four-year-old son, which I’ve never had before. When this whole ordeal started and I got activated he was two. Now he’s four and a half. Time has been going by. That’s the hardest thing for me is my son, not seeing the T-ball game that he just, you know, started, not seeing him learn how to roller skate — things of that nature. That I’ll never ever see. That’s a one-time deal.

TOM BEARDEN: These service people say there has been no change in their routine since the president’s announcement. And that is by design. They say they deliberately trained the same way they fight so that when the fighting does come, the demands of their jobs are almost routine.