Published March 18, 2003
ABOARD THE USS KITTY HAWK – Troops waiting for war with Iraq cheered President Bush's 48-hour ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to leave his country or face attack.
From Texas to the deserts and seas of the Persian Gulf region, Americans in uniform are eager to get the job done and then get home.
"It's about time," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeff Howard, 33, an aviation electronics technician from Memphis, Tenn.
He and others aboard the USS Kitty Hawk heard Bush's address at 4 a.m. via satellite. Sitting on the mess deck, Howard munched hash browns as he strained to hear the president over the constant din of machine noise.
Nearby, sailors worked to bring laser-guided bombs and missiles up by elevator from the lower deck for attachment to warplanes.
Most said the warning to Saddam was necessary, but some said it would be better if Washington had more international support.
"We deal with what we got," said Seaman Erik Canales, 21, from West New York, N.J., an information systems technician also on the mess deck.
He said Bush's speech made him more concerned about safety because of the risk of attack from Iraq.
"I want this over with quick so I can be with my wife and children," he said. "But this is my job, and the job comes first. This is why I joined. I am here for my country."
In Fort Hood, Texas, home to the Army's 1st Cavalry Division and the 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized), the usually noisy officers' club fell silent from St. Patrick's Day celebrations as Bush spoke.
A holler rang out after the president finished, and the crowd erupted into applause.
"I expected a clear message to us and our allies and Saddam Hussein, and I think the president delivered," said Lt. Sean McBride, 28, an Apache Longbow helicopter pilot.
At a secret location in the Persian Gulf, Bush's speech brought relief to members of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. They hoped their wait in the desert for orders would soon be over.
"We can't allow Saddam Hussein to continue with his weapons of mass destruction," said Lance Cpl. Michael Clark, 22, of Rosalie, Calif. "We just want to do our job so that we can get back home."
Weeks of uncertainty have taken their toll on the Marines, and some expressed frustration about anti-war protests.
"People back home protesting don't realize this is to benefit our future, and it targets not the Iraqi people," said Cpl. Bryan Heinz, 22, Fresno, Calif.
There were nods of approval when Bush said U.S. forces would outline actions the Iraqi military should take to avoid attack.
"He laid it out for the Iraqi military that we are not there to destroy them -- we are not there to destroy the Iraqi people," said Capt. Eric Purple, 27, of New Milord, Conn. "You choose to lay down your arms, we're not going to kill you like a bunch of savages."
In the Kuwaiti desert, soldiers from A Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment woke up early to hear Bush on Voice of America radio.
Standing under a full moon in the cold desert, their reaction was subdued, as if they had just been given a solemn mission.
"He (Saddam) better be packing his bags," said Sgt. 1st Class Eric Alfred, of Twin Mountain, N.H.
Keeping morale high after four months of uncertainty has been tough for leaders like Alfred, a 31-year-old platoon sergeant. But the mood in the camp obviously improved with knowing the end game was in sight.
"We don't want to go to war," he said. "But it is good to know what's going to happen."