SHUAIBA PORT, Kuwait – The U.S. Army's most lethal and modern heavy division is weeks away from joining the fight in Iraq, a top division officer said Tuesday.
The first three ships carrying the 4th Infantry Division's equipment -- a force that will encompass more than 30,000 troops, 500 armored vehicles and 18 attack helicopters -- arrived Tuesday in this Kuwaiti port for unloading.
A total of 30 ships carrying some of the world's most sophisticated military hardware will arrive in the coming days, but it won't face immediate battle: The port can handle only five ships at a time, and each ship takes two to three days to unload. Helicopters have to be reassembled, and weapons need to be tested before being certified combat-ready.
"We could be on the battlefield in a matter of weeks," said Brig. Gen. Stephen Speakes, assistant division commander for support.
Speakes said parts of the division could go into battle without waiting for all its troops and equipment to arrive. Already 5,000 soldiers from the division have arrived by plane to Kuwait in recent days.
The equipment made a detour to Kuwait after Turkey's government refused to allow passage of U.S. ground troops.
Ships that had been waiting for weeks in the eastern Mediterranean Sea sailed for 10 days, passing through the Suez Canal to bring cargo here that had been loaded as long as two months ago.
The division's equipment isn't worse for the wear despite its long sea voyage, Speakes said. He said soldiers from the division -- based in Fort Hood, Texas -- were ready to fight from the southern front through the Iraqi desert, as opposed to the more mountainous terrain its tanks and infantrymen would have crossed if they had passed through Turkey into northern Iraq.
"We're a central Texas-based force. The hot desert is nothing new to us," Speakes said.
The 4th Infantry Division is the Army's first "digitized division," boasting the latest tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and Apache attack helicopters.
The vehicles are all equipped with computer systems that let soldiers see friendly forces and enemy forces on a map, to minimize the hazards of friendly fire. This war will be the first time the systems are tested in battle.
At Shuaiba Port on Tuesday, a white shrink-wrapped Apache helicopter was rolled off one ship while soldiers across the port supervised the unloading of support equipment from another.
Sgt. 1st Class Fred Gay said his platoon kept ready for war by training even though all their vehicles were out at sea.
"You fight the way you train -- if you train easy, you die easy," said Gay, 33, of Sussex, Va.
Despite fiercer Iraqi resistance than some observers had expected, Gay said his soldiers had no trepidation about heading into battle.
"We have to treat everybody at the same level on the battlefield," he said. "Even though technology maybe is on our side, we didn't expect it to be a cakewalk."