IN THE KUWAITI DESERT -- Roughly 6,000 U.S. Marines who had been sailing for 36 straight days arrived Monday in Kuwait, bringing the Marine force here to nearly full strength as the U.S. military prepares for a possible attack on Iraq.
Scores of troops from Regimental Combat Team 1 of the 1st Marine Division were flown by helicopter for 40 minutes from the seven amphibious ships that carried them from Camp Pendleton in California to the Kuwaiti desert where they will set up camp.
The remainder will be ferried to the desert over the next few days.
"We're at the latter end of the flow (of incoming Marines) right now," said Capt. Joe Plenzler, a Marine spokesman. "We're pretty much done."
The arrivals Monday came five days after another contingent of seven amphibious ships from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina arrived in Kuwait. That group, Task Force Tarawa, is made up of units from the 2nd Marine Division and includes mechanized infantry, the Marines said.
More than 150,000 U.S. troops have been deployed in the Gulf in anticipation of a possible invasion of Iraq. President Bush had threatened to use military force to ensure Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein gives up weapons prohibited by U.N. resolutions.
Some of the Marines from the 1st Infantry Regiment who arrived here Monday were brought into the desert in cramped CH-46 Sea Knights, which made a wide circle around the landing zone and then were guided in by green smoke rising from a canister.
Other Marines came in later on the more spacious CH-53 Super Stallions.
Wearing bulletproof vests and helmets, they scrambled out the back of the helicopters into a cloud of dust and walked, carrying their full packs weighing well over 100 pounds, toward what will be their camp.
Some set down their packs and relaxed, while others set up mortars and immediately began running drills.
The 1st Infantry Regiment will join the 5th and the 7th regiments, which are already here, Plenzler said.
"This is like adding the third knuckle to the fist," he said.
Master Sgt. Dennis McGrury scanned the desert and laughed: It looked like the California desert where they have done many of their drills.
"This is no different than going on any training operation," said McGrury, 42, from Ocean Springs, Miss.
Some of the troops were a little stir crazy after the long journey: The ships refueled six or seven times at sea but never stopped at a port.
But Gunnery Sgt. Douglas Smarstey, 30, from Murrieta, Calif., said he would miss the hot showers, hot food, satellite television and "all the nice things they have on the ship."
"But now it's our turn. We have a job to do," he said.