CAMP COYOTE, Kuwait - Their journey to the Middle East began almost two months ago on a chilly morning at the Army Reserve center on Wrightsboro Road.
Now the 319th Transportation Company has arrived at its post in the Kuwaiti desert, where the U.S. military has assembled its massive launching pad for a war against Iraq.
The Augusta-based Army Reserve unit arrived Saturday at Camp Guam, part of the sprawling Marine base in northern Kuwait known as Camp Coyote. The 319th will support the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, or 1 MEF, as part of the 1st Force Service Support Group, which provides supply, maintenance, engineering, medical services and transportation for ground and air assault forces. The 1 MEF is a corps-level unit made up of more than 50,000 Marines.
The 319th is currently the only Army unit attached to the 1st Force Service Support Group. With its tanker trucks, it will be responsible for hauling fuel from refineries to depots closer to the front lines. Other units will carry the fuel to the tanks and jets of the 1 MEF.
The concept of joint warfare is nothing new, said Marine Col. Dave Reist, the commanding officer of the transportation component of the support group. Traditionally, Marines move into a war zone from ship to shore, but in this operation they will be required to move long distances by land. By moving fuel forward, the 319th gives the Marine unit legs, the colonel said.
"This single company provides tremendous ability," Col. Reist said. "They bring a lot of things to the table. We're pleased to have them."
Members of the 319th aren't complaining. If war breaks out, the Marines are likely to keep the battle far from wherever they are.
"If anything gets to here, it's got to be real damn lucky," said Master Sgt. Walter Huewitt, 38, of Augusta.
"I look at it this way. If we go to war, and it gets to us, we've really got problems, and I really don't see that happening," said Pfc. Eric McCormick, 20, of Gainesville, one of the reservists from the Florida-based 228th Transportation Company, which was attached to the 319th. Members of transportation companies based in Mississippi, Florida, Alabama and North Carolina were absorbed.
Before the move to Camp Coyote, the unit had been stationed at Camp Arifjan outside Kuwait City for almost a month. Camp Arifjan had a Burger King, a Subway and a Chinese restaurant. Soldiers could make 20-minute phone calls home. Arifjan is similar to an Army base in America, said Spc. Brande Langford, 27, of Aiken.
The landscape around Camp Coyote is like a beach without an ocean. The camp is full of tents, trailers, sand berms, bunkers and portable bathroom stalls that often overfill. Its only restaurant is the chow hall.
"Morale calls home," which are once-a-week five-minute telephone calls, have been suspended. Mail takes up to three weeks to reach its destination.
The supply of running water is limited, so everyone has been told to take "Navy showers" - rinse, turn off the water, soap up, turn the water on, then rinse.
The soldiers are adjusting to other tough aspects of life at the Marine camp, including carrying their rifles over their shoulders almost everywhere they go and wearing full battle gear to meals.
The unit won't move again unless war breaks out.
"It's really not as bad as I thought it was going to be," Spc. Langford said during breakfast Tuesday. "I thought we were going to be sleeping in two-man tents, no food, no water, no showers - you know, living like Marines."
The weather here could become brutally hot within the next month, but currently it is still mild. Temperatures are creeping into the 80s during the day and dropping into the low 50s at night.
There's a breeze, but it blows fine sand through the air that's easy to inhale and gets in eyes. A blinding sandstorm hit the camp Wednesday night, penetrating the cracks in tents and covering everything in grit.
The 319th already has begun making runs to pre-position fuel in the desert. The trucks have logged more than 50,000 miles and moved more than 1 million gallons of fuel since arriving in Kuwait.
Capt. Mohandas Martin, the unit's commanding officer, said there have been good days and bad days. There have been fears about the unknown, and homesickness. Right now, though, overall morale is good, he said. Being attached to the Marines wasn't what they expected, but all of the military is here for the same purpose, Capt. Martin said.
"This is a unique experience," he said. "It's not every day that you hear about the Army and the Marines working together for the good of the nation."