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Old 03-11-2003, 07:09 AM
thedrifter thedrifter is offline
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Cool Superstitions Abound At Camp As Soldiers Await War In Iraq

Superstitions Abound At Camp As Soldiers Await War In Iraq
Wall Street Journal
March 3, 2003

Superstitions Abound At Camp As Soldiers Await War In Iraq

By Michael M. Phillips, Staff Reporter Of The Wall Street Journal

LIVING SUPPORT AREA 7, Kuwait -- Don't eat Charms hard candies. Don't look
through a sniper's scope. And whatever you do, don't mention apricots near a

Wartime brings out the superstitious side of the troops, whose very
survival is often at the whim of forces well beyond their control. And as
they wait in the desert for G-Day -- ground-attack day -- the Marines of the
3rd Battalion, 7th Regiment, have a lot of time to ponder the uncertainties
ahead. "Everybody's got their superstitions," says First Sgt. Vic Martin, 40
years old, from Hemet, Calif. "The more dangerous the job, the more

In a Marine camp where every job carries risks, few face more danger than
the scout snipers, who have elaborate superstitions to protect them. Snipers
sneak behind enemy lines camouflaged in ghillie suits, handcrafted from
individual strands of burlap and foliage picked up as they collect
intelligence and stalk enemy commanders. It is a very personal way to kill,
and so snipers consider the suits, weapons and even bullets to be almost

Snipers won't let anyone wear their ghillie suits or look through the
scopes of their 7.62 mm rifles. Each sniper wears a special amulet on a cord
around his neck: a smooth 7.62 mm slug. "This is the bullet that's going to
take you out," says Sgt. Zach Hansen, a 21-year-old sniper from Salt Lake
City. "As long as it's around your neck, you'll be kept safe." In fact, any
sniper caught without his bullet has to do 25 pushups, the last five while
chanting, "Scout sniper."
Sev eral tents down the row, Navy Lt. Darren Stennett, the battalion
chaplain, isn't surprised to see Marines looking beyond the physical world
for comfort, although he'd prefer to see their spirituality directed to more
traditional religious outlets. "For the first time in their lives," he says,
"these young men are getting in touch with their mortality."

LSA-7 is the U.S. military base closest to the Iraqi border, and the war
feels imminent here. The Marines last week packed everything but their
combat gear in their olive-drab sea bags, sending their personal belongings
to be stored in the rear.

A few things they will hang onto, however. Lance Cpl. Peter Milinkovic,
19, of Belvedere, Ill., carries the rabies and ID tags worn by his childhood
pet, Bear the Rottweiler, who died the day he started boot camp. Lance Cpl.
Anthony Gonzalez, 22, a mortar man from San Jacinto, Calif., tucks in his
flak vest the Bronze Star his uncle won for bravery in Vietnam. "You need
all the protection you can get once you get out here," he says.

Others are more interested in avoiding bad luck. It is widely known here
that eating Charms candies is just asking for a rainstorm, even in the
desert. Some Marines are rumored to bury the candies when they get them in
their military Meals Ready-to-Eat. Lance Cpl. Justin Whaley, 21, of Lebanon,
Mo., throws his away, and he is equally dubious about the MRE's green
candy-coated gum, rumored to contain a laxative. Meanwhile, Sgt. Tony
Palzkill, 27, of Belmont, Wis., has heard that if you get green gum it means
your wife is having an affair in your absence. That belief, though, doesn't
seem very widespread, which is just as well as there are only two colors of
MRE gum -- green and white.

But no food is less welcome here than the apricot. When Second Lt. David
Fleming, 28, of Lansdowne, Pa., goes into battle, he will be riding a
tracked amphibious-assault vehicle driven by Delta Co. Staff Sgt. Nick
Mendoza, 27, from Plano, Texas. "Can I eat apricots on your track,! staff s
ergeant?" Lt. Fleming asks impishly.

"It depends on how much you value your life, sir," Staff Sgt. Mendoza

Rumors abound as to why the apricot is so hated among those who wage war
in heavily armored fighting machines. One theory holds that during World War
II, a flotilla of landing craft carrying apricots for the troops sank off
the coast of France, with all hands lost. True or not, apricots still get
blamed for many things that go wrong.

Cpl. Larry Weis, of the Third Amphibious Assault Battalion, drank a small
carton of fruit punch upon arrival in Kuwait in late January, failing to
notice that its ingredients included apricots. The next day, Cpl. Weis, 22,
of Albany, Ore., arrived at LSA-7 and met the armored vehicle he would be
commanding, complete with oil leaks, exhaust leaks and a turbocharger so
defective that it overheated and burned the flak jacket of a Marine unlucky
enough to lean against it. Coincidence? Maybe. But Cpl. Weis isn't taking
any more chances with apricots. "Never again," he says.

And the amphibious-assault crews are apricot heretics compared with the
Abrams tankers. They refer to the apricot as the A-word or the Forbidden
Fruit, and they grow ornery if someone utters the name aloud. They are also
superstitious about their clothes: During gunnery practice -- sometimes
lasting a week -- they don't change their socks, T-shirts or anything else.

First Lt. Matt Ufford, a 24-year-old tank platoon commander from O'Fallon,
Ill., did change his once, during gunnery week at Twentynine Palms, Calif.,
several months ago. "I was just getting tired of how disgusting I smelled,"
he recalls. Big mistake. The next day his tank's gunnery scores dropped
precipitously. Afterward he confessed his error to his crew. "They were
incredulous," he says. So he pulled his clothes out of the laundry and put
them back on. His tank's score rebounded the next day.


SSgt. Roger A.
One Proud Marine
Once A Marine............Always A Marine.............
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