Out in the Arabian desert where Staff Sgt. James Walker lives, soldiers who aren't training are generally playing cards, writing letters home or keeping an eye on the local speed bump.
"I think the highlight of our evening is, there's a speed bump outside one of the areas and we kind of root for cars to hit the speed bump and bottom out. That's how bored we are," said Walker, 31, of Pascagoula, Miss.More than three months after the invasion of Kuwait, U.S. soldiers in Saudi Arabia as part of the multinational force confronting Iraq frequently complain about boredom. But assessing how seriously boredom is affecting morale is a difficult matter.
Officers, while acknowledging the soldiers' complaints, generally say their troops are combat-ready. Many enlisted men describe morale as low, but outsiders who visit the troops find they have a good attitude despite their boredom.
"They're in good spirits, they really are," said Willard Scott, the NBC weatherman, who has visited with soldiers from a wide variety of units during recent weeks.
"There is no question about that they are bored and . . . monotony has taken its toll," he added, but "they realize they're here for the purpose they were sent over for - that is to stop aggression."
But for people like Sgt. 1st Class Joaquim Quinene, who is based in Germany and frequently flies into Saudi Arabia escorting classified material, the complaints of boredom are a sign of low morale.
"To me, the morale . . . is low," said Quinene, a Guam native whose family lives in Columbia, S.C. "When I get back to Germany and hear the news media, they keep saying the morale is high. I don't see no morale is high anywhere. I've seen it for myself."
"The troops . . . are bored. They want some action," he said. "They just want to get their hands on the mission they are supposed to do here."
Most soldiers in the field, while impatient for some movement in the impasse between Iraq and the multinational force, would be happy to see Iraqi President Saddam Hussein back off without a shot being fired.
What grinds them down is the repetitive daily work routine followed by the hours of cleaning and polishing shoes, weapons and gas masks, only to have them coated the next day with powder-fine Saudi sand.
"That gets old fast, you know," said 3rd Class Petty Officer Charles Munoz, a 25-year-old Seabee from Stockton, Calif. "Cleaning your weapon every night, cleaning your gas mask every night, shining your boots."
He said cleaning the weapons and gas mask were necessary to ensure they were ready for use. The problem, he said, was the unending routine.