The U.S. Army's rapid deployment force headed north Saturday to prepare for a ground offensive against Iraq that, like thousands of allied air sorties, could be launched mostly at night.

The 2nd brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, elements of which parachuted into Panama a year ago, began ferrying its war machinery aboard C-130 Hercules transport planes and in convoys through the desert.It includes Vulcan anti-aircraft artillery, 105mm howitzers, shoulder-fired missiles and mortars.

"We are repositioning in an assembly area north along the border to conduct offensive operations if we're told," said Col. Ron Rokosz, brigade commander.

Without saying whether the brigade would be positioned along Saudi Arabia's border with Kuwait or Iraq, Rokosz said the move would take several days.

They expect to use night-vision goggles similar to those used by allied pilots and said to be better than a Soviet-made version used by the Iraqis.

"I think we ought to (fight at night)," said Rokosz. "We've got massive superiority with night vision."

He demonstrated the army's capabilities in a videotaped exercise. In this, soldiers breached three segments of defensive barbed wire at night under the cover of machine-gun fire.

Rokosz declined to elaborate on the role the 82nd Airborne would play in a ground war but suggested that the force would best complement a heavily armored tank division.

The 82nd Airborne, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., arrived in Saudi Arabia just a week after Iraq invaded Kuwait last August, and morale was high as they prepared for their move.

"We'll show him who the paper tigers are," said Spec. George Jackson, 23, of Dallas, Texas, a gunner on optically guided TOW missiles.

"I'm going to show (Saddam) a missile right down his throat. I just want to go home and see my Mom smile," he said.

"We have to temper the soldier's (enthusiasm), that we may be in for the long haul," Rokosz said. "It's not going to be just two days."

"The desire to get rid of this guy is tremendous," said 1st Lt. Lee McKnight, of Lafayette, N.C.