The American soldiers at Checkpoint Charlie are finally getting ready to check out.
Spec. Hector Vegan, 22, of Dallas, and Spec. Jeffry Paulson, 24, of Bloomington, Minn., both military policemen, said they were told by their commanding officer Wednesday that their unit would withdraw Friday.That is the day a U.N.-peacekeeping force is tentatively due to begin replacing the estimated 100,000 American troops in southern Iraq. Overall, there are more than 300,000 U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf region.
The U.N. peacekeeping force will be the first to include officers from all five of the Security Council's permanent members, officials say.
In all, 32 nations will patrol the Iraq-Kuwait border as part of the newly formed 1,440-member U.N. contingent that will enforce the gulf war truce, allowing U.S. troops now occupying part of southern Iraq to withdraw.
The advance guard, led by Austrian Maj. Gen. Gunther G. Greindl, is to arrive in Kuwait City on Friday. The main units of infantrymen, military observers and combat engineers are not expected for another two weeks.
The force, which is to cost an estimated $123 million in its first year, is the first to include officers from the five Security Council members with veto power - the United States, Britain, France, China and the Soviet Union.
Checkpoint Charlie is the northern-most U.S. outpost in southeastern Iraq.
Although top officers at the checkpoint said Wednesday they were still awaiting official word on deployment, three other MPs said they were told by their lieutenant that they would be pulled out Sunday.
Staff Sgt. Thaddeus Carter, 27, of Los Angeles, sat in the cool shade of a guard house and said, "Our gut feeling is that we will all be out of here (Iraq) in a few days."
A few feet away, Sgt. 1st Class James Barnaby, 31, expressed the sentiment of many. He said that when the cease-fire went into effect Feb. 28, nearly six weeks ago, he figured he would be home by now.
"I thought I'd be holding a cold Miller (beer)," he said. "And, of course, my wife."
President Bush has assured troops that once the gulf war officially ends with the U.N. approval of the cease-fire, the soldiers would begin moving within days.
But it could be weeks, or even a month or so, before Charlie Company, part of the 3rd Armored Division, and other units on the frontlines arrive home.
"There have been all sorts of rumors," said Cpl. Ron Willard, 25, of Kankakee, Ill. "We were told that once the treaty is signed, we'd have 72 hours to move out. Someone said, `What are we going to do with the other 70 hours.' "
As they wait, soldiers at Checkpoint Charlie pull seven-hour shifts. They play lots of cards and board games and work out at a nearby Iraqi recreation center that they refurbished from war-time wreckage.
Sgt. Jeff Timke, 28, of Pekin, Ill., did a little touch-up work Wednesday on a large wooden sign that reads, "Checkpoint Charlie." He repainted the stars and stripes on the drawing of a decorative American flag.
"Maybe this sign will be retired soon, but I want it looking right," said Timke. "You got to do something to keep busy."