The boots are wearing out. Patience is wearing thin. Packages from the states don't get this far. And Sgt. Craig Kendell says his tank platoon is itching to go home.

Once there were more than 200,000 U.S. troops in southern Iraq. Less than 7,000 remain. Kendell's 16-man platoon, guarding a refugee camp here, is among them.Eight weeks ago, they were part of a 3rd Armored Division onslaught that shattered Iraq's Republican Guard. On Sunday, they sat atop idle tanks while Iraqi civilians lined up for medical care and Army rations.

"We're doing everything except what we're trained for," said Kendell, of Copperas Cove, Texas. "We feel it's time to go home. We've done more than our job."

Kendell's partner, Sgt. Michael Culver of Saginaw, Mich., said the men were frustrated by fast-changing reports of when they might leave.

"We've been given five different departure dates," he said. "The guys keep calling their families to say they're coming home, and then have to call again to say plans have changed."

Kendell said some soldiers have spent $150 or more on such calls "because of somebody's stupidity."

In the meantime, gripes multiply - repetitive dinners of chicken and potato, too few new T-shirts, socks and boots.

"We got people using tape to keep their boots together," said Kendell, complaining that footwear and clothing specially designed for desert use had never reached the front in adequate numbers.

"Those guys in the rear are wearing my boots," he said.

He and Culver also contended that soldiers at the rear were helping themselves to packages of food and other items sent by well-wishers in the United States and addressed "To Any Soldier."

"We never saw any of it," Kendell said. "When you're in the front lines, you shouldn't be in the back of the chain."

An Army public affairs officer, Capt. Frank White of Nashville, Tenn., spoke of impatience within his unit, which has been told it might sent home or redeployed either in Saudi Arabia or in Turkey.

"There are guys in our unit who'd just go over the edge if we don't go home," he said.

The soldiers still in Iraq are to be replaced over the next few weeks by a 1,440-member United Nations peacekeeping force. There has been mention of a possible flag-raising ceremony this week to mark the arrival of some peacekeepers in the buffer zone along the Iraq-Kuwait border, but no word yet on when the deployment will be complete.

"The guys here, flag raising is not what they're looking for," said White.