No-flags order causes a flap along the front line
Jim Dwyer/NYT The New York Times
Thursday, March 20, 2003
CAMP NEW JERSEY, Kuwait As U.S. troops roll toward the Iraqi border this week, they have been given orders on two matters of decorum: no throwing candy to Iraqi children, and no displaying flags regimental, state or even the American flag.
Military officials say that candy give-aways would draw swarms of children to the convoys, a dangerous proposition with thousands of trucks, Humvees, and trailers barreling toward Baghdad.
As for the ban on flags, its effect was apparent in this camp Wednesday, where no more than a handful of vehicles mustering for the invasion displayed any flags.
Officials say the flag could give the citizens of Iraq the wrong idea about the convoys of artillery, ammunition and soldiers.
They are not, these officials say, an army of conquest, intent on claiming Iraqi land or treasure for the United States, but a liberation force. They are concerned that streams of American flags would be seen as provocative.
"It's imposing enough that we're coming into another society," said Captain Frank Stanco, a commander with an artillery unit in the 101st Airborne. "I tell our soldiers we want to maintain our professionalism. We could be making history. I call it being quiet professionals."
In 1991, at the end of the first Gulf War, American military convoys entered Kuwait festooned with the Stars and Stripes after a quick rout of the Iraqi Army occupying the country. Soldiers recall being greeted rapturously by the Kuwaitis.
On Wednesday afternoon, thousands of soldiers sat in long convoys, fully packed and waiting for orders to begin an invasion that would carry many of them 640 kilometers (400 miles) north to Baghdad.
Only a handful of the vehicles flew American flags.
One of those was a "water buffalo," a truck towing potable water, but the sergeant in charge of it shook his head and walked away when asked about the flag, which flew from a pole strapped to the side of the truck.
Another soldier waiting for the convoy to move, Specialist John Garcia, said he was ordered to take the flag off his Humvee for security reasons. "They said it was because we would be an easy target," Garcia said. "It got me real upset. I had just bought that flag."
The no-flags order was passed along to the 101st Airborne Division by its commander, Major General David Petraeus, who said that the decision had been made by his superiors. "It's the right thing to do," said General Petraeus, as a way of underscoring the American commitment to regime change for security and human rights, and not to seizing the country.
Spokesmen for the U.S. Central Command in Qatar said they were unable to provide information about the order.
The question of flag-flying provoked a small debate among artillery soldiers waiting to leave camp Wednesday.
Garcia said he was angry that he had been ordered to take down his flag, and that so few countries were supporting the United States and Britain in the military campaign.
"When they're in trouble, they don't call Russia, China, France, Turkey; they call 911, the United States," he said. "That's why I put my flag on my Humvee."
Another soldier, Specialist Robert Bratton, asked: "You can't blame them. You got a lot of Americans back in the States against it."
A sergeant, Elmer Smith, said the United States was seen as interfering in the affairs of too many countries. "The U.S. meddles," he said.
Bratton asked: "What's the reason we're fighting?"
Garcia answered, "I think Saddam Hussein got them weapons."
Bratton shook his head.
"I think it's oil," he said.
Smith offered his theory. "I think it's revenge for his father," he said.
Preparing for night work Combat pilots and others on the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt were ordered to sleep through the day Wednesday so they could work through the night, The Associated Press reported.
Those on the Harry S. Truman remained on day duty, thus providing round-the-clock combat capability.