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by Crista Walker, PAO Staff


Crawling out of their bunkers in scores, frantically waving anything white they could get their hands on, Iraqi soldiers - with despair in their eyes and hunger in their bellies - surrendered to Spearhead troops.

Virtually every combat unit encountered Iraqi troops waiting to give themselves up. Prisoners taken by the Third Armored Division numbered more than 2,400. Spearhead soldiers who captured, moved and cared for the EPWs found their "elite" opponent to be worn-out, hungry troops who needed basic necessities.

Spec. James Barnette, a squad leader for Alpha Co, 4th Bn., 18th Inf., said he couldn't help but feel sorry for Iraqi troops that his squad had taken prisoner. "We had one that was begging for water. It had been two or three days since he had anything to eat or drink. There just wasn't anything left of them. It was like picking up someone that was starving to death."

With every group of prisoners came similar reports of malnutrition and other lackings. Living conditions most likely played a key role in their mass surrender.

"The enlisted Iraqi troops would have spots in dark bunkers with 20 bedrolls and rotten food all over," according to Spec. Ryan McManus, a 26-year-old engineer with the 23rd Eng. Bn. He said that the officers' bunkers he entered had space with plywood flooring, two beds, furniture and carpeting.

"Apparently, the rank structure sucks," said Sgt. Raymond Fulton, a fellow engineer. Fulton attributed part of the problem to Iraq's poor supply and distribution channels. While Iraqi soldiers were going without shoes, his crew found stockpiles of combat boots and other supplies in a nearby supply bunker. "They could've fought," Fulton continued, saying that the troops had excessive munitions that could have lasted them months. Fortunately, they didn't fight.

Spec. Tracy Bartz of the 503rd MP Co. had in-depth discussions with several Iraqi EPW's while guarding them at a holding point, and said the Iraqis were very willing to talk about why they surrendered.

"They all dislike Saddam and what he stands for," she said. "... and they were all very interested in how we were treated as American soldiers. They wanted to compare how Saddam treated them to how we were treated."

The 21-year-old also wished there was something more she could do for them. "They all desperately wanted to go back to Saudi Arabia," she paused, then shook her head in contempt. "They were afraid of what Saddam would do to them if they went back to Iraq - if he would kill their families."

Maj. Robert Leonhard, who was in charge of the combat trains for 4th Bn., 18th Inf., summed up his contact with EPWs. "You could see the immediate response was fear, and you could see despair in their eyes. Our troops were very careful, obviously, but they were very compassionate at the same time. Once we communicated to them, the despair turned to relief, and these guys were like ... 'Thank God this is over.'"

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