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Letters from the Front

During the war with Iraq, the Tribune will give its readers firsthand glimpses into life at the front by publishing parts ofe-mails and letters from Portland area residents and former residents participating in or observing the fighting.

They and their families have volunteered to share these letters to give readers a better idea of what U.S. forces are facing in the Persian Gulf.

Any details that could put troops in harm's way or that families deem too personal have been excluded.

Brett Wood

Brett Wood is a news photographer for KABC-TV in Los Angeles, assigned to cover the war from Kuwait. Wood moved to Los Angeles earlier this year. Before that, he was a Portland resident working as a photographer and director for Oregon Public Broadcasting.

This e-mail was sent to a group of friends he has been updating regularly on his experience as a war correspondent.

APRIL 4

15 days into the war

At long last, my time here has come to an end. Tomorrow I board the Freedom Bird toward home.

I was finally able to walk around in Iraq! We spent three hours there doing a story about the burning oil wells. There were only two burning at the time, so it's not like IMAX's 'Fires of Kuwait,' but they were burning and it was Iraq.

I was part of a media show-and-tell that was cattle-prodded into the back of four 5-ton trucks with the tarp over the back and 'escorted' (by heavily armed Humvees) out to the middle of a desert. The design flaw with these trucks is that the back is sort of a vacuum that sucks in the dirt while at the same time removing breathable air. For about an hour, we were sprayed with dust like bark from a wood-chipper.

On the way out we passed a huge traffic jam of men and material waiting to head up north. We had talked with some of the drivers earlier in the week. Their thankless job is running 150 klicks (kilometers) into Iraq to deliver water, ammunition, food É socks. Whatever is bungee-corded to their flatbed trailers. Part of me thinks they don't even want to know what they are carrying. Hard to brave rockets and armor-piercing bullets when you know your cargo is thumbtacks and Velcro. They recalled civilians running alongside, waving their arms, apparently happy to see Americans. Which sounds all well and good until you realize three days into the war, a maintenance convoy was ambushed when they got lost, and several soldiers were killed and seven captured. Including women.

There are more women drivers than you'd think. And they do it without complaint, putting themselves in harm's way because it is their duty. Women are not allowed to fight in combat, but if you ask me, hauling supplies to the front is only one side-straddle hop away from it. Often the drivers have to make the return trip at night. I don't even know if the 'pucker factor' scale goes that high. What a white-knuckle, finger-on-the-trigger, pedal-to-the-metal drive through psychological hell that's got to be. So support our troops. Hug a Teamster.

I was in a rugby scrum yesterday. Actually it was press 'gathering' at a port in Kuwait. About 30 journalists, cameras, mikes and accompanying body odor crowded around a general in a mass of elbows, hair-pulling and dirty looks. The worst thing is that it doesn't have to be that way. É People show up with their senses sharpened like shivs, heads on swivels and attitudes that correspond with their lack of hygiene.

If one person makes even the slightest step closer, we all instinctively bully our way closer, too. It's reminiscent of a flock of fast-flying birds where the one in front makes a sharp right and without hesitation the rest follow. So I spent 15 minutes with a camera lens resting on my ear and my elbow locked and loaded inches away from some guy's kidney. Just in case I needed to get closer.

I hope the next time I speak to you all it will be from home. Perversely enough, I may be coming back here at the end of April. Can't get enough of a good thing. Until then, over and out.

Brett

If you have received e-mail or letters from friends and relatives in the Iraq war and would like to share them with Tribune readers, contact News Editor Connie Pickett at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 503-546-5167.