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Archive for Monday, March 31, 2003

U.S. soldiers survive week lost in desert

March 31, 2003

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— They gave away much of their food to Iraqis. They drew "SOS" in the sand. One of them passed the time writing poems to his wife.

For a week, two American soldiers were stranded in the Iraqi desert. They survived -- hungry, thirsty and tired, but eager to get back to their unit and back to the war.

In a dispatch Sunday from a reporter embedded with the Army's 75th Exploitation Task Force, The New York Times Web site reported the story of Specialist Jeffrey Klein, 20, of Independence, Ky., and Sgt. Matthew Koppi, 22, of Asheville, N.C., both mechanics with the Army's Third Infantry Division.

The Pentagon told The Associated Press on Sunday it had no information about the two.

The soldiers said they were stranded when their truck's clutch failed on the way to tow an officer's Humvee that had broken down as the division was traveling toward Baghdad. They said a staff sergeant had ordered them to wait, and said they would be picked up.

No one did. So the two dug trenches to defend their position, and took turns on watch.

They gave most of their food to hungry Iraqi civilians, and watched nervously as white vehicles -- a trademark of Saddam Hussein's paramilitary Fedayeen -- passed by. Koppi had become a father 10 days before he was deployed, and he wrote poems to his wife.

"It has been weeks since we have spoken, I know her heart is close to broken," went one couplet.

The soldiers were found Friday by Marines in Chinook helicopters. They were dropped at a desert battle outpost, and then taken to Camp Udairi in northern Kuwait by Col. Richard R. McPhee, who commands the 75th Exploitation Task Force, which was on a mission in southern Iraq.

They were given a medical checkup, new uniforms and a hot meal. Klein's wife, four months pregnant with their first child, took a while to calm down when he called her on a satellite phone.

McPhee praised their resourcefulness and dedication.

"When we found them, they just kept saying that they wanted to return to their unit as soon as possible to be part of the battle," he said.

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