Camp Arifjan, Kuwait A quarter-million soldiers, all but a few of them Americans, are within weeks of passing through this desert kingdom on their way to or from the war in neighboring Iraq, the largest such rotation of U.S. forces in history, according to military planners overseeing the project.
"This is a breathtaking, history-making operation," said Army Maj. Gen. Stephen M. Speakes, who runs the rotation from this sand-blown base south of Kuwait City.
Explaining the troop rotation is simple: About 130,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq will go home and 110,000 will take their places for about a year, in the so-called Operation Iraqi Freedom 2.
Getting it done is another matter.
The maneuver involves eight of America's 10 active Army divisions and a U.S. Marine Expeditionary Force, along with 40,000 troops from a few dozen countries in the U.S.-led coalition.
Military planners have choreographed the arrivals of dozens of ships and hundreds of aircraft bearing fresh troops and their gear into Kuwait, the center of the operation. The new arrivals swap places with weary soldiers streaming in from Iraq on trucks and planes that, in a matter of hours, turn around and ferry newcomers north.
Already, as many as 4,000 trucks are on the road between Kuwait and Iraq at any moment, said Army Brig. Gen. Jack Stoltz, who directs movement of troops and distribution of equipment.
That number will rise as the rotation hits a crescendo in early March, when as many as 60,000 troops at a time will be passing through Kuwait, ferrying enormous amounts of gear, including tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and helicopters.
The Army has engineered the rotation so that battle-numbed U.S. forces rarely meet fresh replacements, even though both groups pass through Kuwait at the same time. Homebound troops stay at camps close to the seaports. New arrivals are trucked to desert camps where they assemble their gear and train to kill the rebels who may attack their convoy when it crosses the Iraqi border.
After March, from the point of view of U.S. military's transportation gurus, the U.S. operation in Iraq will wind down, demanding fewer ships, planes and trucks.
In the fall, the rotation for Operation Iraqi Freedom 3 will creak to life, and Speakes and his subordinates will start over. That maneuver will send around 100,000 or so U.S. troops into Iraq, but with fewer vehicles and supplies. Many are expected to be the same troops now heading home.
"This is a nonstop cycling business we're in," Speakes said.