'Morale Is a Day-to-Day Thing. Up One Day, Down the Next'

Even before the apparent suicide last week, impatience was common among the troops with the 1st Marine Division, who are waiting to "kick in the door" to Iraq.

Sgt. Adrian Salazar, 26, of Los Angeles, leader of an artillery squad, said, "We just want to start popping, get it over with and go home."

Like other Marines, Salazar knows exactly how long he has been in Kuwait: "Forty-four days and counting."

Marines have given this mission a name. They call it "The Wait," as in, "How long have you been in The Wait?"

"It has been a big letdown," said Lance Cpl. Joseph Parker, 19, of Greenville, S.C. "A lot of Marines hurried up to get their stuff together, and now we're just waiting. Morale is a day-to-day thing. Up one day, down the next."

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Bodley, a chaplain with the division, advises troops to write letters home and focus on memories of their families as a way to combat stress. Officers remind the Marines that in 1991, coalition forces waited for months before launching a ground offensive.

To keep morale from sagging, the Marines are bringing occasional hot meals to their front-line positions. A "mobile PX" selling cigarettes, magazines and snacks makes its way from camp to camp.

Lance Cpl. Narciso Rodriguez, 19, of Santa Ana said that he and the other troops have tried to stay focused.

"We know we can't go home until we go to Baghdad," he said. "We're ready."

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