View Full Version : Two U.S. Soldiers Stranded in Desert for Seven Days

03-30-03, 10:04 PM
Two U.S. Soldiers Stranded in Desert for Seven Days

ITH THE 75th EXPLOITATION TASK FORCE, Northern Kuwait, March 30 Two young American soldiers have been rescued by marines after being stranded in the southern Iraqi desert for seven days.

Specialist Jeffrey Klein, 20, and Sgt. Matthew Koppi, 22, both mechanics with the Army's Third Infantry Division, were in good spirits, if thirsty, hungry and tired, after their rescue on Friday, when marines in Chinook helicopters spotted them dug into trenches in the flat sand.

No one was quite sure today whether or why their unit had failed to notice their absence or that of an officer's Humvee.

Asked about the incident, officers at the headquarters of the coalition's land forces said they were trying to find out what had happened.

In interviews, the soldiers said they were stranded after being sent out to tow an officer's Humvee that had broken down as the division was traveling north toward Baghdad. When their own truck's clutch failed, one of their unit's staff sergeants ordered them to stay put, saying he would send for them as the convoy moved on.

As days passed without rescue, the soldiers dug trenches to defend their position, alternated night watch, and drew S O S in the sand. They said they gave away much of their food to hungry Iraqi civilians who approached their truck.

Sergeant Klein, of Independence, Ky., said suspicious white vehicles with passengers in Arab dress slowed down to get a better look, but did not stop. President Saddam Hussein's fedayeen, whom Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld now insists be called "regime death squads," have been cruising the sandy roads of southern Iraq in such vehicles looking for vulnerable Americans and trying to ensure loyalty to the government among the populace of the largely Shiite Muslim towns of southern Iraq.

"Some of those rogue guys may have passed us," Specialist Klein said. "But when they saw that we were armed and really dug in, they may have been discouraged."

During the day, Sergeant Koppi, of Asheville, N.C., wrote poems to his wife, who had their first child 10 days before his deployment.

It has been weeks since we have spoken,

I know her heart is close to broken,

Defending our nation isn't always fun,

There are only a few who can get the job done.

It strains our honor and our lives,

It hurts our children and our wives.

Often the people of the nation can't see

That we sacrifice so that they may be free.

But ribbons and medals can't compare

To the love of home waiting there.

Specialist Klein's wife is four months pregnant with their first child. He said it took him time to calm her down when he called on a satellite phone from an airfield in northern Kuwait to assure her he was safe.

The soldiers were found by an unidentified Marine unit. But the marines left them at a maintenance shed in a battle outpost in the desert. They were taken to Camp Udairi in northern Kuwait by Col. Richard R. McPhee, who commands the 75th Exploitation Task Force, during a mission in southern Iraq. That unit is hunting for evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

After a medical checkup, the soldiers were given new uniforms, a hot meal and a full night of sleep. Meanwhile, officers sent word to their unit of their rescue, and sought information about why they had been stranded.

Some soldiers attributed the mishap to the "fog of war." But others were dumbfounded.

Colonel McPhee said he was hugely impressed with their resourcefulness and dedication. "When we found them," he said, "they just kept saying they that wanted to return to their unit as soon as possible to be part of the battle." Offering his highest accolade, he said, "Those guys are warriors."