TGIF? Kind of

FARWANIYA, Kuwait — Witnessing Patriot missiles in action and donning my gas mask for the first time brought the reality of war very near yesterday. But today, the conflict seems far away.

On this sunny, cloudless day, numerous hotel guests — including off-duty military personnel, defense contractors, mothers and their children — lounged poolside. (To my editors: I only went out there for some necessary research and to snap a few pictures.) One of the restaurants in the hotel lobby was decorated with balloons and cutouts of the Teletubbies, seemingly for a child's birthday party. And because of last night's insomnia, I even got to watch some NCAA basketball games, March Madness, live on television.

Still, although this might seem like an ideal day, it is impossible to completely unwind. Gas masks are attached to most people's hips like fanny packs, and any loud noise causes most people to sit up and take notice. The aircraft taking off and landing at the nearby airport, some undoubtedly headed for and returning from various missions over Iraq, are constant reminders of war.

My first week of work here in Kuwait has not gone as well as I would have liked, but it has not been wasted time. It's difficult to gain access to any of the camps, but my trip yesterday to Camp Doha was worth the wait, and I'm sure the one planned to Camp Arifjan on Sunday will prove fruitful too.

E-mail continues to be an effective way to keep in touch with Defense Department personnel here and in the states, as well as with friends and family. I know how much those messages have meant to me during my brief stint here, and based on the constant activity in the hotel's computer rooms, it is significant to the troops who have been deployed here.

So thanks go to everyone who has e-mailed me with information for stories, advice and well wishes. Enjoy your weekend, wherever you are, and I'll be doing my best to do the same while working to make sure next week's stories are filled with the voices of people here whose vocabularies no longer include these words: week, end.

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