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American soldiers in Iraq gear up for Super Bowl

Sunday, February 1, 2004

TIKRIT, Iraq -- The Super Bowl parties for U.S. troops in Iraq will start hours before dawn, and there won't be any beer. But at least in Tikrit, soldiers have a lavish venue: They'll be watching a cinema-sized screen in a former palace of Saddam Hussein.

At bases across the country, the 130,000 American troops will be able to catch the game between the Carolina Panthers and the New England Patriots live (starting at 2:25 a.m. Monday, Iraqi time) in mess halls and recreation centers.

If waking up in the middle of the chilly Iraqi night is too daunting, many bases will tape the game, which is being aired from Houston on the American Forces Radio and Television Service, and replay it later.

Here in Tikrit, Saddam's hometown and headquarters of the 4th Infantry Division, troops will watch the big game at the U.S. Army recreation center -- a three-story palace built by the ousted dictator, with chandeliers, mosaic floors, a sweeping staircase and a man-made lake.

"It's going to be a big party for the soldiers," said Staff Sgt. Celeste Proctor, in charge of arrangements for the event. "It brings a little bit of home to the place."

The Super Bowl provides a welcome distraction for the troops, many of them stationed in the dangerous Sunni Triangle north and west of Baghdad or in the capital itself -- areas where vehicle bombings, roadside explosives, nighttime mortar fire and snipers present a constant challenge.

In Ramadi, a hotbed of anti-American resistance, paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division were setting up a wide-screen TV and speakers at their base, said Capt. Tammy Galloway. Americans in Baghdad can watch the game in a tent outside Saddam's former Presidential Palace, now the main headquarters of the U.S.-led coalition.

Bo Jackson, a Heisman Trophy winner in 1985 who played both pro football and baseball, will join some of the U.S. troops based in neighboring Kuwait to watch the Super Bowl.

Soldiers who can't get to a television can tune in on the Internet, said a coalition spokesman in Baghdad.

Despite the early hour, some 500 soldiers are expected to show up for the party in Tikrit.

Staff Sgt. Bennie Brewster, of Greenville, S.C., will be cheering the Panthers before going straight to work at the base post office. "I'll be tired, but I'll watch the match," he said.

He and other soldiers can win door prizes, compete in Super Bowl quizzes and enjoy a spread of chicken wings, hamburgers and hot dogs. But military regulations prohibit beer from being served on base.

"That's the only bad thing," Proctor said, "but we have plenty of nonalcoholic beers brought in."


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