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Ryan Chilcote: Sandstorm paralyzes U.S. copters

Ryan Chilcote endures sandstorms in southern Iraq.
Ryan Chilcote endures sandstorms in southern Iraq.

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SOUTHERN IRAQ (CNN) -- Sandstorms shroud battlefields in Iraq for the second day. CNN correspondent Ryan Chilcote is embedded with the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne's 3rd Brigade. Wednesday, Chilcote spoke to CNN anchor Carol Costello about battle and weather conditions.

CHILCOTE: ... We are now in our second day of an absolutely vicious sandstorm. It's difficult to describe in words. You can't see farther than maybe 10 to 15 feet in front of you.

In fact, just last night a soldier that was going to the latrine that's just, you know, maybe 10 to 15 feet away from his tent got lost for eight hours. That's the kind of sandstorm we're faced with right now.

And what that means is the 101st Airborne's entire helicopter fleet has been grounded, and they have been grounded since yesterday morning. In fact, not only are those helicopters not flying from the base right now, a lot of the helicopters that were already out on missions had to set down wherever they were -- whether that was in a friendly or not-so-friendly place.

So, it's a really serious situation. The entire offensive power of the 101st Airborne -- which specializes in air assault, moves troops by helicopters behind Iraqi lines and destroys Iraqi targets -- has been paralyzed by these sandstorms.

COSTELLO: Ryan, I was just curious. You said that one of the soldiers went to the latrine and got lost for eight hours because of this sandstorm. That must be a frightening thing, because if you don't know where you are...

CHILCOTE: Yes, absolutely. And I'm at a brand new forward operating base. It's really quite a massive base that the 101st Airborne has set up in southern Iraq. I can't tell you anymore specifically than southern Iraq.

But it is a very important strategic location, and it is brand new. It's literally -- I think today is day four of its existence. And it is already being probed by Iraqi militia --small groups of about three to 10 Iraqi soldiers who are conducting surveillance, trying to monitor convoys that go by, according to the commanders here.

COSTELLO: Understand. I wanted to ask you, too, Ryan about the grenade attack in Kuwait. A second person has died there. Are people aware of that where you are?

CHILCOTE: Yes, they became aware pretty quickly actually. They were notified via radio.

Initially, the reaction was grief, because everyone assumed that it had been an Iraqi attack on one of the bases. I'm traveling with the headquarters element of the 3rd Infantry Brigade, and if you'll recall, it was the 1st Infantry Brigade's headquarters element that was hit, so the victims were mainly officers. And a lot of those guys are friends, and they were really shook up. But they put on a brave face and they kept moving.

When the reports came across that it may be the work of another soldier, that really threw everyone for a loop. And I think the reaction turned from grief to shock.

COSTELLO: Do you have word about this suspect at all from where you are?

CHILCOTE: Yes. I think what's most interesting is really the lack of compassion or sympathy for this suspect.

COSTELLO: ... Ryan Chilcote reporting live with the 101st Airborne Divisions.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was written in accordance with Pentagon ground rules allowing so-called embedded reporting, in which journalists join deployed troops. Among the rules accepted by all participating news organizations is an agreement not to disclose sensitive operational details.

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