EASTERN SAUDI ARABIA — They are the voices of the warrior, and like their fathers before them, they speak of honor, and duty, and dream with the innocence of youth.
It is only the old soldiers, those who have seen the ugliness of battle and how things can go so terribly wrong, whose words are hesitant, controlled.
"War," said Gunnery Sgt. Gerry Laster, a San Clemente Marine and veteran of two tours in Beirut, "is not pretty. These kids haven't seen it. There's really no way to prepare yourself, but you do the best you can."
In an arena where other armies of young men have shed so much blood, soldiers wearing the desert fatigues of the U.S. military may soon be called to fight.
It could come within 48 hours on Jan. 15, the United Nations-imposed deadline for Iraq to withdraw its occupying army from Kuwait.
If it does happen, and there are few here who believe it will not, an estimated 35,000 Marines from El Toro, Tustin and Camp Pendleton, and an untold number of others from Orange County serving in other branches of the military, will be thrown into battle.
Under any scenario, the Marines from Orange and San Diego counties will be in the thick of the fighting, whether it be an amphibious assault on Kuwait city or part of a flanking maneuver or frontal assault against the heavily fortified Iraqi positions along the Kuwaiti border.
An estimated 5,000 men and women from the Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro and the helicopter base at Tustin are in the gulf to support about 400 Marine helicopters and jet fighters poised to strike at Iraq.
Most of them too young to have served in Vietnam and encouraged by President Bush's vows that this will not be a protracted, drawn-out war, the young Marines look with confidence on their ability to bring the fighting to a quick and violent end.
"We're going in to kick ass," said Pvt. Eric Jones, 21, of Camp Pendleton. "It's going to be a quickie."
There is little escaping the signs of war that have come with the massive infusion of war materiel and troops into eastern Saudi Arabia.
The petroleum port cities that hug the coastline of the Persian Gulf have been virtually turned into military camps by the United States and its allies.
Saudi housing projects now serve as headquarters for U.S., British and French troops, their entrances heavily sandbagged and protected by armed sentries and concrete barriers.
In the skies above the cities, the constant roar of passing fighter planes and the familiar sound of helicopters reverberate throughout the day and night.
Contract workers from the Philippines, Pakistan and Egypt crowd the airports looking for flights out of the country, while hotels find themselves short-staffed as foreign employees abruptly quit for fear of an impending attack.
The super-highway leading north to the border is clogged with military convoys, hundreds of flatbed trucks hauling tanks, armed vehicles and ammunition, and flying the flags of 28 nations.
The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, which includes helicopters and planes from El Toro and Tustin and ground troops from Camp Pendleton, also is on the move--pushing its heavy armor and troops closer to Iraq to make room for a second Marine task force that is still arriving.
And at a Saudi airfield a short flight to the front, CH-46 Sea Knight and CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters from Tustin stand ready to resupply troops in the field, and bring back the dead and wounded once the shooting starts.
"We're going to war, I know it," said Navy Corpsman Mickey Schnorr, 29, a Mission Viejo resident assigned to a Marine rifle company positioned just south of the Kuwaiti border. "When the night of the 15th comes, all hell is going to break loose."
But there is no talk of casualties or death, at least among those young enough never have to have been in combat.
Two months ago, Marine reservist Albert Lopez was attending classes at Cypress College and working part time at the Buena Park Recreation Department.
He knew little of the Persian Gulf crisis, but remembers youngsters in a soccer program talking about "insane Hussein" and how the U.S. military was going "to beat him good."
Now he is a Marine lance corporal, far from home, a specialist in repairing communications systems on Sea Cobra attack helicopters.
He speaks not of the horrors of war, but of his training, his mission, and home.
"The weirdest thing I feel is being thousands and thousands of miles from Orange County," said Lopez, 21. "I've hardly been out of state before. My mom was crying, real upset, but I told her that we can get the job done."
Lance Cpl. P.W. McCarthy, who grew up in Fountain Valley and is now an ordnance specialist at El Toro, said he volunteered for gulf duty because he likes to travel. "I get bored easily.
"You can get killed on the freeway, so you just can't worry about it," he said. "I've been volunteering to go since August."