But when the big day arrived and Col. Gregg Martin, commander of the 130th Engineer Brigade, and Sergeant Major Sergio Riddle raced to the border in a little flock of Humvees to fine tune the operation, I wondered why the colonel took off in another direction and . left us. I was bemused when we arrived at one of the key lanes a few hours later and saw most of the work already done in the broad daylight, well ahead of schedule, by a civilian contractor, no less.

There were Army D9s, parked in neat rows on one side of the horizon line, out of sight of Iraq, while, at the opposite side of the DMZ, at the end of the first lane we investigated, a lone civilian D9 sat idle by the Iraqi's partially breeched berm. The Cat's operator lounged at the helm of the big orange machine in his slacks and polo shirt while a lot of tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles and gun-toting soldiers in full battle gear guarded him from every bit of high ground nearby.

Then we saw Martin storming around upset because the breech was lopsided. He told Riddle to straighten it out. Anticipating language trouble, the Riddle had already whipped out a pen and started drawing pictures as he walked back to the machine to communicate with the operator in the mother of all engineering languages–sketches. But after a brief and largely incomprehensible conversation we realized the guy had simply run out of fuel.

The puzzle, however, was why civilian contractors were making the cuts in the first place. Obviously plans had changed and were changing still. Later, Martin explained: "We had a plan, the resources, and we had rehearsed it. It would have worked, but Kuwait came up and said they were interested in assisting in obstacle reduction as a gesture of support," says Martin. He explained what happened as we ate our MREs the next day on the hood of a Humvee parked at the foot of the first berm, while the Army streamed into Iraq in the distance.

Kuwait had secretly offered to help a few weeks before, in part out of solidarity with the U.S, but also in part to limit the damage to their border obstructions. "Kuwait wanted to take {border fences] down in an orderly fashion to preserve the system. Had we breached the obstruction ourselves at night we would have blown it up and ripped it apart," Martin says.

The wheels of diplomacy went into the high spin, but only a handful of people, Martin being one, were involved, and he was tasked with making it happen. "You don't normally find a colonel, a brigade commander, executing dozer missions," he notes.

The project was an on-again, off-again affair. The press caught wind of the work when it started and Kuwait backed off. Then, when things cooled down, they started again. At first the Kuwaitis were to remove only the obstructions on the Kuwait side. Only at the last minute did they decide to go all the way. Meanwhile, unaware of the secret, the Army engineers continued to prepare for the original plan, which was the backup in case the Kuwaiti efforts fell short at the last minute.

So on the day before the invasion Martin and Riddle, were racing up and down the DMZ trying to keep the Kuwaiti plan on the rails in the face of one problem after another.

"The contractor is a great guy, with excellent operators from all over the Middle East [but] the situation was compounded by the fact that he did not have good internal communications, a strong fueling plan and only one guy spoke English," says Martin.

The contractor, National Innovative Technology Inc., Kuwait City, arrived at the DMZ with 6 D9 dozers, each on its own heavy equipment transport trailer. They were dropped off, but because of some miscommunication, only three transports came back in the morning to distribute them to their work sites.

"It made [work] much more difficult and complex," says Martin. Then the little breakdowns in communications snowballed and threatened to derail the plan. "It just didn't work that smoothly, and that opened the flood gates for people to do their own independent things. We had it wired for maximum efficiency, but by decentralizing things, it created maximum confusion and inefficiency." And to make things worse, radio communications were lousy in the DMZ, perhaps due to interference from the electrified fence running through it.

"We got a bunch of the lanes done rapidly, but didn't have control of the assets to move on to the next big group," Martin says. So the shift was done by stages. Then, some of the dozers began to run low on fuel. Riddle was sent to commandeer a fuel truck from one of the islands of equipment in attack position just over the horizon while Martin moved north with other dozers to open the last four lanes. Then the next problem arose: A promised link-up with the U.S. Marines, who were to use the last four lanes for their assault, never materialized.

"There was some sort of disconnect," Martin says. "It's not unusual. It's the fog of war." He did a risk assessment and decided, based on the lack of Iraqi response, to go ahead [into the DMZ toward Iraqi border berms without protective cover]. So Martin and the contractor went out to the last berm with their handheld GPS units and staked out the last four lanes, called in the dozers and opened the way.

The obstructions in that area were bigger than those in the other areas they had done. The last berm was about 4 meters high, and the ditch 5 meters deep by 10 to 15 meters wide. By 6 p.m. the job was done and the dozers were gathered together to head for safety just as the first salvos of rockets and artillery began to fly overhead. Those were shaping attacks intended to weaken specific enemy defenses directly in front of the invasion that was to begin at dawn.

They rolled back through the DMZ with the convoy of dozers as the rockets and artillery banged away. Martin says he was reporting his position as he went, advising that he was out in the DMZ with 2 Humvees, 2 NTVs – nontactical vehicles, actually civilian SUVs–and three transports loaded with D9 dozers running more than 30 kilometers in the dark across the face of the coiled American army to get the civilian contractor and his equipment to a safe haven.

That turned out to be a Kuwait border police station perched on a hill in the DMZ beside one of the main invasion routes. We found the operators there in the morning with the U.S. Army streaming by, right on schedule, and we escorted the dozers out of the combat zone through a river of tanks, transports, Humvees and all manner of military equipment flowing the other way. When we parted company at the backside of the flood,the contractor smiled and shook our hands and seemed very pleased with the results. So was Martin, because the mission was accomplished, on schedule, as specified, and without subjecting the army's people and assets to the wear and tear of that initial obstacle reduction operation.

"Everything was wide open. The engineers set the conditions perfectly so the Army had no obstructions, and nothing was in the way. All they had to do was charge forward," Martin says. And that first day's run made military history, going faster and farther than any invasion advance has ever gone before.

or weeks the whispered plan had been that, come the invasion, border berms, ditches and fences of electrified wire would be reduced at dozens of places by huge Army bulldozers simultaneously ripping away in the dark, with the entire army swarming through at dawn. It was said a mock-up had been built in the desert and assaulted again and again with 62-ton Caterpillar D9 Dozers. Their operators wore night vision goggles as they kicked over high berms and filled in deep ditches and blasted through fences in the dark.