KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — For U.S. troops accustomed to subfreezing nights in foxholes, Sunday's opening of a base store stocked with warm wool socks, potato chips and other relative luxuries was a welcome sight.

As many as 300 soldiers from the Army's 101st Airborne Division began lining up 2 1/2 hours before the post exchange, known as the PX, opened at their base in Kandahar.

By midmorning a long line of troops snaked through the store, M-16 rifles strapped to their backs. They cradled cases of soda with socks, soap and deodorant stacked on top as they waited patiently to pay.

"The duty here hasn't been the easiest, so when we heard that a PX was coming we couldn't wait," said Sgt. Herb Allen from College Park, Ga. "It's kind of uplifting to come and spend a little money on something to make you feel good."

The troops were so eager, in fact, that volunteers pitched in to build the store in only two days. Soldiers spent their free time unloading pallets and stocking the shelves with goods flown in from Europe and the United States.

"Thanks to this new PX, we're about the most popular guys on base right now," said store manager Larry Reimann, a civilian employee from Dallas. "It's amazing how fast it came together, but without all of the help of these troops, I bet we would still be building."

Air Force Tech. Sgt. James Jones said he had heard rumors for weeks that a PX would open. But it wasn't until Saturday that he noticed all of the building activity.

"We came here yesterday to see what was going on and to just offer our help," said Jones, 35, from Klamath Falls, Ore. On opening day he volunteered again to help soldiers find goods in the store.

"This opening has done great things for my morale," he said.

Most of the civilian managers arrived just two days before the opening. They are billeted in a tent just behind the store.

"I've traveled all over with this job ... but this may be about as challenging and as far-flung a place as I've ever been," said Bill Hullender, a store manager normally based in Italy.

The civilian employees were issued helmets and flak jackets just like the soldiers, and were given protective gear for a possible chemical or biological attack.

"We've not been told how to use the gear, but I intend to ask someone around here pretty soon," Hullender said.

Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., replaced Marines at the Kandahar airport last month. Total troop strength here is expected to eventually number about 2,500.

It's not an easy assignment. Most regular troops can't go into town, and there are few diversions to relieve the grinding routine of patrols and guard duty in foxholes. The store, troops said, provides a little taste of America.

"I'm really grateful to be able to buy something that makes me feel a little closer to home," said Army Spc. Michell Seratt, a 20-year-old medic from Fort Smith, Ark.