Before I get started with today's topic, let me clear up a few things. Not
everyone I work with is an idiot. Although I do run into things that are
irritating, silly, or frustrating, most of the things are reasonably well run by
reasonably astute individuals. However if I only wrote that "everything is fine,
we showed up, went to the field, did training, returned and got on a plane, and
flew to Iraq..." it would be pretty boring. I am not embellishing anything in
what I write (it has honestly happened), but I am also predominantly writing
about the things that make life interesting (for any number of reasons).
I know that by now everyone is wondering how "rough" we have it in Iraq. Well, truth be told, we are fortunate that we don't have it very rough. Yes, it is true that LSA Anaconda receives more mortar attacks than any other base in Iraq, but otherwise we actually have it pretty good. More about the mortar attacks later.
As far as camp size goes, LSA Anaconda is pretty large. As a major logistical hub, there are lots of Army, Air Force, DOD Civilians, and contractors. LSA Anaconda used to be an Iraqi Airbase, so we have an airfield in the middle of the camp. If you remember my note about moving to Iraq, we flew directly into Anaconda. There is lots of activity on the runways, in addition to the Medevac flights going out and coming back, so we have a lot of aircraft noise day and night.
Because Anaconda was an Iraqi airbase, there are lots of pre-existing facilities. We have an indoor swimming pool, an outdoor 50-meter swimming pool, a stadium with a track, and a movie theater. Heck there is even a drive-in theater (not that it ever gets used, but it is there.)
In addition to the previous existing facilities, we have lots of US Army provided facilities such as 3 MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) centres, 3 Post Exchanges (including barbers, beauty shops, alterations shops, gift shops, jewelry shops, and fast food joints like Burger King and Popeyes), several DFACs, 7 or 8 bus routes all around the camp, an Air Force hospital, and even a "Do-It-Yourself" place where they provide wood and power tools for soldiers to make things like shelves, TV stands, or other items for their living quarters and office spaces.
We have a really large MWR building. Actually there are three MWR buildings, with one on each side of camp and one in the Air Force's "gated community". (more on that later.) The MWR buildings have Internet computers, pool tables, foosball tables, ping pong tables, video games, a movie room, and tons of books. There are several activity rooms and they run a plethora of activities, including: Poker games, hip hop classes, swing dancing classes, poetry nights, DJ classes, salsa dance classes, country dance classes, and competitions in Connect Four, Chess, Dominoes, Battleship, Jenga, 9 ball, ping pong, and many more.
There are 3 PXs (in roughly the same areas as the MWR buildings). We can get lots of stuff, although *I* find it pretty frustrating because I have seen much better stocked shoppettes with half the space. I have spoken to two of the PX managers about things I was interested in, and they were both very unfriendly and very unhelpful. (I am sorting that out with their boss.) The PX seems to carry a pretty good selection of DVD players, CD players, TVs, DVDs, CDs, and cool military gear. What they are lacking is some pretty basic stuff and they seem unable to keep a reasonable stock of simple items (which are listed below).
I am getting lists from my soldiers of things that they would like, but
some of the simple things we can't get are:
- Microwave popcorn
- Beef Jerky
- Foot powder
- Colgate or Crest toothpaste
- Ivory soap
- Trail Mix or Granola Bars
The gymnasiums are pretty nice. Again, there are three, and they have basketball courts, volleyball courts, racquetball courts, and workout rooms with free weights, nautilus machines, and other workout machines. They also have a rock climbing wall, an aerobics room, and a martial arts room. Plenty of things for workouts and sports.
There are four DFACs on camp. You can eat at any of them. Most have paper/plastic plates and plastic knife/fork/spoon, but at least one DFAC has real plates and real flatware. You can certainly get fat here if you aren't careful. We have a main line choice of three or four items, a short order grill, a sandwich line, and a line for special entree items, not to mention that the Iraqi food service guys aren't stingy with the servings. Then we have all the fresh salad we can eat, a choice of 5 or 6 prepared salads (like fruit salad, cucumber salad, avocado salad, jello salad, pasta saldad, etc), a choice of 5 or 6 kinds of fresh fruit, and plus a serving bar of pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew melon. Then you can have all the dessert you want from 6 or 8 choices, plus ice cream, and all the soda/juice/gatorade/milk/water/tea you can drink.
Breakfasts give you the entire range of choices, from scrambled eggs, omelets, sausage, ham, bacon, biscuits, gravy, grits, oatmeal, pancakes, French toast, waffles, croissants, doughnuts, muffins, fresh fruit, fresh juice, pop tarts, etc... The only thing you can't get at every DFAC is eggs-over-easy. We shouldn't be able to get it anywhere, but some of the DFACs will cook them that way for you. One of the Food Service NCOs told me that a Medical Safety Bulletin (on bird flu) says that the internal temperature must get up to 150 deg F, and there is no way to do that *and* still keep the yolk runny.
I wouldn't say that the food is stellar, but it is reasonably good. Although the wide range of choices was nice at first, it has already started to become old hat, and I find that I don't eat as much as I did the first week I was deployed. I have gotten into a pretty good PT routine, so that helps keep the weight off, not to mention my own personal standard that "I am too fat when I am bigger around than I am tall" (based on my waist versus inseam measurements). So, as long as I wear 30/34 or 32/34 jeans, then I am fine. If I can no longer fit into my 32/34 jeans, then I am TOO FAT! I know this doesn't work for everyone, but it works for me. I have been running about 3-4 miles every M-W-F, with weight-lifting on Tu-Th-Sa. I take Sunday off and relax.
Because the camp is so large, they run 7 or 8 bus routes all over camp with a couple of large transfer points, and most routes have a bus every 15 minutes or so during most of the day.
The US Air Force runs a hospital, with a helipad, and we have multiple medevac flights coming in daily. Sometimes they are simply routine transfers from somewhere else, but sometimes they come in pretty fast and "flare" at the last minute, which is an indication of an urgent casualty. The hospital is pretty close, and the final approach goes right over our heads, so we hear them alot.
The sleeping accommodations are pretty decent. Transient billeting isn't
anything great, but once you sign for permanent living space, everything is OK.
The typical housing is a trailer of several rooms, with sandbags stacked around
the outside (for protection from shrapnel). Almost everyone has a roommate, and
the size of your room is dependent on your rank. Most folks have a bed, a wall
locker, a 3-drawer nightstand, and a lamp, with enough space for a TV stand or a
small refrigerator. Most senior NCOs and officers have enough extra space to add
a card table or a small desk. Most folks have to walk to the showers and
toilets. The typical walk is between 50 meters and 150 meters, with the average
around 80 meters. Most LTCs live in a "wet trailer", which means they have a
single room, but share a bathroom with a trailer-mate. When first assigned, I
was living in a trailer in the USAF "gated community". I didn't have a room
mate, but I had to walk about 50 meters
to the porta-lets and 120 meters to the showers. Once my unit formally accepted responsibility for the mission and my predecessor departed, I was able to move into his room which is inside our battalion HQ building. I now have my own bathroom, and live about 10 meters (yes, ten meters) from my office (which has its good things and its bad things). One of the good things is that I have concrete all around and over my head, so things are pretty safe.
As far as the "gated community" goes, it is very interesting. That particular housing area is actually inside a fence, with cipher locks on the pedestrian gates, and guards on the vehicle gates. The reason is because that particular housing area is adjacent (and open) to the airfield and is predominantly occupied by the USAF. Because of the airfield, they can't just let anyone walk into the housing area, especially local nationals. The USAF seem very spoiled because they have their own fitness centre, MWR centre, PX, coffee bar, alteration shop, chapel, and laundry facilities (drop off and pick-up). None of the other housing areas have those things, so it definitely makes it appear that the Air Force is better cared for than the Army. All those cool facilities for everyone else are centralized in one location on the east side and one location on the west side of the camp.
I know I said that I would talk about mortar attacks, but this note is probably long enough already. I will write about mortar attacks next time.
Peter / Terafan