The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.

WAR IS HELL |

October 10, 2007

WAR IS HELL
Name: Kevin
Posting date: 10/10/07
Stationed in: Iraq
Hometown: Oakland, NJ
Milblog url: iraqpartii.blogspot.com

Well, you can now begin counting me as one of the roughly 160,000 troops the U.S. has in Iraq. I landed here at Balad Air Base very late last night on an Air Force C-17. We first took off from Kuwait on a smaller aircraft, the C-130, but had to turn around over southern Iraq because of engine trouble. I didn’t even notice anything was wrong until the pilot got on the intercom and said we were turning around and heading back to Kuwait.

Even with the deafening buzz of the aircraft’s engine, I heard a collective groan from my fellow passengers under the realization that they would be once again have to lug around their hundreds of pounds of bags, protective gear, and weapons, onto another cramped bus bound for a new plane. After a few hours of uncomfortable squirming on our Oompa Loompa bus watching bad reruns of Without a Trace, we eventually got on a C-17 and landed in Iraq about an hour later. Four years ago, I drove to Balad in a two-day convoy, so flying this time was a piece of cake.
Framed_kevin_war_is_hell_1



Speaking of cake, Balad’s mess hall features what amounts to a entire bakery, offering cheese cake, carrot cake, apple pie, and just about anything else. I chose to highlight the high-caloric and sugary aspect of the new Balad because it highlights the improvements made since I left here in November 2003. I lived on Balad for seven months during the first year of the war and had to rough it a little bit. My unit used piss pipes (essentially pipes sticking out of the ground…you had to be pretty accurate) and wooden outhouses. We even burned the refuse of our digestive systems, casting a noxious stench over our living area that I can’t forget.

Nowadays, Balad is a very different place. The gym is enormous and has every piece of equipment you could ever need. There is a Burger King, Pizza Hut, two coffee places, a beauty parlor, a library, a movie theater, an outdoor and indoor pool, etc.

Here's what it looked like outside of my building in 2003:
Framed_kevin_war_is_hell_2
Here's what it looks Balad looks like now:
Framed_kevin_war_is_hell_3
With all these amenities, it is easy to forget that I’m parked right in the middle of a country on the brink of a nasty civil war; that two miles away, there are undoubtedly insurgents conspiring and preparing to kill us. On the base, we’re generally safe. Safe enough to walk around without a helmet, bulletproof vest or loaded weapon. The only true threat we have here is from mortars. Balad gets hit with so much indirect fire from insurgent mortar teams that soldiers call it “Mortaritaville.” When I was here four years ago, eighteen U.S. troops were wounded when a rocket landed near the line for the mess hall. Today, during my first breakfast here, a mortar round landed somewhere on the airbase, but it was far enough away that I didn’t even hear it through the 15-foot blast-proof concrete barriers outside. Because the PX, theater, and mess halls are prime targets for insurgent mortar attacks, we actually installed a separate blast-proof roof over the original roof of these buildings. So even if a few rockets landed on top of the mess hall during its busiest hour, no one would get hurt. Pretty cool, huh?

Balad's outdoor pool in 2003:
Framed_kevin_war_is_hell_4

Balad's pool today:
Framed_kevin_war_is_hell_5

Balad's indoor pool in 2003:
Framed_kevin_war_is_hell_6

Balad's indoor pool today:
Framed_kevin_war_is_hell_7

So much has changed on this base in four years that I hardly even recognized it when I landed. Curious to find out what my old barracks looks like today, I went over and took a look. There was my old building, a former Iraqi Air Force barracks, surrounded by blast walls and looking sleeker than ever. I walked away laughing to myself, knowing that my friends and I were the first ones to occupy it in its original decrepit state of broken glass, no A/C, rusted metal, and mold.

I’m here for a few more days and then I head to Taji, where I’ll spend the rest of my nine-months-to-one-year tour. I hear they've made a lot of improvements there too, so this will probably be a more comfortable deployment than my last. In the meantime, I have to run. The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders are performing for us tonight.

Comments

Man, Balad has changed! I remember being up there dropping off units and their equipment as the place started to become occupied and going through the hangers looking for momentos. Cool to see the pools are in use.

I hope you can post pix of Taji as well, I haven't been there since July of 2003, I'm sure it's changed a lot too.

Maybe your title should read now "War is Hell-ish"

Be safe. Trust you can swim!

I spent 2004 in Balad, when it (mostly) went from the old pics and descriptions to the new ones (we arrived with piss tubes and left behind bathroom trailers). A friend of mine had South Park on DVD. It was the season with the episode called, "The Mexican Staring Frog of Southern Sri Lanka." The outdoor pool was finished in July or August, and it always inspired a joke from that South Park episode: "All he ever wanted was to go on the log ride" (or something like that - it's been a while). I guess only those who've been there and seen the episode would get the joke, but I thought I'd post it for those who can appreciate it.

It's astounding how Balad has changed in the last years. Definitely the place looked like the classic combat zone, but fortunately it has changed an now it's a place where the families can get a happy time. No matter what Balad was in the past, the most important is what it's today.

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