WAR IS HELL |
October 10, 2007
WAR IS HELL
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.
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:
Here's what it looks Balad looks like now:
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?
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.