August 06, 2008

Name: James Aalan Bernsen
Posting date: 8/6/08
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog url:

The MWR is where soldiers and others on base go to relax, sit on real, authentic couches, use computers, play pool and watch television -- although the television's almost always tuned in to wrestling, so I don't think you could call it relaxing. MWR stands for Morale, Welfare and Recreation, and every base has one of these places that ostensibly gives us a chance to unwind and take our minds off the war.

Not that you really have much opportunity to use one when you're on a 12-hour shift like me. Generally, if I'm not working, I'm sleeping or working out. But I do get over there to do a few things on the Internet that I can't do at work -- write on my blog, for instance, or watch videos on Youtube.

They've got a host of activities going on over here all the time. There are volleyball tournaments, for example: Woe be unto anyone who challenges the Tongans. There are horseshoe stakes too. I'd love to play, but who wants to put their hands on a steel horseshoe when the ambient air temperature is 115? They also have evening events, from Karaoke to dancing. There's a Salsa Night and a Country and Western Night. But the other evening, when I came by to check for an email I was awaiting, I stumbled upon Middle Eastern Night.

I've always been of the opinion that the more traditional, the more authentic a form of music is, the more vibrant, exciting and lively it is. It's a product of evolution, not marketing, and I think that there's something special about it. When I was living Southwest Texas just after college, I used to go to a lot of Tejano dances in little dance halls in places like Uvalde or Crystal City. Places where the only Anglo folks in the whole crowd were me, my date and the sheriff. But the music was fun, and no one cared.

I'm also a big fan of the blues, and folks like Muddy Waters or Robert Johnson. Rock and Roll in its early days still had some of that buzz, that vibe, that energy. Jerry Lee Lewis was fun. Chuck Berry made you want to get up and dance. And it sounded real, uncontrived. Not like the crap they put out these days.

The same is true of older country -- the kind of Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, Lefty Frizzell type of stuff -- which is so much more fun and full of soul than "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy." Bottom line, if you need to do a poll or ask a focus group to tell you what good is, then you're not playing good music. And the music doesn't have to be old or dated, to have this energy. It just has to be true.

So as I came into the MWR that night, I was greeted with the fun, exciting beat of the latest, but authentic, hits of the Arab music scene. Mostly the work of Egyptian pop stars -- I watch them on MTV Arabia at the barber shop -- it's got that unique beat, pulse and rhythmic singing that just makes you think of the Middle East, the desert, caravans and that kind of thing.

So I found myself typing away at the computer, matching time with my keystrokes to the beat of the songs. After a while, I finished what I was doing and came out into the main room to watch. There on the dance floor was an odd mix of people. Two obviously Middle Eastern women -- probably translators -- were the center of attention. One, wearing a short sun dress and high heels, was probably the best-looking woman I've seen in Iraq, at least outside of the Australian Air Force. The other wore tight jeans and a white blouse. Dancing to the beat, they raised their arms, lifted their heels and swayed around. You could almost imagine them in belly dancer outfits like some scene out of Lawrence of Arabia. Gathered around these women were an odd assortment of U.S. soldiers wearing their Army PT shirts and shorts, male translators wearing 1970s-looking button down shirts, and Iraqi soldiers, who kind of hung off at the side of the room watching, not sure if they wanted to go into such debauchery as actually dancing within 10 feet of a woman.

The Egyptians and Lebanese men didn't care, and they were out on the dance floor in all their uncoordinated glory, having a good time. The dancing, of course, was tame by modern Western standards, and most of the time the men and women didn't even touch. The one exception was when they gathered together in a line and danced together, kicking their feet out and yelling. Kind of like an Arabic version of the Cotton-Eyed Joe. My Arabic is limited, but I think I heard something like "Bull Shit!"

It was a fun night, and everyone was happy. These are good times. Our base hasn't been hit by a rocket in nearly two months (they used to hit us twice a week) and everyone here seems to have a bit more of a spring in their step. Of course, there's still work going on outside the wire, and all these people had long hours ahead of them -- poring over captured enemy documents and translating their contents for the Americans and their allies -- but tonight they could relax, let their hair down, and do what people all over the world all like to do. Have a good time.


Party on, James.
Thanks for the post.

glad to hear you get a chance to relax and do it picking up on where you're at.people waste so much time wishing they were elsewhere or with someone else.carpe diem.latin for embrace the day. son#3 is the navy engineer at loyalty. if you see him tell him that his father says to buy you a beer. be careful out there. me

Keep the watch, enjoy the quiet, but don't party in enemy territory, I watched Fire Base Mary Ann being attacked when they forgot the war was everywhere. Take care out there. Thanks for the pictures of the people and the MWR.

Yep, there's definitely a difference between what's good and what's popular. I support my local MWR tent on a regular basis!

Enjoying even small things & celebrating with friends are healthy behaviors & keep us human. Savor the fun when you have it.

I'm just wondering whether there are MWR's for the Iraqi people, who've been living out of the wire for the last 5 years.

It's nice to hear that you guys get to chill and just relax and not have to worry about the war and everything for a while. Sounds like you guys have a ball playing around and goofing off, it's so awesome!

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Arab music is quite eclectic. Enjoyed the post.

Write your blog is very good! What a great read. That was a good post. Thanks for the analysis.

Nice to hear you had a very fun night.

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