Robert Parry posted frequent comments at L.A. Observed back when those were part of the mix here. A former reporter and editor, he was an account manager for The Pollack PR Marketing Group at the time his National Guard unit got called up for the war. After six months in training he has recently arrived in Kuwait and describes what things are like in an email home—think sand, a crowded tent and a lot of waiting:
Greetings from Camp New York, home of the 4th Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division and, of course, ME!
Camp New York is a lot like LA. There are people from all kinds of funky places here, like Georgia, Fresno, New York, Bangladesh and Pakistan! The latter are among the dozens (hundreds?) of folks hired by KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton, who do the work soldiers used to do in Grandpa's Army (like pick up the garbage and cook dinner), except they manage to do it for less than a private would cost (and, yes, that's REALLY cheap).
Basically, if KBR ever got mad, took their marbles and went home, the American military effort here (or anywhere) would come to a screeching halt. But, since KBR gets away with paying poor folks from dreadful places a relative princely sum (who can complain about making $5 a day when unemployment back home runs at 60%?), things go rolling along.
The place has an internet cafe (where I am now) and a shopping center with food court. Like LA, there are massive traffic jams, and it takes about 45 minutes standing in line to get into the mall (we call it the Post Exchange - PX) and another 45 to check out. That's almost two hours to buy a Coke! There is a Burger King where you can order one of four combo meals. And wait 30 minutes to order...and 20 to get your food. Oh, and the internet cafe? I stood in line in 40 degree weather for one hour and 10 minutes just to send this email.
The PX consists of a triple-wide mobile home-type trailer and is out of half of what you want. The magazines are no less than 21 days old (advantage here...I was able to get the Sports Illustrated from Jan 10 with the Orange Bowl on the cover..just yesterday!). The food court has food from home served from semi-truck trailer sized-kitchens. Why pay for lunch, you ask? Don't they feed you? Oh, yes, of course, in the DFAC... 30 minute wait for any meal, served by folks from places with different hygienic standards (employed by KBR - of course) and a grasp of English which makes statements like "I'll take chicken with carrots, no gravy" a rather vague instruction (meatloaf and gravy with beans is a rough translation of the above in some language, I have learned).
Also, like home, first one in the shower gets the best start to the day. The difference is that the shower is in a trailer 50 meters away across wind blown sand. And, if you are late, you won't have to worry about cold water for your shower...because all the water will be gone (until KBR comes by to refill the tank).
The latrine (toilet) is a fine outdoor chemical type, like you find at big festivals. Emptied every morning...usually (again, by KBR). It, too, is a nice long walk across the sand, which makes waking up in the middle of the night with the need to go a much more difficult proposition involving significant calculation. I find it pretty much takes me however long until I would normally wake up to make that decision!
We live with about 80 men in a 60-man tent so there is a lot of sharing of space and such going on. I share a bungee cord as a towel-and-laundry hanger with the E-7 next to me. The guy a few bunks down shared his head cold with all of us, so now the tent sounds like a whooping cough colony. And, at the end of the day, when everybody takes off their boots at the same time....mmmmmmm, there's nothing like the aroma that let's you know you are home!
The tent, of foreign origin and maintained by KBR, has been scientifically protected from rain water by soaking it in Kerosene! Oh yes, we live in our own molotov cocktail. We are told that the fire tests on the tents show they will burn from end to end in 110 seconds. Consequently, I sleep with my knife immediately under my cot so that I can create my own exit, should I be so motivated.
The advantage here, is that we are all looking forward to Iraq!
Seriously, though, the time will soon be nigh for our trip north. I cannot tell you when or where we are headed, but it is safe to say I will be earning my paychecks for the next 12 months. (Once I am there and we are fully transitioned with the unit we are replacing I will be able to shed more light on this). We have had a long six months, and are to the point where more training is pointless. The instruction is reduntantly contradictory (the fifth class on a topic brings an entirely different approach and set of standards and only creates confusion). Our training opportunities here have been largely wasted. Most of my men have put less than 50 rounds through their weapons since November. We fired to zero (test accuracy) three days ago, only to find the Army does not have the right targets for that process here.
We are frustrated and ready to get on with the business at hand.
We are warriors and full members of the profession of arms. Just as a lawyer looks forward to the big case and I look forward to challenging clients at PPMG, we look forward to the chance to do what we are trained to.
And we are looking forward to getting home, too. Traffic jams and mall food courts will never seem so welcoming.
I'll write more when I get where I'm going.
Take care and say a prayer for me and the 14 men whom I shall soon lead on the adventure of a life time.
All the best,