FORWARD OPERATING BASE WILSON, Iraq — You won’t find a Burger King or a movie theater or an Olympic-size swimming pool at this homely little base 15 miles south of Tikrit.
You won’t find a soldier who has anything bad to say about it, either.
“This is the best FOB I’ve been on for any period of time,” said Spc. Jared Wiggins, 26, of Las Vegas, a medic for Troop C of the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment. “It’s smaller; everything’s right there. The people here are respectful to each other, fun to be around.”
FOB Wilson looks like a ’70s suburban office park that has been through a war, which is exactly what it is. Saddam Hussein’s regime used it as a manufacturing plant for radio, radar and other electronics gear.
The Americans bombed it during the first Gulf War, but not the second.
A tree-lined road leads up to a little circular drive, in front of a long, flat greenish building with narrow windows shaped like gun slits. Elsewhere on the base are cavernous warehouses that now house tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and Humvees.
Green lawns have long since yielded to powdery desert sand, and the trees look dusty and weary after the brutal Iraqi summer. The Army has graveled some of the yards, and the hulks of wrecked Iraqi trucks rust quietly beside the streets. Outside the stone wall topped with barbed wire lies a huge field of twisted aluminum and debris, believed to be wreckage from the U.S. attacks in 1991.
Unlike many Army camps, no one lives in tents. Soldiers live indoors, dormitory style, in green-tiled rooms with battered walls. They eat warmed-up military rations while watching a giant-screen TV in a chow hall decorated with a colorful mural of happy children presenting flowers to a smiling, benign Saddam.
“We’ve got TV, running water, electricity,” said Capt. James Golby, 26, of Kewaunee, Ill., as he relaxed in one of the camp’s break rooms.
“I expected to be living like we were in Kuwait,” said Sgt. Lamar Waring, 24, of the 1st Battalion, 113th Field Artillery, of the North Carolina National Guard, referring to where troops slept on cots crammed into large tents.
Although FOB Wilson is one of the Army’s smallest camps in Iraq, it seems roomy and empty. Only one cavalry unit and a few small Guard or Reserve detachments live here.
“A lot of guys like this post because it’s small,” said 1st Sgt. Charles Biby, 35, of Porterville, Calif., Troop C’s senior noncommissioned officer. “You go in to use the phone or the Internet, there’s not a [waiting] line.”
Sgts. Kelly Little, 33, and Seth Watson, 32, both of the 1-113 Field Artillery, said they are more than willing to give up frills such as fast-food meals, swimming pools and sprawling PXs for a homey place such as Wilson.
“The exercise facilities are great,” Little said. “At the bigger FOBs, you don’t get the working relationship. This is more like a family.”
“The big places — there’s too much headquarters, too much brass,” Watson added. “I’d rather be here.”