Tent city goes from nasty to toasty
(This story was published on January 7, 1996.)
TASZAR AIR BASE, Hungary — The massive tent city that serves as a temporary home for most of the U.S. troops on their way to Bosnia is nearly complete.
Newly arriving personnel can't believe the comforts to which they are treated:
• Tents have cots, wooden floors, electricity and heat.
• Showers are abundant and have hot water.
• Deluxe toilet stations — which recently replaced stand-alone portable toilets — have heat and lighting and can serve as many as 20 people at a time.
• The dining facility is a large "fest tent" with ample tables and chairs, and is dishing out about 3,500 tray pack rations; or T-rations. per meal.
In addition, soldiers have satellite television in the dining facility. The Army and Air Force Exchange Service is working to open a small exchange soon. And a number of telephones with commercial and DSN capabilities have been installed for soldiers.
"The quality of life is coming together real well," said Army Capt. Mark Dardcn, a spokesman for the U.S. National Support Element based at Taszar AB. "The conditions at the Life Support Area (tent city) are better than at Grafenwoehr (training area in Germany)."
Such was not the case a week ago.
And the tent city was nowhere near completion when thousands of troops descended upon the base in mid-December as the Army made a dash for the border of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Troops arrived to an incomplete staging area that often provided no place to sleep, little heat and terrible living conditions. Then, flooding of the Sava River delayed the building of the bridge that would carry the troops into Bosnia.
For those troops left waiting in camps poorly equipped to handle the influx, it seemed things were done haphazardly.
"Everything was chaotic," said a civilian Defense Department employee on a team monitoring the Army contractor responsible for building the tent city.
"Brown and Root (the Houston-based contractor) got the word to build the tent city (at Taszar) on December 10," he said, "They were supposed to have two weeks to get it all built and ready for the troops, but the first troops arrived three days later."
He added that the plan was to have all the tent cities at the Army's various staging areas between Hungary and Bosnia built before any troops arrived. But he speculated that the Army was anxious to get its troops into Bosnia soon after the Dayton, Ohio, peace accord, before any of the warring parties in Bosnia changed their minds.
And that left no time to get the tent cities completed,
Navy Seabees rapidly constructed a tent city at Zupanja, Croatia. Some 2,500 troops from the Army's 1st Armd Div had been stalled there by delays in crossing the Sava River.
Mike Page, liaison between Brown and Root and U.S. Army Europe headquarters forward, said he couldn't imagine the contractor building a camp in Zupanja under those conditions.
"The Seabees were forced to make soup and salad out of chicken crap," Page said.
Now, with the Taszar tent city completed, Brown and Root will be working its way south, where company employees will maintain and manage the tent city the Seabees built, as well as other tent cities.
Now, too, things are moving more steadily at the staging areas leading into Bosnia. The U.S. military population in Taszar is nearing 7,000. About 3,300 of those troops are part of the permanent force.
Each day, the number of people living in the tent city fluctuates as convoys leave for Bosnia and fresh batches of soldiers arrive by the busloads.
In addition, 12 to 25 aircraft — with equipment, food, vehicles and personnel — land each day at Taszar. Trainloads of military vehicles and equipment continuously arrive as well.
From early morning until late at night, crews unload planes and trains and prepare the armored vehicles for transit into Croatia and then Bosnia.
When the work finally is done, soldiers get a chance to return to their tent cities.
There, to maintain "unit integrity and cohesiveness," the Army is having all soldiers of a particular unit — both male and female — share the same tent. The larger units with hundreds of soldiers stay in the huge fest tents.
Pfc. Laura Martinez of Vilseck, Germany, said sleeping in the same area as male soldiers was nothing new.
"We did the same thing when we went out on field training exercises back in Germany," she said, "You get used to it. The guys will leave and give you privacy when you need it. The girls do the same for them. Everybody keeps their clothes on."
Martinez said they were told men and women will get separate tents once they get "down range" in Bosnia.