At camps all around Iraq, soldiers, airmen, Marines and even the few sailors are finding ways to live a little better. Here are some of the improvements they’ve made:

¶CAMP DOGWOOD — Necessity wasn’t necessarily the mother of invention for the “Gridsmashers” from 1st Battalion, 27th Field Artillery out of Babenhausen, Germany. It was boredom.

The soldiers at Dogwood, about an hour south of Baghdad, were surrounded by miles and miles of fine sand. When not patrolling or searching for weapons, they found themselves wanting to beef up. All they needed was the equipment. Lacking dumbbells, they turned to spare parts from Humvees and other downed vehicles. Both are heavy and will still pump up a soldier’s arms — though few dumbbells can start a car or pump water through a radiator.

After a good workout, soldiers needed a shower. So they crafted makeshift shower stalls out of plywood and hooked up plumbing to a water buffalo, which delivered heated water — after sitting in the blazing Iraqi sun.

¶CAMP DRAGOON — Troops seem to particularly enjoy taking advantage of Saddam’s massive personal infrastructure to make life more comfortable.

In Baghdad, for example, home to the headquarters of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Division, soldiers enjoy nightly movies in the world-class movie theater Saddam built for his secret police. Popcorn is free, and Sunday is double-feature day.

¶MOSUL — At the so-called “Palace of the Spears,” troops from the 101st Airborne Division’s headquarters have regular swimming hours in a kidney-shaped swimming pool, which comes complete with a marble bathhouse that has hot and cold showers.

“Everyone has to go swimming here at least once, just to say, ‘I swam in Saddam’s pool,’” a female specialist remarked as she did a leisurely backstroke one broiling evening.

¶BASRA — The centerpiece of the 530th Military Police Battalion headquarters’ living area at Camp Bucca is a little reminiscent of the old TV show “Petticoat Junction.”

On a raised wooden gazebo, soldiers built a deep tub that now serves as the swimming hole for the headquarters staff. The only thing missing are the pretty girls in petticoats.

“We just throw some bleach in it every once in a while to keep it clean,” said Staff Sgt. Vern Schulte, an MP in the battalion at Bucca, where hundreds of enemy prisoners-of-war are held.

The pool, which looks more like a California-style hot tub, is a welcome relief.

“This place was just a big square of sand when we walked into it,” Schulte said. “Now we’ve got everything just like it should be.”

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