At Camp Black Jack, a ringer in their midst
Stars and Stripes May 4, 2004
CAMP BLACK JACK, Iraq — Soldiers could complain when the power goes off and the desert sun turns thousands of aluminum trailers into basting ovens.
Or they could play horseshoes.
Lately, with power outages nearly every day, soldiers play a lot.
Power at Camp Black Jack typically is down once a day, said Capt. John Prall, assistant brigade electrician for the 1st Cavalry Division’s 2nd Brigade.
How long depends on what sort of generator repairs and maintenance Kellogg, Brown & Root technicians are performing, Prall said. Black Jack, which is about 3 months old, has a permanent power system, “but nothing like you’d see in the States,” he said. So outages will probably be a fact of life for the near future.
When air conditioners go silent, scouts head to the horseshoe pits, day or night.
“Last night, we were playing with Chemlites and NODs,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph Casmus, a truck commander with 2nd Platoon, Troop D, part of 1st Cav’s 9th Cavalry Regiment.
Only scouts would come up with wearing night optical devices while throwing horseshoes at small luminous tubes glowing with phosphorescent chemicals.
“You just wear the NODs and throw at the green light. We did better at night than during the day,” Casmus said.
When the power went out Wednesday afternoon about 3 p.m., everyone raced to the pit in between Troop D trailers. But that was about the peak of physical activity.
Then, it was all standing or sitting in the shade. And a lot of talking.
“These are 50 of the most competitive horseshoe players in the world,” said Pfc. Caesar Ortiz, smiling.
When the first few tosses fail to land anywhere near the stake, Ortiz quickly backpedals. “Potentially the most competitive. Potentially. Hey, I never said they could play. I just said, ‘competitive.’ ”
Horseshoes is a game that soldiers seem to learn only in the field, said Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Odom, a 34-year-old Texan and 1st Platoon sergeant. “Spades, dominoes and horseshoes,” Odom said. “In the rear, you never play them. There’s too much to do” for entertainment.
Actually, Pvt. Charles “Doc” Warren, 22, of Gettysburg, Pa., turns out to be something of a natural, his form precise and consistent after only a week of playing.
Horseshoes is better than other sports “because you don’t have to put out too much effort,” said Sgt. Christopher Cabacoy, 24, a M240B gunner from Hawaii.
“If you throw the football, there’s a chance you’ll have to run after it,” said Cabacoy from his plastic chair in the shade.
“It’s too hot to throw the football,” said Spc. Cornelius Randolph, 19, from Lynchburg, Va. “We’ve written a million letters since basic. You kind of just get together and toss a few in the shade.”
Horseshoes is about relaxing together, something scouts never get to do because they’re on round-the-clock missions, Cabacoy said.
“Missions and horseshoes is what brings us together,” he said.
With the power on, though, soldiers spend most of their off time in the air conditioning, playing video games or watching movies, Cabacoy and Randolph said. But when there’s nothing to do, grown men stand (though not for too long) in the 95-degree heat, tossing U-shaped hunks of iron that are otherwise useless without the horse.
So is it a passion that’s swept the base? Not exactly. Playing game after game “is better than sitting in your room crying because you miss home,” Odom said.
“The only reason I’m out here is because the power’s out,” said Randolph. As soon as it comes back on at 4 p.m., he and the rest are gone.
By Sunday’s five-hour outage, scouts had moved on.
“Boxing!” said Sgt. Sam White, a truck commander. “Forget about horseshoes.”