ARLINGTON, Va. — Instead of the more than 20 bases now scattered around Baghdad, the 1st Armored Division plans to consolidate its 35,000 troops into four major, brigade-level forward operating bases by early next year, according to the division’s commander, Brig. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey.

“I’m bringing [the smaller bases] in to protect them,” Dempsey said earlier this month. “Right now, I am using 33 percent of my combat power to protect [the troops].”

That’s a level that cannot be sustained, Dempsey said. And if he tried, he said, “I’ll turn [the division] into a self-licking ice-cream cone.”

Dempsey’s plan is to consolidate at the brigade level, using four major forward operating bases, or “FOBs.” His target date to complete the job is Jan 1.

The bases will be located at Taggi, about 20 miles north of Baghdad; Baghdad International Airport, on the south side of the city; Al Rashid Airbase, on the east side of Baghdad; and “Camp Falcon,” where some of the 82nd Airborne troops are now.

All of the bases are well outside Baghdad — a major change as some U.S. military personnel are stationed in residential neighborhoods.

But even before the major consolidation, Dempsey intends to consolidate company units within the battalions.

Once that happens, “there’s more I can do to provide quality of life,” Dempsey said.

Quality of life is a big issue in Iraq for 1st AD troops, whose living quarters run the gamut from individual companies hunkering down in abandoned buildings, to battalions working out of palaces once owned by Saddam Hussein.

Most of the 1st AD deployed to Iraq from its home base at Weisbaden, Germany, on May 1, and will remain there through April.

The 1st AD — along with several units that are temporarily attached to the division, including the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment and parts of the 82nd Airborne Division — has principal responsibility for coalition operations in Baghdad.

With so much territory to monitor, the troops are currently spread all over the city. Some troops living in relative comfort, and others in extreme bare-base conditions.

The disparities are not good for morale, but trying to bring so many different kinds of housing up to snuff is expensive and tough to coordinate from a contracting standpoint, Dempsey said.

Consolidating into just four huge bases will make quality of life improvements much easier to plan, contract and fund, Dempsey said.

“Once I get [to the brigade level] there, I can throw more resources” at quality of life, Dempsey said. “The more spread out we are, the harder it is to do that.”

One of the largest consolidated FOBs will be Baghdad International Airport, or “BIAP,” as the soldiers call the airfield.

Dempsey already has his division headquarters at BIAP, as does V Corps, which occupies “Camp Victory,” a separate, walled compound which is centered around one of Saddam’s most beautiful former palaces.

The airport is separated into two basic parts: the first being a large, modern commercial airport. The passenger terminal and out-buildings were not badly damaged in the war, but are undergoing extensive work to repair damages inflicted by looters.

A much more extensive military airfield occupies the second half of BIAP, and includes such oddities as a special club constructed for the military cronies of Odai Hussein, as well as fields that once held his personal collection of wildlife, such as gazelles and camels.

Plans right now call for the BIAP’s commercial airfield to receive civilian and passenger traffic as quickly as the security situation will allow while the U.S soldiers live on the military side. This is similar to how the U.S. Air Force operates Rhein-Main, Germany, as a military field next to Frankfurt International Airport, military officials said.

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