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FORWARD OPERATING BASE McHENRY, Iraq — It’s a man’s world.

Or at least that’s how it feels on this tiny, spartan forward operating base in northern Iraq, where fewer than 20 women share living space, base facilities and a shower with three infantry companies.

For some, the overwhelming odds are cause for good-natured grumbling. For others, they’re a negligible fact of life on a remote base. For all, it seems, they’re a conversation starter.

The base’s women, all members of a support unit from the 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division of Fort Campbell, Ky., said life on the testosterone-filled base can be trying at times.

More women, said Pfc. Josett Campbell, 20, “would take the heat off” those who are here now.

The high male-to-female ratio, coupled with the base’s rampant infantile infantry humor — the most popular joke seems to consist, in endless variations, of one infantryman accusing the other of homosexual tendencies — has only intensified the boys’ club atmosphere, the women say.

As a result, “You have to kind of stick together,” Campbell said. “We stick up for each other. To some males, we’re a piece of meat.”

Christal Lopez, 20, said she also tires of being typecast. “Being a female, I guess males see you as weaker, they automatically want to help you,” she said. “I get tired of it.”

Her roommate, Pvt. Amber Bice, 20, was more upbeat.

“It’s not that bad,” she said brightly. “I’m used to being around brothers.”

However, she added, “there are a couple of [infantrymen] I’d love to smash in the head, for writing things on port-o-potties.”

Other female soldiers say they’ve had no problems adapting to the environment.

“I don’t care who looks at me, honestly,” said Pfc. Shannon Root, 24. “I’m just here to do my job.”

There also are advantages to being in the minority, Spc. Sherell Humes, 22, has discovered.

“Females usually get better rations at the [dining facility] than males,” she said. “I get a lot of extra stuff when I go in there.”

She pointed to a box of muffins in her bedroom, which she shares with Bice and Lopez.

“A guy brought them to us,” she said. “And he brought a box of juice. I didn’t ask for it, but I’m grateful for it.”

The men on base offered varying opinions on the fact that FOB McHenry has barely enough women to fill a calendar. (Though many male soldiers have evened the odds by decorating their living areas with calendars featuring women who would be decidedly out of place among their camouflage-clad sisters.)

“We need more women,” said Pfc. Frederick Turner, 23. “It’ll bring the morale up. Look at any other [forward operating base]. Will it hurt to have more [women]?”

The overwhelming majority, however, said they preferred the base to house few or no women.

“I don’t think they should be on here,” said Pfc. Stephen Ballard, 21. “On some bases, but not out here. The conditions are bad.”

“I think we could focus better on our mission with not so many females here,” said Capt. Cedric Burden. “It would be harder if [the ratio] were fifty-fifty.”

If it were up to some soldiers, the two sexes would inhabit separate planets.

“It’s so easy to make an [equal opportunity] complaint, most people just stay away from them,” Pfc. Michael Hatten, 19, said of the female soldiers. “I think if there were more of them, more things would happen.”

Other soldiers compared the base to a well-known duty station where women are in famously short supply — and high demand.

“It’s baby Korea,” joked Spc. William McDonald, 24.

Squabbles aside, there is one point on which the sexes agree.

“Those soldiers are combat multipliers, regardless of their sex,” said Capt. Mike Zoldak, battalion effects coordinator.

“They bring as much to this [forward operating base] as any male soldier.”


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