Marines’ take heat and food at Iraq base in stride
RAWAH, Iraq — One way to tell which Marines have just come in off a patrol is by the big sweat-darkened swatches on the chest, back and seats of their tan fire-retardant flight suits.
Here in this part of western Anbar province it’s a common sight: Marines of Task Force Highlander returning from “outside the wire,” dusty and sweat-drenched, to what for many is their home during deployment, an outlying “patrol base,” or coming in from a guard post on the compound.
It’s typically a beat-up concrete building surrounded by razor wire and protective barriers, the windows stuffed tight with green sandbags.
For the Marines of the task force’s 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, this is home, one they share with members of the Iraqi police.
“The days they are standing post … are actually more arduous in this heat than the patrolling days because these are the days you’re actually standing out there in the heat,” said Marine 1st Lt. Josef H. Wiese, 24, of Steilacoom, Wash. He’s commander of the battalion’s 3rd Platoon, Company D, and is based at what’s called the Combined Coordination Center, or CCC, in Rawah.
His Marines pull duty on a 24-hour schedule, several hours at a time.
So there’s no set meal time. The base has a microwave oven, a toaster oven and a grill, as well aws a refrigerator and a separate large freezer. The Marines help themselves and cook up a meal when they’re ready.
Convoys from Combat Outpost Rawah bring frozen and other food items to the bases. They may also get hot chow from the COP.
And relatives and friends send them all manner of food items and other comforts.
“When we’ll get, like, a big old thing of rib eye, we’ll cut that down to steaks,” Wiese said. “One of the staples is we get those precooked frozen hamburger patties.”
But hamburger buns are elusive, Wiese said.
“Sometimes we’ll get buns and we’ll be out of the damn patties,” he said. “Sometimes we’ll have patties but we’ll be out of the damn buns.”
The cooking area and spaces near it end up being a kind of 24-hour center of activity in the life of the base, something like an all-night diner in a busy city back home.
They have air conditioning, electricity, but no flush toilets; Marines rely on “wag bags,” pre-packaged plastic bags that fit over a specially designed plastic toilet seat. They then seal the entire contents and dispose of it at the designated wag bag refuse point. The bags are later burned.
They urinate into metal tubes driven to about waist-height into the ground.
His Marines built a shower, said Wiese, and their Iraqi Police counterparts brought in a washer-dryer.
They also have a weight-lifting area. They sleep in rooms on steel bunk beds.
Marines at the coordination center don’t have Internet access but another patrol base in Rawah does. So the Marines get over there when they can, or use the Internet available on trips to the COP.
And his base, like others, has a satellite phone which is available to the Marines daily, but with a condition. “You get about 20 minutes a day,” said Wiese. “That’s your limit and if you go over that you can’t use it for a week.”
The Marines say they’ve been able to adjust to the austere conditions of a patrol base.
They’ve also adjusted to the demands of patrolling and standing watch. But in a way those tasks are harder now that the insurgency in the area is far less active in the cities than it had been even months ago.
“The biggest thing is staying vigilant,” said Pfc. Bryan Gregory, 22, of Bagdad, Ariz. “During the hotter parts of the day there’s nobody out. … Like you go on patrol and there’s nobody out. Sometimes I talk to IPs (Iraqi police) when up there on watch.
“It’s really repetitive,” Gregory said. “Same stuff.”