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Quiet on the decks

Like tourists in a faraway land, soldiers covet mementos wherever they go.

Iraqi dinars, especially currency notes bearing the face of Saddam Hussein, are a hot item among deployed forces.

But another strongly desired keepsake is the innovative deck of playing cards featuring the 55 most-wanted Iraqis of the deposed regime. Decks have been offered for sale on eBay, but many troops in Iraq wonder if that’s as close as they’ll ever get to them.

At least in northern Iraq, finding a pack is as elusive as the effort to locate weapons of mass destruction, or Saddam himself.

“I’ve been looking for a deck, too,” said Air Force Col. Gregory Cook, who led the effort to open Kirkuk airfield in northern Iraq. “Let me know if you find one.”

So far, decks of the most-wanted haven’t surfaced in any major way.

Cook apparently left Iraq without a pack to pack, and other servicemembers may well be stuck with the same hand.

The best seat on base

While the Air Force and Army enjoy a friendly rivalry, troops on both sides agree on one thing in northern Iraq: The Air Force has it going on when it comes to latrines.

At Kirkuk airfield, Air Force troops burn out latrine barrels every day. The service also has separate latrines for men and women, and all seem to be equipped with a steady supply of toilet paper and baby wipes.

The Army, on the other hand, sticks to the basics. Its latrines consist of slit trenches that get “fly-proofed” when troops decide to throw some dirt in the hole after use.

“But most people don’t do it,” said Sgt. Aleksandra Heinsohn, with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, from Vicenza, Italy. Heinsohn doesn’t mind the inconvenience and says she doesn’t think other Army troops do, either.

Having a latrine at all is somewhat of a luxury, she said.

“When we first got here, we were just going out in the bushes and digging cat holes,” Heinsohn said.

A buzz of activity

Some troops might consider Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Galvan lucky.

Instead of living in a tent, as many other members of the 506th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron in northern Iraq do, Galvan and one other airman share a tiny room in an actual building. The space used to be an automotive parts storeroom at the old Iraqi fighter base in Kirkuk.

The trouble is, the airmen aren’t alone.

“The only problem is the flies,” Galvan said, watching the black insects buzzing in and out of the window, the glass long ago shattered by looters.

It’s not that the place isn’t clean. Galvan’s room is practically as sterile as an operating room. Apparently, the flies like it that way.

All over the base, airmen and soldiers work through a black haze of flies during the day and buzzing mosquitoes at night. Most have rigged screens made from mosquito nets and duct tape on doors and windows. Everybody’s got a mosquito tent stretched over cots.

But in the open-air shops where most people work, there’s little relief.

“The flies are atrocious,” said Senior Airman Thomas Knudsen, a mechanic in the vehicle maintenance shop, waving away the flies looking to land.

Apparently, the fly situation isn’t much better south of Iraq.

Spc. Aaron Perkins, 20, of Winterset, Iowa, lost track of how many desert flies he’s whacked with an empty plastic water bottle while standing guard at an air base in Kuwait. Marines dropped off fly poison, which Perkins and fellow Indiana National Guard soldier Sgt. Luke Whistle, 35, put in a plate of ice to attract the annoying insects.

“Once they find the poison, they fly in there and die by the dozen,” Whistle said, as dozens more swarmed around his face.

Rumors to keep cool by

As summer approaches and temperatures seem to go higher with each rising sun, everyone is looking for ways to beat the heat. For troops in Kuwait, that often means little more than a box cut up to make shade.

Troops at Camp Arifjan are anxiously awaiting the opening of a swimming pool.

Word around is that they will be swimming by June 1 in a large pool housed in the same building as the military post office. The opening date was originally May 1, and before that, April 1. One sergeant said July 1 sounded likely, if ever.

Meanwhile, some Air Force troops at the Kuwait Air Force Base swim on their free time at the base pool. At Camp Patriot, near the coast, ambitious sailors wet their fishing lines in the sea, but don’t swim in the dirty water, they said.

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