'Mortaritaville' offers tales of close calls for many soldiers

For soldiers like these at Camp Anaconda, mortar and rocket attacks notably pick up around the holidays.


By JEFF SCHOGOL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 7, 2006

CAMP ANACONDA, Iraq — For soldiers living and working at this sprawling camp in northern Iraq, mortar attacks are part of their daily routines.

Camp Anaconda has earned the nickname “Mortaritaville” for frequent if ineffective enemy mortar attacks. And most soldiers here have their tales of close calls.

Spc. Joan Bailey, 34, remembers when a mortar round hit outside her trailer just over a week ago.

Bailey, of the 610th Quartermaster Company, said she remembers the sound of rocks hitting her trailer after the explosion.

“It felt like you were in the middle of an earthquake,” said Bailey, of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

Soldiers say the mortar attacks usually pick up around elections and holidays.

“Ramadan stands for ‘Rockets and Mortars All Day and Night,’ ” said Sgt. Joshua Udell, 24, of the 400th Quartermaster Company.

Asked where he heard that expression, Udell, of Daytona Beach, Fla., said, “I read it in a porta-potty.”

Insurgents don’t just stick to the major holidays, soldiers said.

Sgt. John McIlwain, 22, said he remembered waking up about 5:30 a.m. on Christmas to the sound of incoming mortar rounds.

“I had that day off and I was planning on sleeping in, and it didn’t happen,” said McIlwain, of the 452nd Ordinance Company.

Despite the mortar attacks, life is good at Camp Anaconda, soldiers said.

Sgt. Fernando Zayala, 29, said that when he went to Afghanistan, he lived in a tent with 12 other soldiers and the latrine was a wooden building, so he can’t complain about conditions at Anaconda.

“The Army is taking care of us,” said Zayala, of the 21st Cargo Transportation Company, from El Paso, Texas.

The camp boasts an indoor and outdoor pool, a first-run movie theater and gym facilities.

“Besides the 100-yard walk to the latrines every morning, this is better than college,” McIlwain said.