No need to scream for ice cream
Stars and Stripes June 30, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Hot showers. Air-conditioned living quarters. A tent for movies. Self-serve ice cream.
It’s almost enough for a career Army officer to consider changing uniforms.
Or, at least, inspire a little envy.
That’s not the goal, of course. Col. Roger Bick, who heads the Air Force mission at the Baghdad International Airport, says the tent city his airmen put up in less than two months is “just the way we do business.”
That doesn’t mean that he’s not proud of the facilities, which he calls “… far better than any [military] place within 500 miles.”
“So good,” he adds, “that it’s causing us problems.”
Because the Air Force receives enough supplies to support only its personnel, the command has had to turn away a lot of soldiers in search of greener grass on the other side of the fence. That fence surrounds the compound and in order to get in, personnel need special identification.
A military ID will allow you to visit the offices that airmen work in, but not the tents they live and play in.
Not that life on base is all play. Commanders say airmen rarely get a day off and many haven’t had a break since they’ve been in country. Several units are staffed at minimal levels, so a 12-hour shift is seen as a light day.
But in the hours that airmen do have off, they have several options that many of their Army counterparts don’t.
They can choose to relax in their tents, 600-square foot structures filled with air that’s much cooler than the temperatures outside. Airmen generally sleep 10 to each tent on cots, although many have mattresses to put on them; and bed frames are on the way. So are lockers.
Showers are hot and there are real toilets when nature calls.
Breakfast and dinner are available at “in our opinion, the best dining facility in Iraq,” said Maj. John Linn, commander of the 447th Services Squadron.
Chief Master Sgt. Danny Johnson, a member of the services squadron who oversees the dining facility’s kitchen, said there haven’t been a lot of complaints about the food, but a smile comes to his face when chicken chow mein is mentioned. It apparently was a very popular — or perhaps unpopular — entree for quite a while.
“We haven’t had chicken chow mein in three weeks now,” he said.
What they do have is ice cream, served from a machine brought in from out of the country.
“We’re the only dining facility where there’s self-service ice cream,” says 1st Lt. Chip Hollinger, the deputy commander for services.
The bottom line is that airmen have to rely on MREs only for lunch. Most of the time, that’s taken at their desks in their tent offices — which also have air conditioning.
But it’s also possible to pick up a coffee in the recreation tent, catching a little cable television in the process. After work, there’s a chance to watch a movie in a large clamshell-like tent that has 200 chairs. When a movie’s not playing, there’s music.
For those who want to stay in shape, there’s a volleyball court — sand naturally — and two baskets for those who prefer to shoot hoops. The fitness center doesn’t have weights yet, but aerobics classes “are standing room only,” Linn says.
Those with sweaty clothes have the option to use the free washers and driers, or pay to get their laundry washed by three Iraqis who have facilities in downtown Baghdad. Linn says that agreement was one of the first services contracts signed by the military in Iraq.
So, while the lodging team’s use of the term “Palm Tree Resort” to book in new airmen is mostly a joke, it’s not too far from the truth if you’re one of those living outside the compound.