Reporter's Notebook: At Camp Victory, too many SUVs, too few trailers
BAGHDAD — Three soldiers riding the shuttle bus between areas of the sprawling U.S. military base around Baghdad’s airport passed the time talking about life’s inequities. The young sergeant wondered why U.S. contract employees were paid so much more than soldiers when, as he noted, “We’re the ones getting shot at.”
Although by no means universal, many soldiers here have noticed what seems like excess at big bases like Camp Victory — in salaries, food quantities and so many sport utility vehicles used to drive only around the base. One captain said that when her unit wanted a photograph of their group as a memento of their time in a war zone, “We had to borrow a Humvee.”
The sergeant on the shuttle bus offered a political comment. “You know what I say KBR stands for?” he said. The other soldiers waited.
“Keep Bush Rich,” the sergeant said.
But then the soldiers noticed the new guards at various checkpoints on the route. Among the U.S.’ newest coalition partners, they were quite distinct. Their uniforms were olive green and their skin was a deep, dark hue.
“Where are they from?” asked one.
“Uganda,” they were told.
A private first class had one more question.
“Where’s that?” he asked.
Master of his domainHis title is billeting supervisor, but if Scott Bowans were a character in an XBox game, he’d be known as the powerful “Tent Master.”
Bowans is the KBR employee in charge of assigning tents and trailers for all of south Camp Victory, the part of Victory closest to the palace and therefore considered by many to be the most desirable. He oversees assignment of some 6,000 “bed spaces” in 129 tents and 742 highly coveted trailers.
It isn’t always easy.
“Right now there’s about 600 people on the list to get into trailers,” he said. “There’s always been a waiting list, but it’s never been this big.”
Do people ever get snippy about it?
“Every day,” Bowans said. “But nobody ever crosses the line.”
Bowans didn’t really have an answer why trailers are in such short supply.
“They’re bringing in more,” he said. Also, he said, there seemed to be more civilians coming to Iraq than ever, and V Corps brought more people than its predecessor at Multi-National Corps-Iraq.
The shortage has left lieutenant colonels sharing tents for weeks, and at least one sergeant major had been inching his way up the list and out of his tent shared with two other men for more than two months.
“Last I looked I was at No. 2,” he said.
The tents are more spacious but far dustier than the trailers. Everyone from private to colonel is eligible for a trailer and is placed there on a first-come, first-served basis, Bowans said.
“Everything is based on when you arrived and when you signed in (to the waiting list),” he said.
But rank does have its rewards. Everyone must share his trailer with another — except for lieutenant colonels and above, the top two chief warrant officer ranks and sergeants major.
Colonels rate their own trailers with the added luxury of a shared, adjoining bathroom with another colonel. At least that’s the theory.
“We only have 20 ‘wet’ trailers on all of south Victory,” Bowans said. “So 40 colonels have their own [shared] bathrooms.”
Bowans said he conducts trailer checks on majors and others required to share a trailer, to see whether they’ve somehow finagled to be roommate-free.
“I had one guy put out fake mail with fake addresses to make it look like he had a roommate, but he didn’t,” Bowans said. “You have to be like a detective.”