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Deployments to Iraq often take on a “through the looking-glass, everything is upside-down” feeling.

Take the faucets at Forward Operating Base Loyalty. You reach for what you think is the cold water, or the faucet painted with a blue rim — which might be located on the right or left of the sink or shower — and it comes out hot.

Or not. It just depends on the bathroom or shower. And it’s never the same two places in a row. It makes shower time quite exciting.

Stars and Stripes did some investigating and found out what’s going on. According to a senior translator at Loyalty, in Arab countries, there is no traditional placement for hot and cold taps, the way it tends to be in the United States.

Instead, in the Middle East, it depends entirely on the whims of the plumber. “Where you put it, it’s OK,” the Iraqi translator said Wednesday. “You just look for something that is colored red [on the tap], and that is the hot.”

However, that’s not always true at Loyalt, which could be attributed to cultural confusion. Or lazy plumbers.

If you want to make sure you’re right, you stand there with your hands (or body) under the tap and wait for the water to get hot, he said. Which is exactly what the troops here do.

Dieter’s dreamThe dining halls at the larger bases are a dieter’s dream, for those who can pass up all the fried and cheesy goodies.

Troops at Forward Operating Base Loyalty can stuff themselves at every meal on no fewer than 10 kinds of fresh fruit, a vast fresh salad bar at breakfast and lunch, and a high-quality baked, roasted, or grilled protein (chicken or fish, not just beef or pork) dinner. Add in a first-class gym with superb weight and cardio equipment, and troops and civilian contractors report losing up to 30 pounds in five or six months.

Then there are the troops who are on the “Iraqi diet”: the soldiers serving on the Military Transition Teams (MiTTs), or their counterparts, the NIPTTs (pronounced “nippets”), National Iraqi Police Transition teams, who train the Iraqi police.

Many of these troops are living at Iraqi police stations, or military bases, where part of the team-building often includes sharing meals with their Iraqi counterparts.

Four miles northwest of FOB Loyalty, the MiTT advisers for the 9th Iraqi Division’s Logistics and Administration Battalion at Al Rasheed said they have the option of going to the nearest U.S. base, Rustimayah, to eat, but often opt for the nearby Iraqi chow hall instead.

There, the menu varies from beans and rice, to rice and beans. Once and a while, the cooks dish up something the U.S. soldiers are pretty sure is chicken, or possibly very elderly mutton.

Weight loss is dramatic, the MiTT troops say.

“It’s the ultimate Iraqi diet,” said one sergeant, who said he’s dropped almost 20 pounds since November.


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