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Staff Sgt. Felicia Pace, 327th Military Police Battalion, browses through the selection of magazines at the Bagram Air Base exchange Wednesday. Army and Air Force Exchange Service at Bagram is building a new food court adjacent to the BX that should be complete in October, according to base operations officials.

Staff Sgt. Felicia Pace, 327th Military Police Battalion, browses through the selection of magazines at the Bagram Air Base exchange Wednesday. Army and Air Force Exchange Service at Bagram is building a new food court adjacent to the BX that should be complete in October, according to base operations officials. (Rick Emert / S&S)

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan — As an indication of just how long troops could be in Afghanistan, base operations commanders at Bagram and Kandahar air bases are operating on five- to eight-year plans to improve the troops’ quality of life.

The plywood-bolstered tents that servicemembers have called home for the past two years will fade away by the end of 2004 at the air bases, replaced by sturdier B-huts and modular buildings, according to base operations officials.

Both types of troop housing will offer more individual living space, refrigerators, heating, air conditioning and ample electrical outlets. Servicemembers also will have beds with mattresses to replace the back-stiffening cots they currently sleep on.

Modular buildings, which Mahoney said resemble trailers, are being built in Kandahar. They will have indoor plumbing, with toilets and common showers.

Other projects planned or under way at Bagram include:

• Renovation of Bagram’s north dining facility, due for completion by mid-October;• Construction of a Morale, Welfare and Recreation facility to house table tennis and pool tables;• Construction of an athletic field for football and softball tournaments.

Bagram forces also will see the grand opening of a food court and a new laundry facility in October, and an education center sometime next year, said Lt. Col. Paul Kimbrough, at Bagram base operations.

Projects planned for Kandahar include:

• Army and Air Force Exchange Services will add a beauty shop, improved gift shop, perfume shop, tailoring and sewing services and a sporting goods store in the next few months.• A new gym with additional weight-lifting equipment also is being built closer to where soldiers live.• By December, Kandahar troops also will also benefit from the installation of new commercial phone lines for more dependable telephone communication and faster Internet connections.

“If you look at all the things we’re planning to do [at Kandahar] in the next year, about 90 percent or better of the facilities and services will be upgraded,” said Lt. Col. Steve Mahoney, Kandahar base operations commander.

Exact cost of the improvements is uncertain, Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Wevodau, Bagram base operations said.

“The funding goes in so many different directions [such as MWR and for housing], but it is millions of dollars,” he added. “These changes need to be done; they’re not wasteful. We have to consider quality of life for the soldiers here; that’s important.”

The improvement projects, many of which are contracted to local nationals, also sink money into the Afghanistan economy, Mahoney said.

Although input on projects is sought from the soldiers, much of the work is being done before they have a chance to complain about quality of life, he said.

Mahoney said that the only complaints he has heard at Kandahar are pretty trivial.

“This is my first deployment, and it’s a lot better than I expected it to be,” said Spc. Jon Billie, 3rd Battalion, 62nd Air Defense Artillery at Kandahar. “We have [American Forces Network], telephones, the best dining facility, and the latrine facilities are excellent — I was expecting to have to go in the woods.”

“We’re in air-conditioned tents, our [post exchange] is outstanding. This really is great compared to what it could be,” said Staff Sgt. Dan Geyer of Company G, 104th Aviation Regiment, Pennsylvania National Guard stationed in Kandahar.

In Bagram, soldiers seem equally happy about their living conditions.

“I don’t have any complaints. I have water, showers, food, laundry service, even cable TV,” said Staff Sgt. Reba Eichhorst of the Alabama National Guard’s 441st Quartermaster Battalion. “I’m probably the happiest camper here.”


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