Working out the kinks of life in the war zone
July 19, 2004
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan — After months at a remote firebase in Afghanistan, Pfc. Mike Lambert has been a little grumpy lately.
To ease his mood, Lambert’s buddies bought him an hour alone with a woman from Kyrgyzstan. A woman with strong hands.
Inside a small cubical walled off with heavy blankets, the lights low and music playing softly, Lambert hangs his dusty assault rifle on the wall.
The woman orders him to strip to his shorts and lie down on the narrow table.
Lambert smiles shyly.
Welcome to Bagram air base’s new Day Spa. Right next door to the base Burger King, which still hasn’t opened for business, the Day Spa is one of several popping up on U.S. military installations throughout the Central Asian war zone.
“This is amazing,” groans Lambert as the masseuse goes to work, kneading his back like so much Play-doh. “I never thought I’d get something like this in the combat zone.”
The spas are the brainchild of a South Korean businessman and were set up through a military contract. The first opened at the U.S. air hub at Kyrgyzstan last year. Since then, spas have been opened at U.S. installations in Uzbekistan, Kabul and now Bagram.
With waiting lists sometimes five days long, the Day Spa and its dozen masseuses have quickly become one of Bagram’s biggest morale boosters since opening in April.
Fifteen dollars buys an hour-long, full-body massage. Add $5 and American’s front-line warriors in the fight against terror can get a facial as well.
A very popular half-day special, says manager Nazira Ishenbaeva, is a full body rubdown, a manicure, pedicure and body wax. The price: $40.
“They leave feeling very relaxed,” says Ishenbaeva, adding the male soldiers can’t get the bikini wax, “only the back wax.”
And just in case troops might confuse the services being offered at the spa for more infamous war-zone stress busters from wars gone by, a conspicuous sign right next to the cash register offers the following warning: Anyone soliciting any sexual or indecent services/acts are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
“They’re very professional,” says Master Sgt. Terri Bly, a regular customer at the spa.
“It’s a nice atmosphere. They really know what they’re doing.”
Assigned to the 325th Combat Support Hospital, Bly says an hour-long rubdown was just the ticket after a particularly brutal run on July 4th.
“I was really sore,” she says. “It was exactly what I needed. I kept saying ‘Thank you!’ it felt so good.”
“When I was first told about this place, I thought they were joking,” said Spc. Christopher Cashell. “It’s crazy. This is not the kind of place I thought I find in combat zone. Not on base, anyway.”
But he’s very glad it is. A mechanic for the 25th Infantry Division’s Aviation Brigade, Cashell is here for his third visit since it opened a few months ago.
“I try to come here on my reset day,” says Cashell. “We’re not supposed to say ‘day off’ because we’re really on duty 24/7 over here, so we say ‘reset day’ instead. But coming here is as close to a day off as you’ll ever see.”
Back on the table, Lambert’s expression is one of complete bliss as the masseuse works her way down his body.
“Oh my God, this is great,” he says. “I am definitely coming back.”