February 23, 2006

Thought I'd pass this along to those who may not have seen it. This is an e-mail from a civilian contractor in Iraq. Seems to me that life in the boonies hasn't changed much over the years.....

Hello all! I am now a resident of Fallujah. As I have found, this is a very different place from Victory, and a very different world.

The Marines run Fallujah. Marines are different. Their way of life is different. More disciplined. More regimented. More austere. Harder.

I'm surrounded by dozens of them when I go to chow or to the Morale Center (the MWR). Especially at the MWR, it's mostly the youngest of the Marines in what must be the closest thing to a purely social gathering they'll experience here. Few NCOs and fewer officers, just them and their buds.

They're young men, mostly Privates, Lance Corporals and Corporals, between the ages of 18 and 22. They're slim and lean of build, yet muscular. Broad at the shoulder and narrow at the hip, as Jimmy Dean would say. There are no chubby Marines here.

Almost to a man, they wear their hair high and tight: buzzed on the sides with just a close-cropped shock on top to give their Kevlar helmet a lightly padded resting place. A few shave their heads altogether but most wear the sidewalls.

Many have a white stripe on either side of their face, running between the eye and the ear, where their skin was shielded from the harsh Arabian sun by their sunglasses or dust goggles. All are clean shaven, though some don't look like they need it regularly. Some still haven't outgrown acne.

They're good, honest faces. When they look at you or speak to you, you sense that there is no nonsense about them; no guile in their manner. It's as if their life is too busy and their spare time too precious to fritter it away on anything but straightforwardness and candor. Their life here revolves around linear thinking and linear action, going straight from Point A to Point B. And their demeanor shows it.

Their behavior is more reserved than I've come to expect from a gathering of the same age group from any other service. No braggadocio and no trash talking. It's not that they're deathly grim, they're just not as boisterous as a typical group of American 20-year-olds. They're aware that their next appointment with fate is only a few hours and a few hundred yards away. And the only thing that keeps them alive tomorrow could well be that pimple-faced Marine sitting next to them.

In this setting you truly can sense the depth of their camaraderie; the respect among those who've shared a common, life-changing experience. They behave as if they were family, a brotherhood of baby-faced warriors.

The job of the Marines is different, which makes them different. They don't rely on all manner of 21st Century techno-wizardry, like the Army or Air Force. Sure, they have tanks and helicopters and night vision goggles and the like, but those do not form the core of the Marine's order of battle. To them, the perfect weapon is a gutsy Marine with a keen eye, a steady hand, and a rifle that shoots straight. These are serious people doing a deadly serious job. It's a difference they wear on their faces.

The Marines make this place different. Frivolous living takes away the edge; hard living makes hard men. They pay scant attention to creature comforts and don't "waste" precious assets on it. Why buy a billiard table for the Unit's rec room when you could spend the same dollars on another 20,000 rounds of 5.56 ammunition? Besides, anything necessary for living already was issued to them but the Corps. Officer and enlisted, their entire world packs away into just two duffle bags and a ruck sack.

Marines talk differently, too. It's a port, not a door, a deck not the floor and a head, not a toilet. Equipment or personal items aren't lost, they're adrift. It takes a bit of getting used to.

Most everything they do for recreation involves athletic competition (it enhances both fitness and Esprit de Corps). And the equipment list rarely is longer than a football and an open field or a volleyball and a net. It makes no difference that it's only a friendly game; they still play like their lives depended on it.

Here they fly the US flag. It always has been understood that Camp Victory was an Iraqi base, albeit with a large number of Americans residing on it. It would have been disrespectful to the "landlords" to fly an American flag there, so none were. The US flag was never flown on the installation where I lived in Honduras many moons ago, and for the same reason. There is no such concern for the host's sensibilities here. This was never a palatial compound. It was us -- the US -- who dislodged the terrorist vermin from this place and it is we who man this post. And here they fly Old Glory proudly.

Basically the entire camp is as safe as a typical police station. Camp Victory butts up against some outlying Baghdad neighborhoods so certain areas of the camp have locals living right outside the wall. And they sometimes toss "surprises" over that wall and into the compound.

Here at Camp Fallujah, on the other hand, the Marines have cleared back any semblance of vegetation or habitation for what seems like several hundred yards from the camp's outer wall. That cinderblock wall is pretty tall (I'm guessing 11 or 12 feet) and this place is so flat that there are very few spots where you can stand on the ground and see anything beyond it. Where you "can" see past the wall, the most apropos image I can think of to describe it is Hiroshima after the bomb. The ground is barren and strewn with destroyed vehicles, both civilian and military. There is nothing there but desert and rusted hulks, a barren and desolate monochrome brown as far as you can see.

Marines man the numerous guard towers and scan the surrounding wasteland for anything approaching the camp. Anything that appears in that no man's land and looks to be headed toward the wall automatically is presumed to be hostile and reduced to just another piece of the lifeless landscape. It's a very stark image but it also is reassuring to know that none of the bad guys can get anywhere close to here without incurring the wrath of the bulldogs of the USMC. They guard their homes fiercely.

The PX here is the smallest I've seen in Iraq. And come payday, the Marines descend on it like so many locusts. With that double-whammy, the shortages I've seen elsewhere are even more widespread here. When we first got here, they were out of practically all the items I needed to set up housekeeping in my new swingin' bachelor pad (aka "bunker").

I wanted a reading lamp to replace the one I'd abandoned when I left Camp Victory. The PX had the lamps but only 115 VAc light bulbs. The current here is 220VAc.

They were out of fly swatters. And brooms. And buckets. And mops, er swabs. And extension cords/power strips. But they did have an impressive selection of decorative Christmas lights.

When I moved in, my bunker... I mean my room... was filthy. There was dust a full quarter inch deep on the window sills. Not house dust but the brown stuff that passes for desert sand here. The walls and part of the ceiling were streaked with the same stuff. The room stank with the same earthen odor as a dust storm. Since this used to be a bath house, the obvious solution was just hose it down and swab it out. But the PX had no buckets. Or mops, er swabs. Or detergent (except liquid Dial hand soap).

It took us three days to find a mop and bucket that we could borrow from the Marines. Then it took my roommate and me a solid eight sweat-soaked hours to scrub the grime out of the room. We worked from top down, naturally, and by the time the floor had dried, there was dust settled on the window sills again.

Our site lead spends a lot of time trying to convince us it could be worse. If he's hoping to convince me, he's got quite a lot of ground yet to cover.

P.S.,If you think the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with the greater international war on terror, you need to come here and look around. This place was West Point for the Islamo-Fascist terrorist crowd. Saddam hosted training for all the major flavors of Muslim terrorism in this place, including Al Qa'aida, the Taliban and the PLO. The dormitories and some of the military-style training facilities (obstacle courses, etc.) still are there. Some of the things I have seen here send chills down my spine because they are undeniable proof of the unholy terror that was grown here to be exported to the rest of the world. I think I understand the revulsion that the Allied liberators of the Nazi concentration camps at the end of WWII must have felt.

Eventually I will post pictures that I think are conclusive enough to sway all but the Kool-Aid drinking anti-war crowd that Saddam was growing an infectious disease here to be loosed on the Western world in general and the US in particular. One photo in particular shows a dormitory wall painted with an Iraqi flag and a Palestinian flag waving over an American eagle, beside which is written in Arabic, "Death to America". That one shot pretty much says it all. If Chuckie Schumer or Cindy Sheehan or Teddy (hic!) Kennedy or any other of the anti-war moon bats were to come here, open their eyes and see what I've seen, they'd know better (thought I expect they'd never admit it).


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