I’ve been here at Balad, Iraq for over a week now. It is hard to get access to a computer that allows me to use the internet, write in my blog, or upload photos. So anyway, here is a little bit of information about my first week.
In Kuwait, we took a bus from Buehring to the Ali Al Salem military airbase. We lucked out, because they had a C-17 Globemaster aircraft just for us. The aircraft is gigantic, it’s one of the largest transport planes in the world and is about 4 stories high from the ground to the top of its tail (see photo below):
The flight itself was under an hour. It was very smooth. But it was a bit uncomfortable, because we all had to wear our body armor and carry our weapons, and also carry our backpacks on our laps, which gave us very little room to move, and contributed to a claustrophobic feeling during the flight.
Anyway, when we landed, they made us all go over to the passenger terminal, where we watched a 15-minute video on how to react in case of a mortar or rocket attack. Basically, if you are near a concrete bunker, you get into it. Otherwise, get on the ground and ‘duck and cover.’ I haven’t seen or heard of any attack since we arrived. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen very many Iraqi’s, it’s all US soldiers or contractors here. It is really very safe on this base.
Here is the welcome sign for those coming to JBB (Joint Base Balad):
As I think I explained before, JBB is a big base, with about a 20-mile diameter and perhaps 25 square miles. Much of the base consists of the airfield right in the middle. All around the base is a large dirt berm, and several barbed wire fences with guard towers, motion detectors, and lots of security personnel (mostly Ugandan contractors). You are never allowed to go off of the base, unless you are on a military convoy, and all such vehicles are heavily armed, armored, and guarded. There will be no chance for me to go on such a convoy, so I’ll spend my entire deployment sitting here in the middle of this giant fortress.
Within the perimeter of the base is all sorts of activities. The airfield is the key function of the base, and it’s the busiest airfield in the military world, and the second busiest airport in the entire world. The base is a logistical hub for all of Iraq. The base is so large, and has so many occupants (over 35,000) that it has its own newspaper and even a website hosting a weekly TV show. Also within the perimeter of the base are many storage warehouses, equipment yards, vehicle maintenance areas, living quarters (seven different communities), a few shopping areas, two large swimming pools, several gyms and recreation centers (that offer everything from dance lessons to talent shows), military headquarters, a hospital, and a big movie theater (note the mortar shield built over the theater itself):
The base is divided into the East side and West side, depending on which side of the airfield you are on. I live and work on the East side, which is great because that is where most of the shopping, theaters, and recreation centers are. I’ll describe my living area in more detail next time. Suffice it to say for now, that all living and working areas on the base are heavily fortified with large, concrete barriers to protect in case of a mortar attack. This may have been necessary in 2006, but like I said, it’s been a long time since an attack has succeeded in getting anywhere near us here on Balad.
My first impression of the place is that it’s a bit of a disappointment. Everyone in the military who has been here has built up the place in my mind. It’s not like visiting Disneyland, it’s just a large, dusty military base north of Baghdad. I can see that if someone had just spent 13 months on one of the FOB’s (forward operating bases), which are really miserable, then that person would view JBB as heaven on earth. It’s OK, overall. The food is good, there are several recreational activities and no reason to ever be bored, and plenty of shopping areas where you can blow your money if you so choose. And if you know me, you know how likely it is that I will blow my money on buying stupid trinkets. I think I’ve spent well under $100 a month during the 3 months of my deployment thus far.
Other impressions are that at least they have trees here. There is vegetation growing on some spots of the ground. The place is very dusty, because the roads are not in great shape, and several roads are just dirt and gravel. After trucks go over these gravel roads a few thousand times, they become very dusty, and a little wind will blow the dust all over. And any little bit of rain turns the entire base into a mud pit. Last week it rained for a few hours and some parts of the base are still wet and slippery with mud.
There are always military vehicles going all over the place, like this one (one of the newer Strykers):
Anyway, that’s about it for now. It’s December in northern Iraq, and it is actually very cold at nights and in the morning. The afternoons tend to be sunny and mild. They say it could snow here if it gets cold enough.