I’m more than half-way through the deployment now. Hard to believe. It seems like I’ve been here a long time. Everywhere I go on base, someone knows who I am, such as a former client or a work-related contact. Joint Base Balad is not such a bad place, really. We have good food, movies, recreational outlets, and the work is fine. I’m earning less than what I made back in California, but my pay here is completely tax-free due to the combat-zone tax exclusion, so it comes out being close to my normal pay.
Some people spend years and years working here, and make a lot of money doing so. As for me, I am glad that this will be my only year here. I am also glad that my wife and children don’t have to come to this place, because it’s not a safe place overall. Mortar rounds and rockets fall on us a few times a month, luckily no military personnel have been injured since I arrived here. A few contractors have been hurt, though.
Gravel and uneven sidewalks are everywhere, so you’d better be wearing good combat boots or your feet will be hurting. At night, the streets are poorly lit, if at all, causing other safety hazards. But like I said, it’s not all bad over here, once you get used to things.
One thing that took a few weeks to get used to was wearing a weapon everywhere. Luckily, as a major, I get to have a 9mm pistol, which is not so heavy. But all US Army soldiers must carry their weapons, with ammunition, wherever they go. The only exceptions are doing PT (physical training exercise), or taking a shower. But after a while, seeing a crowd of people with M-16 weapons and other rifles is just normal, even in places like church or the movie theater. In fact, you cannot enter a dining facility without your weapon! If you look back at the photos of me, you’ll notice that in most every picture, I’m carrying my pistol.
I sleep very well every night, even though jets take off and land a few hundred yards away from me. The noise doesn’t bother me any more. Helicopters, mostly blackhawks flying in pairs, buzz overhead at any time of the day or night. Back home, seeing a helicopter is somewhat rare. Just the other day as I was walking past the basketball court, two blackhawks flew about 100 feet overhead creating a great deal of noise, and most people didn’t even bother to look up.
Balad is a brown place, due to the dust and overall color scheme of most buildings. Brown and yellowish hues are everywhere, and you rarely see bright colors or green vegetation. If I were to spend an hour in Washington State, where everything is green, it would be a shock. The dust gets all over everything. After every dust storm, you’ll find a fine layer of dust on your desk or in your room. There is almost no grass on base. And everywhere there is gravel. JBB has several miles of reasonably nice, paved roads, but it also has a great many unpaved roads covered with gravel, as well as equipment yards filled with gravel. The crunching sound of walking on 5-6 inches of gravel everywhere I go has also become normal. JBB must have several cubic miles of gravel spread out all over, because you are never more than a few feet away from walking on gravel.
There are strange vehicles everywhere, MRAP’s and armored Humvees. There are also the odd Turkish contractor vehicles and waste water vehicles. They all look normal to me now. And they have T-walls everywhere, and around most every building. These are the concrete walls intended to act as blast shields in a mortar attack. You’ve seen plenty in my past photos.
Here is something that still gets me every time I think about it: Almost everyone is thin, or at least not greatly overweight, and seeing someone who is fat is very rare. You never see a handicapped person here. And most people are wearing some kind of uniform. Even the US Civilians were old uniforms, just without rank or unit patches. Many of the third country national contractors, and some US contractors, do not wear uniforms. So there are some folks in civilian clothing here, but even they wear sturdy boots, mostly.
And one other thing that I still notice when I think about it: There are no children at all on this base. I miss my own children very much. It’s weird to think that it has been many months since I saw an actual child in person. Seeing children will take some “getting used to” when I’m home, but I am certainly looking forward to that!
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