Joint Base Balad is a large military airfield. Saddam Hussein’s former Iraqi government built the air base in the 1970’s, and named it Al-Bakr Air Base. In fact, the village to the East of the base, on the banks of the Tigris River, is still called “Bakr Village” to this day. Years ago, it is where most of the Iraqi airmen and their families used to live.
When Saddam’s Baathist government built the base 30 years ago, there were perhaps 3,000 people living in and around the base. The old Iraqi-built structures are still quite common, and used mostly as offices for the various American units now working here. You can still see the Baath party symbok (8-pointed star) on many old buildings. Now, there are over 30,000 military and civilian personnel on this base, and consequently the majority of buildings on this base are relatively new. For example, there are thousands of CHU’s (containerized housing units) and adjoining bathroom trailers all of which were built in the past 6 years since the invasion of Iraq.
The obvious legacy of the old Iraqi base is the airfield. The Balad has a very large airfield with millions of square feet of concrete. It’s been extensively renovated since the invasion, and is now the busiest military airfield in the world, and second busiest airport of any kind in the world. The military spends millions of dollars, mostly through KBR as a contractor, to maintain this airfield. Enormous amounts of supplies come in through the cargo aircraft on this airfield
One of the enduring legacies of the Saddam era is the hardened concrete aircraft bunkers. They look like this:
Many of the new air hangars are really glorified tents, with steel structures and very sturdy canvas. There are also dozens of weird concrete pyramids (I call them Ziggurats) all over the base, apparently they were used to store fuel or ammunition in the past. Right now they stand alone, and unused, in random spots in the base:
This is a small side-airfield housing several smaller planes, with the “Thunderdome” in the background:
The Thunderdome apparently got its name because a few years ago, an American colonel was giving a talk to his unit in this large aircraft hangar. As he was speaking to this gathering of people, an incoming rocket hit the building, went through the roof, and landed next to him, but failed to explode. It still caused a thunderous sound, even without exploding. The event was so amazing that people began calling this hangar the Thunderdome, and the name has stuck. Now it’s a large area used to work on aircraft.
On the East Side of JBB, we have mostly fixed wing aircraft, but there are also several places where you can see the un-manned drones: the Predator, and also the Sky Warrior. Here’s a picture from the internet of the Predator:
On the West Side of JBB, the aircraft are mostly helicopters of various types. Of course, the base hospital on the East Side (close to where I live) has a helipad which often sees helicopters flying in and out of the area. These medivac helicopter flights buzz a hundred yards over my CHU on a constant basis.
Living within sight of this airfield has its drawbacks. The F-16’s tend to be extremely loud. Blackhawk helicopters fly overhead at my housing area very often, at all hours of the day and night. I’ve actually gotten used to the noise, and am rarely awakened by the sounds of aircraft. It’s a bit odd to be sitting in my office, and have 30-60 seconds where I can barely talk with clients because of the roar of some airplane taking off. And sometimes they just test the jet engines on the large military transports. Believe me, that is loud.
Being at JBB, we see aircraft all the time. Here is a picture I took of a transport plane taking off. I snapped this picture while driving in a remote part of the West Side of the base, along Victory Loop (the main road that circles the base):
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