As often as possible, we highlight blog posts from our Soldiers and Public Affairs Officers stationed around the world. This provides first hand insight of the U.S. Army from a Soldier’s perspective. The post today is from Captain Charles Barrett of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.
If you know someone who’s in the Army, and has deployed to Iraq, then there’s a chance you’ve heard of a place called Camp Buehring. Most Army units pass through the camp on their way north, steadfast and loyal to their cause, Operation Iraqi Freedom.
For those of you who have never been there, I’m reminded of a time many years ago when I first visited Las Vegas, NV. Our family had been driving into the night on just another day of our vacation west. It was as dark as any night in the desert and quiet too; nothing but the hum of our minivan’s tires on the road. Then out of the blackness was a faint light in the distance with the warm glow of something unknown. As we approached closer the light became brighter. The blur of one light became two, and two became three and so on until we were close enough to see buildings. The sounds of the city were muted until we were right on top of it. All the stores were open, and people were everywhere carrying out different phases of their individual day; some who had just woken up, some who had just gotten off of work, and some who had just finished spending the last eight uncomfortable hours on a bus from the Kuwaiti Airport.
I snap back to reality; no alcohol, no gambling, and certainly not to the scale of Las Vegas, but Camp Buehring’s sights and sounds are not entirely unlike those of Sin City.
Camp Buehring is located in the desert in Kuwait; to be more precise, I’d say somewhere in the middle. There’s sand and rock and moon dust. Moon dust is like baby powder that floats through the breeze generated by passing vehicles. A Soldier’s walking path is often determined by the direction the wind is blowing so as to not be caught in a moon dust cloud. There’s also no shortage of sunshine.
We arrive at midnight and we are ushered into a tent to receive mandatory briefings on various rules and regulations; things we may not have known or had forgotten about since our last trip here. An hour passes and before we know it we’re back outside standing around a truck watching a handful of guys unload duffle bags and ruck sacks while each person on the sidelines is trying to find theirs without getting in the way. To each our own as we shuffle off to our tents to claim our cots.
Capt. Matt McFarland points me in the direction of the dining facility, and along with a couple other Sledgehammer Soldiers I head to chow. Its sometime after 1:30 a.m. and there’s a line, but the food and the company make up for the wait. I could just as easily been finishing up a losing streak at the craps table in a casino and called it quits while I still had enough money for the buffet.
I set my alarm early hoping to get a jump on the next day, but I wake up in the afternoon. I blame it on jet lag and drive on. Every morning at 6 a.m. the camp stops what they are doing while the flag is raised. Afterwards, music that I can’t think of the name of is played over the loud speakers. It’s the theme music from the movie Patton. I smile as I hum along to the tune, blissfully unaware I’ll be singing it in my head for the rest of the day. Then I remember it’s also the theme music to the movie Police Academy and I no longer know if I should be happy or sad.
Over the next two weeks Soldiers prepare equipment, complete mandatory training, and plan future operations. When not conducting a training mission Soldiers can be found at the gym, or the volley ball court, or the basketball court. There’s a chapel, and a movie theater with popcorn. No, the chapel doesn’t have popcorn, but I’m sure it’s been suggested. There’s a USO with computers and a Café. You know the café is good because it has that little mark over the letter “e.” Soldiers are gaming on XBOX, Play Station and Wii. There are phone banks and board games and a place where parents can read to their kids and have the DVD mailed home. There’s a big PX and a little one, a post office, and a finance center. There’s a stage for concerts, a Baskin Robins and a Starbucks coffee that, yes, has WiFi. I almost forgot to mention the alterations shop and the gift shop, the barber shop and the jewelry shop; sorry guys.
The downside to all this, you ask? That’s right, there’s no pool. What we do have, however, are long blistering walks, cots with no mercy, and the ever present, ever malodorous porta-potties. It’s late October and we’ve probably been averaging around 99 degrees, but at least there’s no humidity, right?
More importantly, however, we can’t share this time with our families. Sure the communications are better, but it’s not the same. While you’re waiting in line for a phone you can hear, “I miss you,” and “I love you,” from the Soldier in front of you knowing that you’ll be saying the same thing just as soon as your turn comes around.
Camp Buehring may not be all the sights and sounds of Las Vegas, but it’s where the Soldiers of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division will call home for two or three weeks. I’m sure if Chris Angel were here he’d mind freak us all by making a swimming pool appear and turning moon dust into water.
Anyway, I believe I speak for the rest of the Sledgehammer Soldiers when I say that we are all really looking forward to getting into Iraq, getting this mission successfully accomplished, and coming home safe. Until next time, these have been my Observations from The Hill: Iraq Edition.
Commentary by Capt. Charles Barrett, 3rd HBCT, 3rd ID