Support: September 23, 2003

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American troops in Iraq are fighting against lousy living conditions, in addition to the occasional armed Iraq. First of all, the majority of the 127,000 U.S. troops don't see any combat at all. And all some of them hear are Iraqis shooting at each other come night fall, or just people firing weapons into the air to celebrate one thing or another. While some U.S. troops have taken up residence in Iraqi army bases (including some that were bombed) or one of Saddam's many "palaces" (most of which are like military bases or industrial parks with a luxurious mansion in the middle), most are still living in tents. American engineers, civilian contractors (Iraqi and foreign) and the troops themselves are constantly upgrading the living quarters. It starts with wood or concrete floors for the tents. The medical people made sure the toilet facilities got set up right away, and clean water supplies were available. This is a useful obsession in the American army that goes back over a century. But while the troops have water, few have hot water. This has not been much of a problem in the Summer, when cold showers are no hardship at all. But Winter is approaching, and it gets pretty chilly at night, and early in the morning when the troops get up, shower and get to work. Hot water is expected to be available for most troops before the cold arrives.

The food and mail situation has gotten a lot better. Mail delivery was a real mess for several months, as the military was not prepared for the flood of packages coming from back home. Getting the troops off a steady MRE diet was also difficult, as it required setting up dining halls and kitchens. That meant some construction and a lot of additional equipment.

A lot of the construction that is going on has a direct impact on local Iraqis. American engineer units are repairing roads, bridges and tunnels all over the country, thus making it easier for everyone to get around. The American supply convoys are a constant presence, and they are all heavily armed. The local crooks avoid the convoy routes, as Iraqis seen carrying guns tend to draw fire from American troops. The roads and the armed presence of Americans is popular in most parts of Iraq. Nearly all the violence against Americans is in areas where Saddam's staunchest (and now mostly unemployed) followers live. Troops looking at Internet or television news from back home sometimes wonder if there's another Iraq out there somewhere, that is completely in flames and wracked by constant combat. 

Most troops have now have access to long distance phone and Internet service. The email is popular, but there is a shortage of connected PCs. Use is rationed, and in some units the Internet "caf" is open 24/7. This is especially true in combat units, where troops work at night a lot. Actually, a lot of troops work odd hours, as the American military believes in round in the clock operations, and this kind of attitude is used to keep the hostile Iraqis off balance. 

The two week leave policy has not been officially announced yet, but the word is already out that there will not be enough of it so that everyone will get a two week break from the sand and sun. Some units have announced that the two week vacations (back to the US or any other place the troops can reach by hitching a ride on a military transport) will be distributed by lottery. Other units will hand them out as rewards for exceptional service.  Less than half the troops will probably get the vacations. There is also some unrest among reservist troops because of a rumor (apparently unfounded), that active duty troops would get the leave without the time off being deducted from the 30 days vacation all active duty troops get.

 


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