- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Bagram air base, the headquarters for U.S. troops fighting terrorists in Afghanistan, is woefully short on amenities, some Air Force personnel complain.
They say the mountain-rimmed base 27 miles north of Kabul is clouded in unhealthy dust. Troops sleep in crowded tents, work out in inadequate fitness centers and volleyball courts, and squeeze into small bathrooms.
Lines are long at the base exchange and the chow hall. There is also a complaint with how the Army uses recycled water to do the base laundry.
"Unfortunately, they recycle their water too many times, and they do not ensure your clothes are completely dry," says one airman. "Therefore, when your wadded-up, bagged clothes are placed back in the bin, they sit there."
The evidence of the poor conditions is in the form of 23 black-and-white photographs. The photos are being circulated at the Pentagon and at U.S. Central Command in hopes they will result in improved living conditions at the epicenter of the war on Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network.
But in some circles, the photo spread is having the opposite effect. Some Navy officers say the Air Force is composed of a bunch of "whiners" and "crybabies."
"It's about time they grew up and learned the hard lessons of expeditionary warfare," said a Navy officer. "I expect that our Marines have been dealing with equally poor or worse conditions on the ground in Afghanistan, and I'm sure they haven't been complaining."
Even some Air Force officers fear the photo presentation may brand the Air Force as being full of complainers. What's the use of complaining about tacky volleyball nets when most of Afghanistan lives in poverty, asks one officer. "The Army and Navy would laugh at us," he said.
Cmdr. Frank Merriman, a spokesman at U.S. Central Command, which is running the war in Afghanistan, said conditions are better since the photographs were taken. For example, tents are being fortified with wood floors.
"[Conditions] have improved," Cmdr. Merriman said. "We're talking a field location that was built from scratch and it has slowly evolved over time. Some of the things are as you see them. Some have improved."
He added: "It's an evolutionary process, but you have to understand it is a field environment. You don't have good buildings to start off with. You had basically desert that you had to develop something out of and improve over time and that's the process going on right now."
The pictures show an austere, dusty base camp built from the ruins of a long civil war.
"Main road. That's not haze, it's dust," says the caption on a picture of Bagram, a bombed-out former Soviet air base. "The dust is about two inches thick on the road, the consistency of talcum powder. Doesn't brush off. Just sticks to you. Gets up your nose, in your eyes and mouth. You cannot get away from it."
Air Force troops have grown accustomed to some of the best amenities when they deploy to far-off lands. They often are bedded down in air-conditioned tents, enjoy televisions and modern fitness centers, and eat the best chow.
An anecdote from Desert Shield, the 1990 buildup in the blistering hot desert of Saudi Arabia before the war with Iraq, has become part of Army lore.
Touring Army top brass saw Army soldiers living in crowded tents, with poor laundry and recreational facilities. An Air Force unit across the road slept in air-conditioned tents.
The Army visit resulted in development of new Army tent cities, complete with laundry and recreation areas.
The Air Force photographs of Bagram included:
A view of the Air Force village, consisting of numerous tents and dust.
An Air Force woman brushing her teeth in a small bathroom. "One sink and three showers for all the women in the AF village," the caption says. "Men's side is a bit larger, but not much."
A long line for breakfast. "You wait through the line even if you just want to grab cereal, milk and fruit," says a caption. "Bottled water is only provided at breakfast and supper and you are only allowed one bottle per meal. Lunch is MREs (meals-ready-to-eat pouches)."
A photo of the chow hall reads, "No A/C or heat. Tables are raw plywood. If someone large sits at one end the whole table tips."
There are also pictures of Army facilities, such as its lone mess hall and a recreation center where the refrigerators have only bottled water, which must be consumed on the premises. The Army theater for the entire base seats 25.
Pentagon officials say they believe two Air Force sergeants compiled the slide show while visiting Bagram from a U.S. base.
Previously held by the Northern Alliance in its long resistance to the Taliban regime, Bagram is now an around-the-clock operation as the hub of counterterrorist operations.

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