- The Washington Times - Friday, June 20, 2003

The Army is set to start a major initiative to improve living conditions for thousands of soldiers in Iraq.

The plan calls for constructing 11 dining halls and kitchens around the California-size country. The Army also is shipping in tented modules comprising living quarters, showers, laundry rooms and recreational areas.

Additional Post Exchange (PX) stores will be placed closer to soldiers to augment smaller field PXs where soldiers complain of chronic shortages.

The Washington Times reported this week that soldiers are complaining they lack the basic necessities normally provided infantryman and combat support units when deployed for extended periods. They complained of no place to sleep but on the ground or in vehicles and of having to eat cold meals ready to eat (MREs) instead of hot food.

“Those complaints you are receiving, they are going to be resolved in days,” Army Brig. Gen. Jerome Johnson, the Army’s director of strategic plans, operations and readiness, said in an interview. “I don’t think any soldier over there is making up a complaint.

“We’re all concerned about the quality of life,” he said at the Pentagon. He said soldiers are used to a higher standard of living in the field since the Army made quality-of-life improvements in the 1990s.

Gen. Johnson attributed the problem to three developments.

First, the war to topple Saddam Hussein began March 20 with significantly fewer logisticians and quality-of-life facilities in the theater compared with Desert Storm in 1991. This was done to enhance the invasion forces’ speed and agility.

“This was virtually logistics on the move,” the general said. “That has never been done before. … This was Army transformation at its best.”

Second, the post-Saddam environment has remained hostile for Army forces in and around Baghdad, as remnants of the Ba’ath Party regime attempt to ambush and kill American soldiers. The unsettled environment makes it difficult to move in more permanent structures and provide security.

“We’re fixing it pretty much on schedule as the security situation allows,” Gen. Johnson said.

Third, the Army, which is the supply agent for Marines and Air Force personnel as well as for soldiers, must bring in most supplies by land until Baghdad’s airport is updated. The routes can run up to 600 miles from Kuwait, delaying some deliveries.

The Army briefed acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee on the plan June 13.

The briefing slides list new facilities on the way to Iraq: mobile gym and recreation kits; five new PXs to augment the six there now; phone trailers for calls home; and “force provider” living modules.

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