- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

FORWARD OPERATING BASE NORMANDY, Iraq — Despite the war, twilight still holds a special aura of calm and rectitude in Iraq, especially on a base or outpost where no soldier was killed or wounded during the day and the area of operation is relatively peaceful for the moment.

On Forward Operating Base Normandy, on the edge of Muqdadiyah and the Diyala River Valley with its fruit orchards, the end of the day brings to mind glimpses of life in Iraq that sometimes don’t appear in regular news reports, such as the differences between forward operating bases and combat operations posts and how they define the lives of coalition troops in the country.

Forward operating bases — or FOBs — are the backbone of the U.S. military presence and its operations in Iraq. They are the large-to-huge logistics and support areas where munitions and supplies are stored, vehicles are maintained or repaired, headquarter detachments are based, mail is received, medical care is available and facilities such as showers and recreation centers help relieve the stress of deployment and missions “outside the wire.” They go by names such as Marez, Balad, Warhorse, Q-West and Falcon.

Not all such bases are the same. Some are small and basic, such as Normandy, which has virtually no recreation facilities other than one pool table, one foosball table, three televisions that recently vanished and a hundred or so paperbacks for the base’s more than 600 soldiers and civilians. Residents do, however, get access to computers and telephones, after long waits, for calling home and reaching family and friends.

Moreover, there are three hot meals a day, which are not to be denigrated, picnic-style plastic plates and utensils notwithstanding.

The forward operating bases located within or as part of a fixed-wing airbase are the gems. Al Asad, which covers 19 square miles, has three dining halls. The largest, called “Warrior Hall,” is the size of two football fields side-by-side. In addition to “main line” and “short order” food counters, there’s a pasta bar, taco bar and health-food bar, as well as a dessert bar.

Warrior Hall is puny in size compared with the main dining halls at bases such as Balad and the super-sized contingency operating base in Iraq called Speicher.

Many forward operating bases, though not Normandy, have concession stands around the base, such as Green Beans coffee and Pizza Hut. Marez, on the outskirts of the city of Mosul, even has a massage-therapy concession, local tailors for suits and jackets, and a PX carrying snacks, extra gear, electronic equipment and in some cases, furniture.

Troops on large bases sleep in “containerized housing units,” basically cargo containers converted into living quarters. There are also bus lines around the base and the vehicle restraints one would expect of a mini-city: stop signs, speed limits and seat-belt warnings.

Depending on the job, a member of U.S. forces could spend his whole 15-month tour of duty on a forward operating base and never see a slice of Iraq other than what he glimpses beyond the base’s protective sand or concrete barriers.

Combat operations posts are a different matter. They are located in towns and villages miles from forward operating bases. This is where the “door kickers” can live for days before rotating back to a forward operating base, conducting anti-terrorist sweeps, presence patrols and other nitty-gritty duties in a counterinsurgency war — all the while risking snipers and improvised explosive devices.

Combat operations posts are normally established in abandoned buildings with protective barriers added on. Sanitation facilities are basic: Porta-potties or latrines using burnable waste bags. Meals are military rations during the day and one hot meal at night.

Soldiers who rotate in and out of the combat operations posts or leave a forward operating base regularly to conduct missions have a special nickname for those who stay permanently on the forward operating bases — “fobbits,” and it’s no term of endearment.

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