Saturday, August 30, 2003

And conditions for soldiers are improving.

Thousands of dollars have been spent to have local contractors put doors and windows in the buildings where the soldiers live and wire them for electricity. Showers and portable toilets have been set up in the camps.

Almost all of the soldiers now live in buildings, and most of the rooms have air-conditioning. Soldiers say the cool air is the biggest blessing.

They have been suffering through temperatures in the mid 120s.

"It is nice that we have air-conditioning," said Spc. Chris Beck of the 2nd Battalion. "It makes it bearable."

Capt. Eldridge Brown, the commander of B Company in the 3rd Battalion, said conditions were awful when the temperatures were at their peak. "There was no way to escape the heat," he said. "Now we have a place to go back to and keep cool."

His troops are living in a complex once used by the Iraqi military. All of the soldiers in his company sleep in air-conditioned rooms.

As the living conditions improved, so did the food. Gone are the days of three "Meals, Ready to Eat" and hot purified water.

When they arrived in Baghdad, the soldiers were given two bottles of purified water a day. Not only was there no way to keep it cool - it was roughly the temperature of hot coffee - soldiers said it caused diarrhea.

Now bottled water is available and it is kept cool in ice-filled coolers or in large freezers.

With the cold water came hot chow. The soldiers at the supply area and brigade headquarters get a hot breakfast every morning and a hot dinner every night. The paratroopers stationed elsewhere in the city get hot food for dinner every night and three hot breakfasts a week.

Spc. Shane Ely, the 3rd Battalion commander's driver, said hot chow is the highlight of his day. "Monday, Wednesday, Friday and at night is what I look forward to," he said.

The food is shipped from Germany. Each battalion prepares its own food. Staff Sgt. Ronald Williams supervises the kitchen at 2nd Brigade's headquarters. He and his staff started providing hot meals in May, and morale rose immediately, he said.

"The Army moves on stomachs," he said, paraphrasing a saying attributed to Frederick the Great.

Mission pace slows

While the conditions have gotten steadily better, the mission pace has slowed. Soldiers said they now have fairly set schedules and responsibilities. The 2nd and 3rd battalions are responsible for security in the Al Rashid district of southern Baghdad. The 1st Battalion is attached to a brigade from the 1st Armored Division based in the northern part of the city.

To pass the time and stay in shape, the paratroopers have resumed physical training. In the mornings and evenings, soldiers can be seen running or lifting weights. Some compounds have basketball courts or volleyball courts, which are crowded when the sun goes down.

All of the camps have a weight room. Pfc. Jonathan Heeb works out four times a week in the weight room at the brigade's supply area.

"There is nothing else to do here," said Heeb, who is in the 407th Forward Support Battalion. "You have to do something to pass the time."

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