Monday, January 12, 2004


A place for the troops to catch a break.
More than 1,800 troops have cycled through since the hotel opened in mid-October.

Called Freedom Rest, it offers a sauna, outdoor swimming pool, 100-seat movie theater, weight rooms and 24-hour food service, including T-bone steaks and lobster. In the renovated marble lobby with glass chandeliers glistening overhead, uniformed attendants sweep up cigarette butts and serve cold drinks.

"It's a great escape from getting mortared," Sgt. Xochitl Barragan, 27, of Fort Worth, Tex., said as she emerged dripping from the huge pool, where air defense and engineer specialists had just finished a splash contest off the 10-meter diving board...

Back at Freedom Rest, tucked just inside Baghdad's barricaded "green zone," soldiers are required to check their combat fatigues, body armor and assault rifles at the door and change into civilian clothes or workout togs. For many, it is the first time in months to unwind, sleep in or watch endless movies.

Still, after nights of rocket and mortar attacks, some soldiers say it is hard to break old habits of scanning the hotel rooftop for snipers or momentarily panicking when they don't find their weapons by their sides at bedtime.

"Last night," said Sgt. William Schramm, 25, of Lancaster, Wis., "it was so quiet I could barely sleep."

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