Troops' liberty in Iraq
Saturday, June 11, 2005
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- One young man cannonballed into the cool blue pool, another applied suntan lotion to his girlfriend's shoulders -- and a third swung his machine gun onto a lawn chair. A pair of Black Hawk helicopters hovered above.
They could have passed for college students, but they were U.S. soldiers at Camp Liberty in western Baghdad, seeking a break from the war raging just beyond the blast walls.
In this war, troops struggle to relax and get away from the violence that creeps up on them. Even inside bases such as Camp Liberty that stretch for miles, insurgents continue to kill and injure soldiers by launching mortars and rockets over fortified walls.
Last week word flashed through the camp of a big-screen showing of the new Star Wars movie, generating a flood of excitement.
But then insurgents fired a rocket into the base, slamming close to shops and fast-food eateries where the movie was to be shown, killing one soldier
"The soldiers came in and yelled, 'Save yourselves and run to the bunker,"' remembered Jericho Aquino, a Filipino worker at the Cinnabon dessert shop close to where the rocket struck. Future screenings were canceled.
But the U.S. military has brought other slices of Americana to this dusty complex of trailers and palaces once used by Saddam Hussein.
A Burger King and Pizza Hut compliment a dining hall that can compete with most corporate dining facilities and a local store resembles a major retail outlet, complete with rows of CDs, DVDs, and big screen TVs.
Some soldiers relax over video games or bootleg DVDs on their laptops. Others look forward to seeing celebrities. A recent visitor was actor Vince Vaughn, a local favorite.
But the most popular venue on base may be the palace pools where soldiers lie in the sun or swim, ignoring the occasional explosion in the distance. In one pool, soldiers preparing to return to the U.S. relaxed and looked back on their year in Iraq.
Most said their work had a positive impact in the capital, pointing to areas such as Haifa Street where attacks have been reduced, but the war that continued throughout the city was fresh in many minds.