Living life Bristish style

December 2, 2008 at 3:18 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

July 19, 2008

Some of you have been waiting quite anxiously for this next blog post. Well here it is, what you’ve been waiting for “Living Life British Style”.

In case some of you haven’t heard, things have been changing here in the Basrah area. The 1st Division Quick Reaction Force (QRF) of the Iraqi Army was serving as our Iraqi Brigade’s higher headquarters and their MiTT team was serving as my MiTT team’s higher headquarters. Well about a week ago both the Iraqis of the 1st Division QRF and their MiTT team packed their bags and moved out to another part of Iraq to conduct operations there. Since they left there was no reason for us to have any people or equipment on the Shaibah Airfield Base (just outside of Basrah) that they had occupied and where my team and our battalion teams had stored all of our extra gear and where we had drawn our food, ice and bottled water from and where we could go to in order to get a shower. We had always maintained a small group of people at Shiabah that consisted of a two Army Soldiers (permanently) and two young Marines (rotated between Shiabah and the city) that allowed us to be aware of what the 1st Division was planning and ensured that we got our share of the supplies (read that to mean our fair share of the bottled Gatorade and Diet Pepsi and not the generic sport drink powder and the Diet 7 UP). As soon as the 1st Division’s move to parts unknown was announced I immediately started planning to take over the logistical responsibilities that 1st Division had handled for us (normally I supervise this but since my logistician is on leave I’m handling it all, hurry up and get back Jeremy) and trying to coordinate for space for us to live on COB Basrah. Things fell together fairly quickly and the British on COB Basrah have bent over backwards to welcome us and make room for us even though they themselves are a little cramped for space. What follows is a description of living with the British and some of the experiences I have had in the last week working with them.

The first thing that I noticed that was a little different about the British was not really that they talk different then Americans do (more on that later) but it was the above picture. This is a one person sleeping area. About 18 months ago the British lost a tent full of soldiers when the tent took a direct hit from an insurgent missile. This was their response, individual bunkers for every soldiers sleeping area. I’ve heard them called pig pens, stonehenge, coffins, or even caves, whatever. What they have done is take cinder blocks and walled off an individual area about 3 foot high(I can just barely straddle it), taken a small pallet and placed a mattress above it with a steel tray about 2 feet above that with about 10 inches of sandbags stacked on the steel tray. Talk about risk adverse, in the American housing tents or buildings the outside area of the building or tent typically has a blast wall of some type around it and we pretty much think that if the building or tent takes a direct hit (in most cases highly unlikely) then it’s just your time to go. Even if one of these tents took a direct hit, I think a person would still end up wounded and you would definitely end up with some sort of hearing damage. Anyway the pig pens themselves seem to cause a few casualties. An American MP Captain I work with down here has said that he wakes up with bruises on his knees and elbows from tossing and turning in the night and hitting them on the roof of his cave. I’m glad I’m so tired that I have been sleeping like a rock instead of tossing and turning like I normally do.

I was going to tell a story next, but after further consideration the background information is not suitable for an open source blog, but let’s just say that I had to be the bearer of bad news to a General and evidently my delivery was not what it should have been. Thank goodness he didn’t shoot the messenger. It took me 14 years but I have finally managed to run afoul of a General. He was British, though, does that count? In all honesty though I think it was more the news I had to give that made the General mad and not my delivery (that probably could have been improved though).

Many of you have heard me talk about or are familiar with the term FOBs (Forward Operating Bases). If you are, you may have wondered why I keep calling the British base here COB Basrah, well once again that is something that the British do that is different than the Americans. They call their bases COBs (Contingency Operating Bases). I’ve heard it said that the Americans and the British are one people separated by a common language. To illustrate this I was having a meeting with a British Leftenant Colonel (there’s that language thing again, I’d of said Lieutenant, wait there’s more coming though) when I was asked if I wanted a brew. I think to myself “heck yeah I want a beer, but doesn’t this Brit know I’m not allowed to have one?” Well what the good Leftenant Colonel meant was did I want a cup of tea or coffee, not a beer, darn I knew it was too good to be true. So between the different words and the accents I’m convinced that I only really understand about a third of what they are telling me the first time, so when we start to talk about tactical operations I make darn sure that we are on the same page before we move to the next topic.

Speaking of brews, the British Army doesn’t do brewed coffee or tea it’s all instant. You can’t walk into an American Operations Center without finding a large coffe brewer (we call them silver bullets, they’re large silver, and somewhat bullet shaped). On the other hand the British have what looks the same except all it holds is hot water. They also don’t use a whole a lot of sugar, mainly milk. We all know I need my coffee in the morning and I’m not exactly on the sweet side so the sugar I put in my coffee sweetens not only the coffee but my disposition for the rest of the day.

The next cultural incident that I encountered happened the other day when I was trying to arrange some tent space for a team that had to temporarily move out of the city. I pick up the British phone (of course our phones don’t talk to theirs or theirs to ours) and call the British housing manager, who picks up the phone and says his name and asks how can I help you. I introduce myself and start to state why I’m calling when the good Flight Sergeant on the other end hangs up on me. So I call back thinking I had a bad connection, same result, I call back a third time and this time I speak a little louder thinking maybe I can talk through it, nope same result, he hangs up on me. Now I’m thinking what the heck am I doing wrong, so I lean over to my Sergeant sitting next to me and ask him, he starts laughing and says there is button on the handset that I have to push in order for the person on the other end to hear me (Thanks for not telling me sooner, Smoke, when you knew I was using the British phone). What the hell, well when in Rome do as the Romans do. So I call the good Flight Sergeant back and tell him that he has not been getting prank calls, there is just a silly Yank trying to get hold of him. No harm done, tent space finally acquired.

COB Basrah is divided into two parts, the Basrah International Airport and the British base. They both share the same landing strip and commercial flights from Baghdad and Suleminayah in Iraq as well as from other Arab countries do arrive here intermixed with the British and American military flights.

The next difference between American’s and British is in their dining facilities. The British don’t provide all of the junk food for their soldiers that the Americans do. That means no sodas, no potato chips, no 6 different kinds of Baskins Robbins ice cream, just a meal, juice, assorted desserts and three flavors of ice cream, strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla. On the other hand there is a lot of fried food, fried fish, French fries (chips), if you can fry it they seem to do it. Overall though the chow is very good and it definitely beats the majority of what I described in my earlier food posts.

Even though the British don’t provide sodas and other junk food for their Soldiers, they are smart enough to realize that Soldiers want that stuff. The above picture shows the soda/coffee station set up in a brand new DFAC where Soldiers can buy sodas and gourmet coffee and other snacks not already provided.

Here are some more pictures of the inside of the new DFAC (Dining Facility). As one of the senior officer from my unit present on the COB I had to attend the Ribbon Cutting ceremony for it. I don’t know if you can tell but the A/C ducting is fabric and is inflated by the cold air flowing through it. Also notice that the bunker concept extends into the DFAC with cinder block walls separating each eating area. Finally notice the plastic container on the table. The container contains disinfectant wipes. After they are done eating each British Soldier is required to wipe down their eating area, if they made a mess. That wouldn’t fly in an American DFAC

Here is a picture of me waiting for the start of the Ribbon Cutting ceremony. I look thrilled don’t I? What am I doing here? Oh yeah I’m here because the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is here. That’s him greeting some British Soldiers in the second picture, check out the funny feathers in their beret. I’ve never met the President of the United States much less the actual political head of another country. He stopped and talked to the small group of Americans, we are all prepared to talk about our missions in Basrah and all he wants to know is if we are having any success in converting the British from playing soccer (he actually said football) and cricket to American Football and baseball. I don’t know if you can tell in this picture, but the Prime Minister bears a striking resemblance to George W, I actually think it’s the ears and the hair style, but it was very interesting. I’ll talk about the funny hats the British Soldiers are wearing in another post.

So that’s it in a nutshell, I’m living life British style. It’s a little different than what I’m used to. I can’t complain, I have bathrooms and showers with running water and the A/C is colder than what the rest of the team has in the city and I get hot chow.

I hope everyone enjoyed this post. Some upcoming posts include some military humor I’ve pulled off the net and thought some of you might enjoy. As well as a look at some of our equipment and the British equipment, mainly pictures of each since I don’t want to put out to much info. I’ll also describe my relationship with the British MiTTs and their MiTT structure, they do things a little different then how we MiTT. There will also be a random thoughts post where I put a picture of the elusive power ranger and some pictures of why I think we have $4 a gallon gas. So stand by for some more posts.

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