New Dawn Journal: Making a home at FOB Warhorse
by Capt. Jeffrey Sherman
Editor’s Note: This is an occasional column by Jeffrey Sherman, who will share his experiences as a deployed Reserve Officer as part of Operation New Dawn in Iraq. This column delves into deployed life.
When I learned that I was deploying with the Army Reserve, I knew life would be different from my life as a corporate and securities lawyer at Faegre & Benson. I knew I would temporarily replace my state-of-the-art, 31st floor office looking out at Long’s Peak and Coors Field. I also knew that I would no longer be able to frequent the wide variety of downtown restaurants I love so much. Still, I don’t think I really knew just how different my life would be.
I arrived at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Warhorse in late September. FOB Warhorse is located approximately 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, in the Diyala Province of Iraq, near the city of Baqubah. Diyala was one of the deadliest regions of Iraq for Coalition troops serving during the surge of 2007 and 2008, and it still trails the rest of the country in basic services such as sewage, water, electricity, medical care, and public safety. It is a region where U.S. forces have a tremendous opportunity to help the Iraqi people and contribute to lasting stability.
After in-processing with the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team (now temporarily known as the 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade), 25th Infantry Division, I moved into my new home: a Containerized Housing Unit (CHU) that I share with another JAG Officer, active duty JAG Capt. Brian Azevedo. Our CHU is a rectangular aluminum box measuring approximately 15 feet by 20 feet and 8 feet tall. It boasts one door, no windows, and no lavatory. We placed a row of wall lockers down the middle, giving us a modicum of privacy. During thunderstorms, the CHU is deafeningly loud—its acoustics would be the envy of many opera houses.
There is a local Iraqi vendor that sells Wi-Fi Internet service for our CHU. It is very expensive ($80 per month) and very poor service—it reminds me of the old days of dial-up ISPs. My roommate and I are trying to set up a satellite dish to connect to the Internet (for an even heftier fee), but so far, no luck.
My roommate Brian is a super-smart Oregon Law grad and a prior enlisted soldier; he served on an Explosive Ordinance Disposal team (think "The Hurt Locker"). He has tons of Army experience and has been in-country for several months. I’ve been fortunate to benefit from his accumulated knowledge, and it has shortened my learning curve considerably. In addition, he is able to fact-check the episodes of "Burn Notice" we watch in the evenings.
Surrounding every building are 15-feet tall "T Walls," which are thick concrete walls that look slightly like inverted Ts because their bases are deeper than the rest of the wall. They provide protection from small arms and indirect fire attacks such as mortars or rockets. The downside to the T Walls is that they make it very hard to navigate the FOB when you first arrive. The façades they create make every building look identical.
Except when taking part in missions, we spend all of our time on the FOB. There is no informal entry or exit to the FOB, which is enclosed by fences, concertina wire, and armed guards. Official convoys enter and exit through checkpoints, but we cannot grab a Humvee and drive into Baqubah for dinner or a movie. The FOB is truly the centerpiece of our lives.
Fortunately for me, FOB Warhorse has one of the best-known dining facilities (DFACs) in all of Iraq. It is famous for its elaborately themed rooms, including a Louis Armstrong room, a Stevie Ray Vaughn room, a sports bar (no beer, but sports on American Forces Network TV), and a movie bar with a different DVD every day. The DFAC serves four meals per day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and midnight chow)—almost like a cruise ship! The food choices are wide-ranging and quantities are virtually unlimited. We even have crab legs and lobster tails on special occasions. They say that during a deployment, a person either becomes a hunk (from exercising) or a chunk (from the unlimited supply of desserts and ice cream). The jury is still out on my fate.
I work in one of the two buildings that make up the Brigade Headquarters. My building is an old aircraft hanger than has been retrofitted with plywood dividers to create offices. The Brigade Legal Section consists of four lawyers and five paralegals. I sit in a 4 feet by 3 feet space under a wooden shelf. As you can imagine, it is difficult to maintain client confidentiality under these circumstances, so we keep a Conex container out back for meetings with clients.
All things considered, I have it pretty good. I have plentiful food, shelter, and a warm bed. I am able to call and e-mail home. Compared with the troops today who are risking their lives fighting in the rough terrain of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the troops of the past who braved brutal conditions in Europe, the South Pacific, North Africa, and Southeast Asia, I feel grateful indeed to be stationed at FOB Warhorse. D
Jeff Sherman practices corporate and securities law at Faegre & Benson LLP in Denver. He is serving as a Judge Advocate with the 2nd Stryker Advise and Assist Brigade, 25th Infantry Division at FOB Warhorse, Iraq.