Camp Udari, Kuwait: The Staging Ground
On 28 November 2004, 2nd Battalion arrived at Camp Udari, Kuwait, a staging area for a number of units getting ready to jump across the border into Iraq.
Camp Udari did possess a decent gym; however it was packed to the gills during the hours of daylight. The only real option was to wake up at 2:30 each morning, in order to hit the gym at 3:00. Bundled up, our boys would make their way through the lines of tents over to the gym, which was scarcely warmer than the freezing desert. Still, once the blood got pumping, and they started to break a good sweat, all was right with the world.
Firebase Scunion, Dyala Province, Iraq:
The Campaign With The "Big Red One"
Towards the middle of December, the 116th Brigade made its move to Kirkuk, Iraq... well almost everyone. Several companies, mostly from 2nd Battalion were first sent to Baqubah in the Dyala Province in order to support the 1st Infantry Division, historically known as "The Big Red One." Bravo Company was sent to Firebase Scunion, and attached to the 2-63 Armor Battalion of the 1st ID.
Like true professionals, the Soldiers of the 1st ID welcomed Bravo Company with open arms, glad to have the extra support. The work schedule was an absolute nightmare. Guard rotations and combat patrols took almost every waking moment of their time.
Plus one must also consider the time required to conduct mission prep, patrol briefs and debriefs, putting together the daily guard rosters, oh yes, and trying to catch a couple hours of sleep here and there.
Remarkably, they still managed to find time for the gym. Firebase Scunion had probably the best facilities of any place they were stationed at throughout the entire campaign.
Formal Recognition From The Big Red One:
In the Army, a soldier wears his current unit patch on his left shoulder. If he has served in combat with a particular unit, and has been formally recognized for this, he can be authorized to wear that unit's patch on his right shoulder.
This is officially known as the "Shoulder Sleeve Insignia, Former Wartime Service" (SSIFWS) award, though to most Soldiers it is simply known as a "Combat Patch." At the end of the campaign in Baqubah, the 2-63 Battalion Commander held a ceremony for Bravo Company, awarding every Soldier the "Big Red One" combat patch, which they were then authorized to wear on their right shoulders, as a symbol of having served in combat with the 1st Infantry Division. Many in 2nd Battalion still proudly display the Big Red One on their uniforms today.
Barbarian Base, Kirkuk, Iraq:
Our Boys Finally Catch Up With The Rest Of The 116th Brigade.
On 1 February 2005, Bravo Company finally made the trip by Chinook Helicopters from Baqubah to Kirkuk. Kirkuk is in the largely Kurdish occupied part of northern Iraq, and is what many consider to be the ethnic melting pot of the region.
They landed at the main base know as Forward Operating Base (FOB) Warrior, which was home of the 116th Brigade, well most of it at least. The 1-163rd Infantry out of Montana operated out of a place called FOB McHenry, while those from Bravo Company would be sent to a small patrol base within the city of Kirkuk.
When one sees pictures of Soldiers in Iraq working out, one usually sees rather nice facilities with modern equipment. Such was the case at FOB Warrior, though our boys would see none of it.
Barbarian Base is best described as a cluster of Iraqi houses, surrounded by a 25 foot wall, with two motor pools for Humvees and other equipment. A golden eagle named Mitch lived in the back of one of the motor pools. Unable to fly due to an IED (Improvised Explosive Devise) explosion, the previous unit had taken him in, fixed him up, and made him a perch out back. He spent most of his days feasting on rabbits and whatever rodents or small birds he could find.
Day-to-day life for the Soldiers at Barbarian consisted of patrolling the city, reacting to numerous emergencies, supporting and training Iraqi Police. This was done while trying to maintain the balance of "winning the hearts and minds," and at the same time hunting the rebels who sought to violently disrupt people's lives and undermine the Iraqi government.
Cole's Venice Beach Gym... Minus The Beach:
The gym at Barbarian felt like it was about twice the size of a walk-in closet. The equipment was archaic, and in some cases was built by the soldiers who had been there before Bravo Company. One such example was the lat-pull machine. It consisted of a metal framework that somebody had tack welded together, with a crude pulley system that you could hang weights off of.
The entire apparatus was highly unstable. In fact, the sole purpose of a spotter was to brace himself against the machine and keep it from tipping over onto the individual working out. Keep in mind, the "modern" machines and equipment seen in the pictures did not even arrive at Barbarian until about three months before the Company rotated home. And the only reason they got that was because the gym on FOB Warrior had just been renovated, and so they gave Barbarian all the leftovers.
While they were ecstatic about getting some real gym equipment, space became an issue. In the end they had to resort to putting most of the back and leg machines outside, where all the flies liked to congregate.
On Matters Of Chow:
Besides a good workout program, two things are vital to the success of any bodybuilding program; good food and plenty of sleep. At Firebase Scunion, our boys were fed very well, however they got little to no sleep the entire time they were there. At Barbarian, they slept better (albeit never on a steady schedule) however the food they were given was absolute garbage. The wild dogs that scavenged the streets of Kirkuk seemed to eat better.
This confuses some, especially since the food served on most military facilities in the Middle East is considered to be more than adequate. Of course one must remember that our boys were not on Warrior, and in fact had no real mess hall to speak of.
Twice a day, for breakfast and dinner, they would send patrols over to Warrior to pick up chow and supplies. There was no hot lunch for them. Of course, given what they got for breakfast and supper this broke few hearts. Powdered eggs and boiled yak seemed standard.
One cannot swear that the steaks were in fact yak; however it was just as improbable that they were beef. Appetites were not helped by the fact that the septic tanks overflowed almost every other day, and one had to walk past the pooling, and odiferous, sludge in order to get to where chow was staged.
In the end it mattered not. Fancy equipment or no, good food or garbage to eat, our team grew stronger, larger and more powerful than anyone on FOB Warrior could have possibly imagined. Ordering their supplies of protein and supplements through Bodybuilding.com was of huge assistance. Combined with care packages of food sent from home, they managed to eat well enough to start a realistic mass-building program.