Almost immediately after US forces overran Baghdad in 2003, they started building large logistical bases, called Forward Operating Bases or FOBs. Not surprisingly, these evolved from austere supply dumps to comparatively lavish posts, with many of the comforts of home. Relatively secure and safe, they serve as the home to maintenance units, administrative units, and pretty much everyone who isn’t going outside the wire on patrols or raids. The denizens of these bases, no longer called REMFs, became known as Fobbits. Given the fairly urban nature of Iraq, even small outposts could quickly come to have some of the creature comforts we Americans like, such as internet access, fast food restaurants, and hot and cold running water.
Afghanistan is a little different. It is a largely agrarian nation, with few troops stationed in the cities. Most of the troops are scattered among small villages, many perched precariously on the sides of the rugged mountains that make up so much of the nation. That tends to lead to a very austere lifestyle.
There is no hot water. The only running water in the camp comes from a 3-inch diameter hose that jets out cold water in fire hydrant fashion. Clothes are washed in buckets, when time permits and the weather cooperates, then strung between tents and dried in the sun.
This is hardly the lap of luxury. Still, almost as soon as Marines or Soldiers start to improve the defenses of a cantonment, they start working on making it just a little more like home. It’s what troops do. The Marines of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, stationed in Helmand province, figured a home cooked meal was a good place to start. So they built a kitchen.
“We want to live as comfortably as possible, and dinner is a big deal to all of us. Preparing a meal together, cooking together and eating together – it’s just like family.”
Now, my one wartime experience was something of a contrast to that, but in some ways similar. My unit was a part of the VII Corps, stationed in Germany, and it was never designed or equipped (or trained) to deploy away from Germany. So we weren’t very “expeditionary” in the current cant of the DoD. Just getting to the theater for Desert Storm was a major endeavor. But once we got there, we lived out in the field. We didn’t set up any cantonment areas, just basic tactical bivouacs. Each company of the battalion was separated from the next by about 3 kilometers or so, dispersed to present a less appealing target for SCUDs, artillery, or other weapons. Each company position was basically a circular perimeter of the vehicles, with a couple of tents set up for the troops to sleep in. Not bad, since we were used to just sleeping on the ground when we went to the field, but hardly luxurious. Picking up and moving was not a major challenge. We rarely stayed in one location more than a couple days. And we were always miles from any civilization, or even the nearest road.
Today, units are far more adept at deploying half-way across the globe, but far more likely to operate out of one location for an extended period of time, usually near a local population center. They have the time to not only dig in a significant defense, they have the time to improve the position from a comfort point of view.