Camp Victory Closing in December

Multi-National Forces-Iraq turns over Camp Victory, the US military headquarters, to Iraq in December this year.  The Washington Post has a fair, balanced article looking at what Camp Victory has become – both physically and symbolically:

Over the years, what is officially Victory Base Complex grew to be a well-guarded cocoon, with a hospital, electrical grid and bottled-water plant, ringed by 27 miles of blast walls and concertina wire. Troops living in far worse conditions in outlying areas could come for R&R and sit by one of its pools. Others came and went on their tours without ever once venturing outside the walls of the base into Baghdad itself.

The article points out a lot of the history that surrounds the base:  places where Medal of Honor actions took place, Saddam’s jail cell, and the Al Faw palace where leaders directed the war.

Then there is the lighter side – the “Conan the Barbarian” chair, the bat cones, and the man-eating carp for instance.

Yes, I spent a lot of my Iraq time at Camp Victory (as a contractor working out of Al Faw).  As such I have many memories of the base, both good and bad.  But my sentimental feelings only go so far.  I would not want to be with the detail closing the place out.  No matter how stable the country has become.

– Craig.

10 thoughts on “Camp Victory Closing in December”

  1. It’s certainly an interesting contrast to the very “expeditionary” flavor of the US deployment for Desert Storm.

    We had essentially no permanent installations, and most units took only what could be mounted on their organic vehicles.

    As far as “installations” go, the closest we had to base camps were the tent city for inproccessing into Saudi Arabia, and the tent city the division set up as a PX/Snack bar/rec center outside KKMC while waiting to redeploy to Germany.

    1. I would compare the DS to the OIF base infrastructures with several caveats in mind. To start with, DS was months, as opposed to years. From there the comparison starts getting into form and function. One very important point to make, however, the logical evolution from the DS tactical camps was the very fixed Camp Doha. That compound was the “baseline” to some degree for bases configured in OIF…. right down to the DFAC and concessions. One of these days when the history is written….

  2. Good riddance! If I never see VBC again, I will be happy.
    That said, there was plenty of expeditionary living in Iraq. On my second trip, for a period while we built a brand new patrol base, I slept on a dry erase board on the floor of my TOC DRASH tent in rain/snow with no heater in JAN 08, and I had it good because most of the guys were sleeping in trucks or on cots under the rain (glad we have goretex bivy sacks these days). Comfort is a relative thing…

    1. These conversations always devolve to a “… oh, you had it easy, you should have been with me at the PRT in Kerblacabad!” exchange. My experience in Afghan stands in contrast to that in Iraq. I spent the winter of 04-05 between postage stamp sized bases with nothing but a sweat shirt and a green wool blanket for cold weather gear. After that, a transfer to Victory Base was like a reward for good service. Personally I shunned the concessions and amenities. Just a waste of money, IMO.

  3. I certainly didn’t mean to get a “woe is me!” contest.

    My point was, after the war in Vietnam, with its huge base camps,there was a different perception in the Army how the next wars would be fought. The perception was that the Army would roll out the gates of its kasernes, take up their position, and fight the war from the field.

    Indeed, even in Kosovo, where the Army realized it needed to have more substantial cantonments than GP medium tentage, the Force Provider cities were not downtown.

    This view of how to garrison a country ran into the reality that if you’re going to occupy a country and fight an insurgency, you have to be among the population, and that means in the cities. And if you’re going to be in the cities, you have to provide high levels of force protection. And the longer you occupy a territory, it is almost inevitable that those bases will grow and amenities will grow. Hence the eventual growth of Camp Victory.

    I doubt if you ask Esli, his peers from the initial invasion, or the Colonels and Brigadier Generals of 2003 if they foresaw building these huge camps, that they’d say they knew that would happen.

    On the other hand, you don’t need to practice being miserable. Consistent with good force protection and security, I’ve got no problems with comfort.

    1. I think you are spot on. Yes, there was certainly a lot of “we don’t want a Da Nang in Saudi” mentality in 1990-91 (we can see it in the dialog from CENTCOM during DS). Even later there was an effort to restrain the outgrowth of US bases that remained in Saudi through the next decade. But on the other hand, I know of primary documents that indicate on day one of the Iraq invasion that planners had a “Camp Victory” like base in mind. Maybe not with the mini-malls and overseas-sales concessions, but at least with the PX in a can.

      Being the realist, the point to make is that wars are won on the back of good logistics. The 1990s herald of “just in time” logistics was really “almost late” logistics. Didn’t work, and it won’t work. So prolonged “expeditions” will require logistic support bases in the theater of operations, scaled to the size of the force structure. I say that for planning inspiration we should look back, but not to Vietnam or the Cold War, but rather to the Pacific bases of World War II.

    2. I think the comment on “you had it easy” was aimed at my comment, though it was to illustrate that life in Iraq was not all plush life on super-FOBs even late in the war, but particularly so during the surge period.

  4. The large base camps in Vietnam were what was needed to fight the war. Those with large airfields (such as teh “Golf Course” for the 1st Cav) grew because of the maintenance requirements for the aircraft and the security requirements of an airfield. Some of it may seem obscene, but it really isn’t.

    Some of the stupidity that took place in Vietnam (one example was 1st class postage for a bunch of furniture for an O-club with the 173rd Airborne Brigade – $7000) was obscene. Under LBJ and McNamara, the Army almost went to pieces as the perfumed princes took over. Where the rubber met the road, there was little waste. A lot of hooches for the Warrant Pilots, for example, were built of lumber scavenged from breaking down ordnance. The real problem was in MACV, and the other rear areas filled with REMFs that were, on the whole, pretty worthless.

  5. Fighting in Iraq required both types of bases. During OIF 1 I lived right where I should have, downtown Baghdad in a company patrol base. My BN could effectively work with and to control the populace. However larger log bases were necessary which is why BIAP/VBC et al appeared. The casualties associated with living right in your workplace soon made the powers that be pull us all out of those areas and concentrate us on the super-FOBs which increased casualties by putting soldiers on the most dangerous roads in the world in order to drive to work. Totally stupid, in my opinion. The success of the surge was not in the raw numbers but getting us back out of the super-FOBs and back out amongst the people. Super-FOBs are a colossal waste of manpower some of which take about a BN to run daily stuff like force protection. Getting off the FOB was right and also resulted in traditional austere living conditions and few amenities but some locally procured Internet, a “haji-shop” and some gym equipment and orders of magnitude increase in mission focus. In 3 OIFs I have seen all but palace life now.

  6. Going back to the original article in question, the story on VBC was a lot better than the one on Garryowen (which they repeated spelled wrong as Gerry Owen, even in the reference of its name coming from 1st Cav’s song). I do have to say that the LSAs made sense though, at least from my perspective. Of course, being Field Artillery, I was always sent to an LSA but whatever.

    It suited the military concepts of dominate the terrain. It also allowed for the concentration of all the little fobbits so that they weren’t in the way to the meat eaters in the infantry companies yet still close enough to be of service. It also, and perhaps slightly more importantly for military planners and strategists, provided a semblance of a FLoT and rear area. The 360 degree battle is one that is hard to fight. One loses sense of forward momentum and, one could argue, the morale boost that gaining that forward momentum brings.

    The downside was that it led to the monstrosity that is the MRAP. The only good that vehicle does is that it wages a war of financial attrition with an enemy dependent on support from outside the organization.

    They do need to hurry up with the VBC closure though. The sooner they’re gone, the sooner I will be.

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