Featured News

Living the high life deep in the desert

7 Apr 2004 | Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald

Marines like it rough. Just ask the artillerymen of Battery I, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

The battery, which is currently performing as an infantry unit, is here supporting 1st Marine Division's security and stabilization mission.

Unlike many of the camps situated throughout Iraq, Camp Mudaysis is not as equipped with many of the "creature comforts" many Marines have come to take for granted.

The camp is a five-hour drive from the 3rd Battalion's headquarters at Ar Ramadi, so getting supplies to the Marines is a logistical challenge. Capt. John G. Lehane, battery commander, said his warriors are doing just fine without e-mail, laundry service or even daily showers.

"Most of the Marines out here now were here for the war," Lehane, of West Hempstead, N.Y., said. "Compared to last year, the Marines know they have it pretty good this time around."

During the invasion of Iraq last summer, the Marines of Battery I served in their primary role as an artillery unit and lived in fighting holes and two-man tents. According to 22-year-old Sgt. Nicholas R. Massey, showers were far and few between.

"We may not have it as good as some of the other Marines in Iraq," the Standish, Maine, Marine added. "But no one really complains because at least this time we have hard structures to live in."

The camp once belonged to the Iraqi military and was used as an air defense site during the Gulf War in the early 1990s. Bombs heavily damaged several of the prism-shaped "bunkers," and the camp was abandoned shortly afterward. Shell casings from the war can still be found lying beneath the orange dirt organic to Iraq.

Now, the Marines are living and working from these bunkers and are no longer subject to the area's sandstorms and powerful winds except when guarding the perimeter, patrolling the area or helping with working parties.

"Everyone is sleeping inside air conditioned bunkers on cots," Lehane mentioned. "And we have port-a-potties, so there's no more digging holes."

Lance Cpl. Glen L. Menas, a 25-year-old from Daytona Beach, Fla., described the accommodations here as "paradise compared to last year."

"Everybody has their own talents to make this place feel like home. It's nice being here because it's our camp," Menas said. "Our commanding officer is the camp commander too, so there's not as much hassle as some of the bigger camps have."

Still, less hassle doesn't necessarily mean less responsibility.

"The Marines want to make Camp Mudaysis a nice place to be," Lehane explained. "They keep the area police called. The bunkers have doors because the Marines wanted to have doors. They take a lot of pride in their camp."

Most of the troops operating from other camps in Iraq have access to laundry service, Internet cafes, fully operational PXs, three ordinary meals a day, daily showers, well stocked gyms and televisions.

The fitness center at Camp Mudaysis has not yet been equipped with lights, which has led to the gym's nickname "dark gym." That doesn't discourage the artillerymen from exercising almost everyday because they also run or play sports like soccer.

However, showers are limited to every other day because water is in short supply.

For most of the Marines here, the hardest thing to adjust to was the food. The chow hall serves at least two hot meals a day, called Tray Rats; the third meal is substituted with Meals, Ready-to-Eat.

"I don't really mind eating Tray Rats," Menas said with a smile, "because I know they're packed full of fiber."

Many visitors have stopped by the camp to check up on the Marines' well-being and are usually surprised by the harsh living conditions.

"People always ask us what the Marines need out here, but I tell them we're fine because I haven't heard any of the Marines complain," Lehane said. "They all seem to be pretty happy with what they have."