Life in a remote US Army outpost in Iraq: IEDs, DVDs, and A/C
Doria, near Kiruk, is part of the new US counterinsurgency effort, where 110-degree heat isn't the only foe US troops face.
The A/C is finally up and running again in the large tents of the 3rd Brigade 25th Infantry Division's Doria outpost – and not a moment too soon.Skip to next paragraph
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At the end of a long day patrolling the simmering Rashad Valley southwest of Kirkuk, the soldiers just want to sink onto a cool cot and watch a movie on a laptop – pirated copies of "Spider-Man 3" are a current favorite. Or play a game of cards. Or sleep.
In the summer of this US counterinsurgency effort, 110-degree Iraqi heat is one of the more predictable foes the troops face. "It is one of those things that can hurt morale, and we are getting H-O-T," says Staff Sgt. Kreskin Smith of Auburn, Ala. as he chug-a-lugs Gatorade.
Sergeant Smith is in Doria on a six-day rotation. This is one of dozens of outposts the US is setting up across Iraq to get more troops out among the Iraqi people. It's part of the strategy being implemented by Gen. David Petraeus, which requires a lot of patience of young American soldiers raised in a quick-results culture. And it's a big reason why US casualties in Iraq are ratcheting up; May is now the deadliest month in 2007, with 112 fatalities.
That reality is not lost on the soldiers of Doria on this May evening. Just this afternoon a patrol was hit by an IED, or improvised explosive device. With soldierly humor the guys who were on the patrol are called "virgins," because no one was killed or even injured. The IED misfired.
In some cases the US military's new outposts are no more than a house in an urban neighborhood or a tribal village. In Baghdad as part of the "surge" of US troops, the mushrooming American footprint aims to protect local residents from insurgents and rival militias.
No Taco Bell at 'Fort Doria'
In others cases like Doria – named after Staff Sgt. Richwell Doria, who was killed in action here last November as US soldiers battled to clear the area of Sunni insurgents – the outposts are more reminiscent of a fort in the Old West. A few tents, a command post, and a fleet of Humvees and provisioning trucks are enclosed by high, thick walls of sandbags.
Since February, platoons of soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade have been rotating into Doria for six-day stints from the large US Army and Air Force base "Warrior" 30 miles up the highway in Kirkuk. Life at Warrior can resemble life on any US military base: there are large dining halls with Baskin- Robbins ice cream, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Internet cafes.
Doria's different. The chow wagon is a trailer with two cooks. The dining hall consists of a few metal picnic tables under a camouflage net. Water is trucked in. There are no showers.
"We got a little ahead of ourselves before, when the thinking was to keep all our soldiers to these large bases," says Col. Patrick Stackpole, commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team in Kirkuk. "Now with footholds like Doria, thephilosophy is to establish ourselves among the people so they trust us and the Iraqi officials we're helping to stand up."
The outpost's dual mission: Keep the Rashad Valley from returning to the insurgents who controlled it just six months ago, and help the new local Iraqi officials – a mayor and city council, a post of the Iraqi Army, the Iraqi police – establish legitimacy.
As a Sunni Arab stronghold, the valley is full of people who still feel the sting of Saddam Hussein's fall – and who fear the rise of the province's more prosperous Kurdish population.