09 November 2010

Slideshow: 10 Views of Life on the FOB

And now for something a little different! In order to further illustrate some of yesterday's descriptions, below are 10 photos of FOB Denver, depicting how many soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division spent some of their time in "The Box" at the National Training Center (N.T.C.). Captions appear below each photograph.

This is a close-up of a "sleep shade," each of which sleeps up to 150 soldiers. The rigid, sprayed-on foam-insulation looks like nougat. I love how the irregular patterns of the walls mimic the footprints surrounding the tents.

Civilian workers erect an additional tent for use as temporary office space for the brigade headquarters. The project took about a day, and was rumored to cost $17,000 U.S. in labor and tent-rental. (Thanks, U.S. taxpayers!) Where else would you use such a thing? A similar tent on another FOB had symbols from the Vancouver 2010 Olympics etched into its glass doors!

Soldiers were fed on an "A-MRE-A" ration-cycle. In other words, a hot "A-ration" breakfast, a "Meal, Ready-to-Eat" (M.R.E.) lunch, and another hot "A-ration" dinner. Contractors prepared and served the hot meals on the FOBs, and units came up with different "carry-out" strategies to serve hot meals at smaller sites. The pancakes weren't gray, by the way--they were blueberry!

This isn't FOB Denver, it's actually FOB King--home of the 334th Brigade Support Battalion, among others! A couple of the larger FOBs had these semi-trailers that dispensed hot and cold beverages. Just make your selection and pull the lever. (Watch out for the hot stuff, however--I managed to give myself second-degree burns while making my instant Starbucks Via coffee one morning!) As I traveled to some other FOBs, I personally helped start the rumor that this truck was actually an industrial-sized milkshake machine. Soldiers love complaining about how one FOB is so much better than another ...

"The approach will not be easy. You are required to maneuver straight down this trench and skim the surface to this point. The target area is only two meters wide. It's a small thermal exhaust port, right below the main port. The shaft leads directly to the reactor system. A precise hit will start a chain reaction which should destroy the station. Only a precise hit will set off a chain reaction. The shaft is ray-shielded, so you'll have to use proton torpedoes." These are either the secret plans to the Death Star, or the layout for the second-floor of the "Igloo"--the brigade Tactical Operations Center (TOC). You make the call!

The brigade "Igloo" exterior, during daylight hours. Back when I was an Army communications guy, we had 100-meter-tall antennas to get over the hill. In today's "work smarter, not harder" Army, we do all the work on the ground, then scissor-lift the antenna into position!

The terrain surrounding the FOB consisted of sand and more sand, punctuated with a little sagebrush.

Under generator-powered spotlights each morning, soldiers brushed their teeth and shaved in long trough-like sinks. Next to the sinks were semi-trailers full of shower facilities--locker rooms on wheels!

There were two semi-trailers full of washers and dryers on FOB Denver. Open 24 hours a day!

A typical bunk area inside the sleep shades. Troops gained a little elbow room by stashing their gear underneath their cots. It was cool enough at night (plus the tents were air-conditioned) that most soldiers would sleep either with a light sleeping bag or poncho liner. Check out my buddy's old-school pin-up calendar! All the comforts of home!


  1. So... what does a Whomp Rat really look like?


  2. "The approach will not be easy. You are required to maneuver straight down this trench and skim the surface to this point. The target area is only two meters wide." Sounded so familiar... yup.

    The w/ds and everything else in the semis... neat.

    And... sorry, my eyes are really bad... what is the lump of white stuff on the bottom left of the breakfast tray?

  3. And really...a T16? Those things don't have enough oomph to concuss a squirrel, much less target a womp rat.

    That MRE shore looks mighty tasty!

  4. @ Paxford: I don't know, but Han Shot First.

    @ Spockgirl: Grits! Glorious Grits! I was so happy, and then I mentioned why to a buddy. He told me they'd had grits every day at Camp Shelby. (Where I had to pack sack lunches.)

    @ Cheggnog: Please note, sir or madam, the single-serving whole-wheat Pop Tart (tm) at the 12 o'clock position. While tasty, these survive neither the desert nor the cargo pocket well!

  5. A really interesting blog; I only found it because I was alerted to the term "temporary office" which is what I rent out. They do say an army marches on it's stomach. Well if that's true these guys aren't going to get far. I'm guessing that white mush is grits. Had it once in Florida. Never ever ever again! :)

  6. @ toilet guy: Thanks for the good words--and for the link! I'll admit a certain professional fascination with constructions, both permanent and temporary. Civilian-occupational hazard, plus there's the whole National Guard disaster-response mission.

    I followed your link, and many of the components your website featured seem similar to those we encountered at Fort Irwin. Thanks again for sharing it!

    Finally, I know you're probably not looking for testimonials, but those small-unit showers really rock!

  7. I had heard of "grits" before but didn't know what the heck they were, so I had to google it. Am I to understand that what's on the tray is a porridge like substance made from cornmeal? And that grits can be fried as well? Hmm... I'm at a loss. To me, porridge = oatmeal, but the cornmeal probably has a sweeter taste and smoother texture. Sorry, you're probably not used to describing the finer points of grits.

    I too followed the link to the "toilet guy". How could you NOT with a name like that?

  8. I found out about the NTC by accident while doing research for my latest manuscript. Fascinating. I'm loving your posts. Great details and photos. Thanks!

  9. @ Gwen: Glad you've found them useful. Good luck on pursuing your current manuscript--and be sure to keep me posted as to your progress. I'm intrigued by how you might weave NTC into your work!


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