Backyard Adventures

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Letter to Ms Cheung's 7th Grade Class Responding to Overseas Letters

Hello Ms Cheung's Class,

I am thankful for all your letters that you sent me recently.  I had time to read most of your letters, but I just cannot reply to everyone.  So I thought I would write one large letter so you can see for yourself what it is like at an overseas military base, like the one that I was stationed at for a year.  In fact, I just got back from a base in Kuwait in July called Camp Arifjan.  Camp Arifjan is an Army installation located in the State of Kuwait.  It is a $200 million state-of-the-art facility that was funded and built by the government of Kuwait.  It is located south of Kuwait City, west of the Shuaiba Port (Military Sea Port of Debarkation/ Embarkation, or SPOD), and north of Kuwait Naval Base (KNB). The base accommodates mostly US Army and US Navy personnel nowadays, but in its heyday, it accommodated elements of the Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard elements, as well.  Foreign governments, like England, Poland and Australia, also used the base for logistical operations.   The base is divided into 7 large zones; however these zones are rapidly becoming smaller as missions change in theater.  This installation also has the highest population of higher-ranking officials.  The base has been one of the main support installations for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn, which recently concluded its mission.  The base can be considered the most "luxurious" of the other installations in Kuwait.  It has been utilized as a forward logistics base, an Aviation Classification and Repair Activity Depot for the entire Southwest Asian Theater, a helicopter ground support base, and as a motor pool for armored and unarmored vehicles.  Thousands of U.S. military vehicles received their armoring at Camp Arifjan.   


The United States uses Kuwait as its war planning as staging hub and training ranges as well as a strategic location to provide logistical support to give the military flexibility should the White House decide on a "pre-emptive" military strike against Syria or Iran.  Additionally, many thousands of soldiers have passed through Camp Arifjan either on their way to Iraq or returning from Iraq. Nowadays, these soldiers go in and out of theater into Afghanistan, as the Iraq Theater is now closed.  Additionally, there are many National Guard and Reserve units that support a variety of functions in the Southwest Asia (SWA) Theater that come on varied length tours.  Most tours are now nine-months long, down from a year.  Currently there are approximately 15,000 troops stationed at Camp Arifjan, Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait Naval Base and Camp Buehring


Since Camp Arifjan is located closer to the Arabian Gulf, the climate is slightly different from other installations in Kuwait and Iraq. There are several places to spend free time and to meet people from all over the world.   However, Camp Arifjan is a weird place.  It is a sort of a mixture between busy military installation, hip university campus, grimy industrial park, and a stark correctional facility. Nevertheless, the quality of life is surprisingly good, if you can follow all the rules and regulations. The Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) facilities rival those of many stateside installations. There are two large PXs (Post Exchanges), several fast food places, two nice recreational centers, a state-of-the-art gym, and even a wood crafts shop. Nearly all indoor facilities have air conditioning. There's a large outdoor pool and several athletic fields. The quality of the food and service at the three dining facilities is exceptional. Bottled water (and even Gatorade) is readily available and it is free.  The working environment varies greatly on your mission requirements. Some work standard duty day hours, while others maintain 24-hour operations in shift. The near-constant rotation of individual replacements from all service components and backgrounds ensures a perpetual state of institutionalized uncertainty.  If you can stand the heat of Kuwait, it isn't that bad of a place. 


Kuwait, where more than ten percent of the world's estimated oil reserves can be found, is an exciting tourist attraction for many. It is also a place to gaze into a relaxed doorway of the Muslim world. Locals love to wander around souks, mosques and other sandy traces of ancient Bedouin days. The weather there is really hot throughout the year, where average temperatures range from 107° to 115°. The summers are relentlessly long, punctuated by dramatic dust storms and exciting thunderstorms. If you are looking for an evening out, Middle Eastern food and lounges, where patrons smoke the water pipe or shisha, is a very popular pastime. Behind the extravagant richness, lies traditional values and warm Arabian hospitality. Places of interest in Kuwait include the Kuwait Towers, one of the most famous landmarks of Kuwait. Another local diversion is the Kuwait Annual Pearl Diving Festival, which helps the current generation of young people experience the hardship and excitement of pearl diving, which their forefathers once experienced. Hotels and accommodations are affordable and provide a variety of accommodation choices to suit most people's budgets. Shopping is also an important part of the economy as well. The Avenues Mall is the largest mall and shopping center in the Middle East. And don't forget to see the great sunsets every evening.


Camp Arifjan has undergone many changes within the past several years, including the construction of hundreds of "temporary" or transitional barracks, known as PCBs (Pre-Fabricated Concrete Buildings), three dining facilities, and the establishment of two base exchanges (AAFES), as well as a major addition of paved roads throughout the Camp. There are approximately 9,000 personnel stationed at Camp Arifjan. The camp often uses reservists for a majority of the staffing of key positions running the base. In addition, a number of foreign nationals also work at the base.  They do everything from cook the meals to clean the latrines.  We are very thankful for their assistance.  The rest of the facility is staffed by US Army Contractors.   They do everything from putting radios into trucks to managing the supplies that go in and out of theater.  There is even a private security firm that keeps the base secure 24 hours a day.


One highlight of the base is when vendors to set up small shops within the main PX lobby. In addition to the permanent vendors, certain Third Country Nationals or TCNs are also allowed to set up large Arab-style bazaars on Wednesdays and Sundays.  Camp Arifjan has many fast food restaurants on site, such as: Pizza Hut, Charley's Subs, Hardees's Burgers, 3 Subways, Burger King, Pizza Inn, Taco Bell, KFC, Baskin Robbins, Panda, Green Beans Coffee, Hole N One Doughnuts, 2 Starbucks, and 3 Military Dining Facilities (DFACs) some of which serve 4 meals daily. In addition, the camp - known colloquially by the initials "AJ" or "Camp Arifjail" is regarded by U.S. military personnel as having the best recreational facilities of any Kuwaiti military instillation. The camp's swimming pool and three gym facilities make it the most desirable duty station in the country among foreign military personnel.


Well, I hope you enjoyed my little tour of where I was stationed this past year.  Being overseas and in a combat zone isn't all that the media portrays.  Sometimes, there are places in Theater where Americans can congregate, and have a little fun, while at the same time work hard to get the mission done.  If you are working in a logistical sustainment battalion, a motor pool fixing vehicles, or on the road delivering needed supplies to support the war efforts, Camp Arifjan is where you want to be, the hub of activity for the Southwest Asian Theater.


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