I was tasked to put together a welcome letter for some of the new guys who will be replacing us over the next few months. As part of the project, I took a picture of the wall mural above; which is one of the first things you see when you get off the plane here. As I was taking the picture, I remembered back to when I first found out I was coming here. As soon as I got home from work that day, I fired up the old macbook, and did a search for Ali Air Base, COB Adder, and Tallil (yes, this place goes by all of those names). I found a few websites and blogs, but of course I wanted to know more (especially about quality of life stuff).
So, here's what we're gonna do with this post ...
I'll make this post, my repository for "things that are ok for me to share" about this location. Some useful posts/pictures have already been put up over the past couple of months ... some are still to come. I'll link them together as best I can, both now and with future updates. Now obviously I can't share "everything" that someone coming here might want to know ... this is a public blog, and I'm not going to write about anything that I wouldn't want the "bad guys" to read. That being said, I think there's enough that I can write about, that this many end up being a potentially useful resource. (note: if I know I'm going to make a post about a specific topic in the future, I will list it here, but without too much detail .. then edit this article to link to it when I put the new post up)
Ok, so where to start?
If you're in the military, you will either live in a tent, or a CHU (a small trailer). Most people live in CHUs, but if you're in the Army, or lower enlisted in the Air Force, you will probably have a roommate (most of the trailers have bunk beds). I'm not positive about this, but I believe all the civilians get their own rooms. The tents are mainly for transient personnel, either just getting here, or waiting for a flight home. They're big tents, and again, you'll most likely be sleeping on a bunk bed. Both the tents and the CHUs are climate controlled, so for the most part, you're not going to sweat or freeze too much. I can't promise it will stay this way, but as of right now, both here on the Air Force side, and when I stayed in the Army CHUs, lined was provided (so you probably won't use your sleeping bag while you're here). You can also get sheets, blankets and pillows from the PX and Shoppettes around the post. One bit of bad news, unless you're very high ranking, you're going to have to get dressed if you ever wake up in the middle of the night and need to take a pee ... outdoor plumbing is the norm.
There is already one big PX, and another one that should be finished before I leave in the Spring; as well as quite a few little shoppettes around the post. They're relatively well stocked with everything from socks and underwear, to toiletries; and even TVs, cameras, video game systems and computers. If you're coming here, you really don't need to pack too much extra stuff, as you can get just about everything you'll need here ... for pretty much the same price that you'd pay back home.
There are also a few local shops on the post. The first area is some trailers near the PX that sell things like rugs, blankets, electronics, and souvenirs. There's even a pretty cool Oakley store, that has things like sunglasses, backpacks and boots. There's also a place on post called the Ur market, that has many of the same items, but a wider variety. We also go out there for the "bootleg" DVD store. If your conscience will allow, you can purchase just about any movie or tv show you can imagine, for a very small price (like $2 for a movie, or $20 for a multiple seasons of a TV show).
Services on Post:
We have a finance office here on post, but for the most part, people try not to use cash. When you deploy, you'll get what's called an Eagle Card, which can be used the same as cash ... even down at the Ur market ... but which is much more secure. You can either set it up before you leave the states; in Qatar or Kuwait while you're waiting for your flight to Iraq; or even at the local finance office once you get here. You can also use your debit/credit cards in the PX and at the Market, but it's not advised. There have been cases in the past (in Iraq, not necessarily here) of credit card numbers being stolen. A more likely concern, especially if you use your card at the market, is that you may have to pay additional fees for a foreign purchase and/or currency transaction.
There are also several hospitals on post, that are able to handle everything from routine colds and sprained ankles, to full blown emergencies. And yes, unfortunately, you can also get all of your shots here ... so if you're due for an anthrax booster while you're here, they're gonna track you down ... sorry.
We do have a legal office here on post. Hopefully you took care of most legal matters during your pre-deployment preparation ... but if something comes up while you're here, these guys can still help you with things like powers-of-attorney.
There is a main post office here on base, as well as smaller mail rooms in most units. Outside of the holiday season, mail usually gets between here and the states in about 2 weeks.
When it comes to doing your laundry, you have a couple of choices. Most of the living areas have a trailer with washers and driers for those who want to do it themselves ... but the lines are usually long, and you risk "losing" your stuff if you don't stay with it the whole time. Most people turn their clothes in to one of the many KBR laundry drop-off points around post. The turn around time is usually 2-3 days. For those who live in the Air Force bedrock area, you can also bring your clothes to Lulu's, and usually get it back the next day.
Last but not least, there are a least a couple of chapels on post ... both on the Air Force and Army sides of the base ... and with chaplains of a variety of denominations. I know that in the bedrock chapel near where we live, there is some sort of activity going on pretty much about every night ... not just Sundays.
There is plenty to do here on COB Adder/Ali AB as far as recreation goes. There are two main Rec Centers on post ... one run by the Army, and then the Hot Spot here in bedrock, run by the Air Force. They've got big screen TVs, game rooms, computers, phone rooms, pool tables, dart boards, a library, and probably several more things I'm not remembering off the top of my head. They also keep a good calendar of activities. The Air Force rec center has bingo, pool, spades and/or poker tournaments almost every night of the week. We also get some concerts and events as famous stars come through to preform (again, especially during the holidays).
The other thing people here spend a lot of time doing is going to the gym. There are at least 3 big gyms here on the post, with free weights, treadmills, stationary bikes, and even classes on things as basic as aerobics or as advanced as P90x. And even for those who don't go to the gym to workout, the weather here (at least right now) is nice enough that many people jog on the roads.
We have 3 dining halls here on the post, but they all pretty much serve the same menu. One of them is open for 22 hours a day though, so you can pretty much eat any time you want. Like many military DFACs (Dining Facilities) back in the states, we have a main line and a snack line. We also have a sandwich bar, and another section right next to it that alternates between pasta, pizza, wings and curry. Oh yea, and we can't forget the dessert and ice cream section. Lemon cake, chocolate cheese cake, and cookies & cream ice cream are my weaknesses. I have a diet and exercise plan, but thanks to all the good eating opportunities at the DFAC, I'll be lucky if I don't actually gain weight again during my time here.
The DFAC is free. But for those who don't mind spending a few bucks, we have a few restaurants on post. There are two Italian places, one called Ciano and the other called 6 pazzi (in addition to food, you can smoke the houka pipes and dance to latin music here). And the if you really miss the food from home, the px area has the standard Burger King, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and I think Popeyes. I personally haven't spent any money on food since I've been here, but apparently these food joints do pretty good business; especially the Italian places.
Depending on what time of year you're coming here, this can either be among the best places to be in Iraq; or the worst. In the winter time, the weather here is very nice. Sometimes it's a little chilly (mid 30s-hi 40s) in the morning, but even in the coldest months, the afternoon high temperatures usually get up into the mid 60s. Also, this far south, it only rains here about every 7-10 days. This is probably a good thing though, be cause when it does rain, it becomes a muddy mess. That said, this is true pretty much everywhere in Iraq, and further north, it rains much more often.
On the flip side, I can't think of many worse places to be in Iraq during the summer months. This area of the country is among the hottest, with not being uncommon for July and August temperatures to climb into the 130 deg F range. That being said, the 110-115 that they get further north doesn't feel much cooler. The real problem here in the summer time is the dust. Climatologically, this is also the dustiest region of of the country. When strong Shamal winds kick up, the northwesterly flow can bring in dust storms that reduce visibility to less than 2 miles for up to two or three WEEKS at a time. It's not fun.
Ok, that's about what I've got for now. But, I do plan to update this post (with links and more content) over the coming months, so you if it's of interest to you, you might consider bookmarking, and checking back from time to time.