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Posted on Nov 1, 2006 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

Letters From Iraq 4: Fobbits!

By Russ Vaughn


Speicher moved up in the world from a lowly FOB (Forward Operating Base) to a more powerful COB (Contingency Operating Base) over the course of the war. Those that live on COB’s or FOB’s are known as FOBBITS. J.R.R. Tolkien is probably in heaven wryly smiling at the paradox. Tolkien created his momentous work after the First World War. You can see a lot of his experiences in the trenches went into his series of books.

Like Hobbits true Fobbits live in buildings protected by dirt. The earth is packed into sand bags or Hesco barriers. More fortunate Fobbits have concrete blast walls around their dwellings. The Fobbit’s quiet lives are only disrupted by the occasional rocket or mortar attack. The more adventuresome of the species ventures out into the world driving a wide assortment of wheeled and tracked armor. Due to my advanced age I am considered a Grandpa Fobbit. There are some Great Grandpa Fobbits here. Several of the Great Grandpa Fobbits fought in ‘Nam and have returned to serve the country in yet another war.


Hesco’s are sandbags on steroids. The GOOD IDEA FAIRY came up with a real winner with this one. The small Hesco is about a cubic meter in size. It is wire mesh on the outside with a very durable all weather heavy cloth like liner. Backhoe’s and bucket loaders fill them quickly with dirt. In an instant you have a shrapnel stopper. The large ones protect us from blast as well as bullets and shrapnel. They also make a heck of a wind break. An individual Hesco can be up to 7 ft. tall with a 6 ft. square base. Hesco’s can be stacked on top of one another and they last a whole lot longer than sandbags. The older sand bags slowly rot away leaving adobe like bricks behind. Sandbags still have their place but the Hesco is the best thing to come around in a long time.

The CHU (Containerized Housing Unit) is the main long term dwelling on the FOB. It is exactly like a CONEX shipping container, except it has a real door(s) and windows on one side. They come with a linoleum floor, electrical outlets, and fluorescent lighting. The wiring is all encased in wire mold, which makes for interesting electrical fires. We have smoke detectors so don’t worry. There are three basic colors for the CHU, white, tan, and a nasty gold/brown. If they weren’t air conditioned, we would melt. CHU ‘s are large enough for 2 people to live in comfortably. Four people can be squeezed into one, but it is very crowded. The fancier Wet CHU is rare and contains a bathroom between living spaces!

Clusters of protected CHU’s are known as an LSA (Life Support Area). The title “Life Support Area “is very NASAesque, but very appropriate for our residential zones. Some LSA’s are very upper class, with lit concrete side walks, high concrete barriers, sun shades, grills, and a unit MWR (Moral, Welfare, and Recreation center). It is just like a gated community back home.

Other LSA’s would blend right in with some trailer parks back home. They have home made wooden porches with screens and wooden side walks. Mountain bikes are found parked between CHU ‘s. Hesco’s between the CHU’s are decorated with plastic gnomes, flower boxes containing artificial plants, and other assorted bits. This gives the LSA’s an almost homey feel. Some more inventive fellows have made hammock swings out of cots and tow straps. There are several carpenter Fobbits around and they create a lot of furniture out of scraps of wood. Old woodland and desert camouflage nets are used for sun shade. Using a little ingenuity, like soldiers from days gone by, they make the best out of whatever they have.

A smattering of television antennas can be seen poking above the Hesco barriers. If you are lucky you can catch the 10 channels of AFN. My roommate and I can see six of them and only get sound on the Pentagon Channel. The sound problem is with the cheesy Communist Chinese TV we scrounged up. The high dollar satellite dishes exist in the civilian contractor areas. Satellite internet is almost $500 a month, plus a set up fee of almost $4,000. Most of us will stick to the free MWR computers and slow internet.

We have Tent Cities sandwiched in between LSA’s. They are the transitional slums that you stay in while you process in or out of the base. The good news is they are air conditioned. The bad news is that they fill with dust during the heavy wind storms. I am told they are a really leaky, muddy mess during the rainy season.

The engineers are preparing for the rain, digging new run off pits and rebuilding culverts. There are high water marks on some of the CHU’s. Most of the CHU’s are on raised concrete post foundations like some homes down south. The bunks in some CHU’s are on blocks and gear is stored well off the floor. Venturing off the hard ball roads during the rainy season can be very hazardous to vehicles and personnel. I am sure we will have someone try to swim in a run off pit.

River rock is used to keep down the dust. Some areas the rock is deep enough for two wheel drive vehicles get stuck. In some places the rock is larger than softballs. The rock can make for difficult walking, especially when walking to the showers wearing flip flops.

The tranquility of our LSA is frequently disturbed by low flying Chinook helicopters. The dual rotors hammer the air. The force of the down draft beats on the roof of our CHU. You can actually see the roof flex. The vibration shakes the whole structure. You feel like the CHU is going to fall off its foundation or come apart. It’s a heck of a way to wake up at 3 A.M.

June 13, 2006. A Chinook helicopter from the 101st Aviation Brigade airlifts
Humvees near Tikrit, Iraq. This photo appeared on
Photo by by Spc. Teddy Wade

Sgt Stevens has come up with a motto for us; “Protecting the base from itself”. It wouldn’t be so funny if it weren’t so true. The second leading cause of death in theatre is traffic accidents. We have had a few accidents on post, so far no injuries. Most of the accidents are caused by contractors that ignore all the traffic rules. Once in a while we have GI’s driving like fools but it is hard to speed in an overweight HUMMV. Our patrols driving the Yukon or the Suburban on patrol run RADAR and ticket people. Contractors can lose driving privileges for up to two weeks, repeat offenders get their license pulled and lose their job. As for soldiers, it is up to their commanders, some get Article 15’s (non-judicial punishment) and others get bad EER’s (Enlisted Evaluation Report). Most soldiers get a smack on the wrist.

The HUMMV is a lot easier to roll with the additional armor than in its original light weight configuration. Roll over drills are really important. Units go through a simulator in Kuwait before coming up here. They have a couple of old HUMMV’s on mounts that allow them to roll upside down. Troops mount up in the seats and turret. The instructor flips a switch and the vehicle rolls over. When the vehicle crew realizes they are about to roll, they all shout “rollover." The crew inside the vehicle yanks the feet out from underneath the gunner in a violent manner. The gunner falls to his or her knees inside the vehicle, thus keeping him or her from becoming a crushed bag of bones. The main difference from the real thing and the simulator is the gunner can not get crushed between the ground and the vehicle. The other nice thing is the lack of full ammo cans bouncing around in the cab beating you senseless.

Turret gunners have the most dangerous job of anyone over here. They are exposed to all kinds of bad things, bullets, shrapnel, and concussion. On the way out to MSR Tampa a big sign says “Name Tape Defilade Saves Lives.” Name Tape defilade is keeping your head as low as possible behind the gun shield but high enough to do your job. Our gunners practiced this technique a lot at Creech before deploying. Thankfully our gunners have not had to do it for real.

Near our base a few nights ago an RG31 engineer vehicle hit an IED. The blast destroyed the engine and some external components but everyone survived. The turret gunner wasn’t even flash burned; however he was bruised from his hasty retreat into the cabin.

Enough for now will write more later.