Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Welcome to Hell, a.k.a. Fort Bragg, NC

Talking on the cell phone to his wife, one of the Captains I'm with said, "Honey, I'm in hell!"

No, I thought, you're at Ft. Bragg, but it can be an easy mistake to make sometimes.

Instead of deploying right to Iraq as I originally thought, at 0700 Saturday morning I was on a bus with seven other captains from my company at Ft. Jackson heading to Ft. Bragg. We passed the two hour trip watching "Black Hawk Down." Although I've probably seen it a dozen times, it took on a special resonance this time, as I tried to imagine how I would react in a similar tactical situation.

When we pulled off of I-95, I was struck by Fayetteville's contradictions. We drove past the old slave market downtown, and then a mile or two later past the gleaming Special Forces and Airborne Museum. We turned onto Bragg Boulevard and were reminded why Fayetteville once carried the sobriquet "Fayettenam" -- mile after mile of strip malls filled with pawn shops, check cashing stores, tattoo parlors, used car dealerships, fast food restaurants, and "gentlemen's clubs" or varying degrees of shadiness. Finally, when you arrive on post itself, you pass through expansive groves of tall pines interrupted by golf courses, tidy housing sub-divisions named after World War II battles, historic red brick command buildings, and shiny new barracks that would put most university dormitories to shame.

Unfortunately, that is not the part of post on which we are staying.

The activated reservists awaiting deployment have been relegated to the old "Division" barracks that were built towards the end of World War II, condemned immediately after the war, but saved from being destroyed by the necessity created by the Korean War. These also happen to be the same baracks I stayed in while a cadet in the summer of 1993. We are now living in an open bay with cracked concrete floors that are permanently gritty (becuase there is no grass, only sand, outside the barracks), smudged khaki-walls with chipping paint, and bathrooms too revolting to provide an adequate description. During the day, the heat rises and the second floor becomes uncomfortably humid, yet last night the barracks were freezing.

No, this is not hell. But the Captain would not have been far off if he had described this as a sort of purgatory.