Making the best of the desert


Camps: From laundry, to haircuts, soldiers adopt a do-it-yourself attitude in Kuwait.

March 15, 2003|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

CAMP PENNSYLVANIA, Kuwait - The camp has power and water, but alas, no washing machines.

With dirty clothes piling up, some soldiers have made their own Maytags. Just fill a tub with water and scrub. No tub? Put a trash bag inside a cardboard box and fill.

Soldiers here have a second, more luxurious option: free drop-off laundry service. Hundreds of soldiers have set aside suspicions of anything tied to the Army and lugged their stuff to the laundry tent.

Indians hired by the military truck the clothes over the desert to near Kuwait City. They wash and fold, then bring it back. Turnaround time is advertised as 72 hours, though it has taken over a week in some cases.

But there's a glitch. The cleaners have lost 850 tickets that identify which clothes belong to which soldier. Names on uniforms will be a big clue, of course, but it is still a hassle. One major called it a "morale killer."

Others see a moral here, one that can be seen as a warning to the lazy. "That's why I wash by hand," says Master Sgt. Dale Buck, the noncommissioned officer in charge of Camp Pennsylvania.

`Have you heard?'

An old Army saying has it that intel drives maneuver. Without good intelligence, you can't do much on the battlefield. That adage doesn't apply to daily life in this military camp, however.

Here, rumor runs rampant.

Without a steady stream of actual news, the half-baked or made-up kinds are filling the gap. All sorts of wild scenarios are making the rounds here, and soldiers seem to accept some as fact.

Marines are already in Baghdad. Saddam Hussein has given up power. Actor-comic Jim Carrey is dead. A USO concert featuring Kid Rock and country crooner Toby Keith is coming to this barren patch of sand on March 25. The list goes on.

It is possible, though not easy, for the 6,000 residents here to watch the news. A few have short-wave radios that pick up Voice of America and BBC. Most go by what they glean from each other.

"Hey, have you heard that they caught Saddam red-handed with chemicals and now the U.N. is siding with us on the war?" says Spc. Jeremy Pursel, who is 27 and from West Unity, Ohio.

Later that day Pfc. Andy Braun, a 20-year-old from Detroit Lakes, Minn., shares this tidbit du jour: "France is going to fight on the side of Iraq. I was standing in the chow line and heard it."

Braun has sense enough to question that whopper. But he is tempted to believe it: "Somebody said they heard it on CNN. Sounded pretty good to me."

A little off the top

They are bald men walking. After a couple of weeks in the desert, soldiers are being shorn to the barely there style favored by the Army.

Inside and outside tents, the buzz of electric clippers is hard to miss, as soldiers take turns barbering each other. Most of these guys are self-taught hacks, but one is a certified pro.

First Lt. Claus Kreinschroeder, 31, is a licensed cosmetologist in his native Wisconsin. He got trained after a buddy who ran a salon invited him to work with him for a while.

"If you want a foil or color," he says, "I'm your man."

His present clientele has but three options: medium fade, high fade or high-and-tight, also known as short, shorter and shortest. Actually, the shortest is the clean shave, one Kreinschroeder sports at the moment.

"I'm kind of a fruitcake that way," he explains.

Lost in sand

The sandstorms returned the other night. For several hours, visibility was so poor that reports of lost soldiers flooded into the brigade command center.

One soldier got lost three times trying to walk a few hundred yards from the mess tent to his tent. Another said he wandered, Moses-like, for three long hours.

A casualty of the storm was the "morale, welfare and recreation" tent. The wind tore a large gash in its skin and broke off support poles. The place sagged and creaked ominously in the lingering winds.

No matter. Next morning, six soldiers sat there anyway. Shanghai Nights, an action comedy starring Jackie Chan, was on the big-screen TV, and they weren't about to let a little structural issue get in their way of what fun they could find.

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