Besides the heat, the distance from home and the potentially-deadly daily hazards of the job, Iowa National Guard soldiers stationed in Iraq are also enduring another challenge — cramped conditions. Soldiers of the 133rd Infantry Detachment spend long days driving the roads of Iraq, keeping supply convoys safe. Staff Sergeant Dennis Boge of Dubuque says it’s a demanding schedule with only a few days off a month.
Boge says “It’s far from a 9-to-5 job. It starts when the mission needs to start and ends when it is completed, which can sometimes be days later.” When soldiers get off the road, many like to relax in their tents, keen to take some time away from the insurgent campaign outside the base.
Sergeant Andrew Connolly is also from Dubuque and says downtime is a must. Connolly says “Once you’re out there it’s ‘game on’ and you get tired and burned out from looking on both sides of the road for bombs, for IEDS, and you get in here and it’s time to relax.” The tents in which the Guard members are housed are huge and dozens of men live in each hundred-foot-long tent.
Specialist Daniel Tootell of Guttenberg says they’re packed in like sardines, but it’s something that just becomes part of life. Tootell says “We have 48 people in this tent, you get used to it. We’ve been living together for six months now, seven months now.” Each person’s total personal space is tight, somewhere around 50-square-feet or less.
Sergeant Jeseday LaFella of Wyoming (Iowa) says conditions are close. LaFella says “My space starts right here. I have the top bunk. It pretty much goes down in here, this area here. It’s pretty much four-by-five feet.” Soldiers like Specialist Michael Bebensee of Fulton, Illinois, say privacy is at a premium and although they all get along pretty well, sometimes it would be nice to get away. Bebensee says “Sometimes you’ve got a guy underneath you or a guy sleeping on top of you. It’s kinda’ like family with your big brother or big sister, living so close together, after a while you just want be away from each other.”
Specialist Ray Zirkelbach of Monticello is also a state representative. Zirkelbach says the forced comradeship is good in some ways. Zirkelbach says “You can never get over missing your family, though. I miss my family a lot, but it also helps that your fellow soldiers are also some of your best friends in the world.” The Iowa Guard unit will be gone for a total of 18 months, counting the time the spent training prior to shipping out for Iraq.