LIFE ON SATHER
By Senior Airman Peter Dean, 107th AW Public Affairs
/ Published April 15, 2008
04/15/2008 -- The loadmaster announced, "buckle in and prepare for landing." Minutes later, the battle rattle and Kevlar donned Airmen were secure in their seats. The plane banked sharply to the right, then to the left, then plunged into a steep descent, at such a high rate of speed that if you didn't know better you may have thought the plane was going to crash. A combat landing they call it, the Airmen from the 107th Air Refueling Wing were now in a combat zone.
The engines kept running as the passengers and cargo were unloaded from the C-17 as fast as could be done safely; the flight crew didn't want to stay at Sather Air Base, Iraq, any longer than they had to. Passengers were then directed into the in-processing room where they sat cramped, shoulder-to-shoulder, still wearing battle rattle while filling out paperwork.
The passengers were picked up by squad representatives and taken to the lodging headquarters, which is located in Sather AB's recreation tent. After tent and trailer assignments were made, Airmen were driven to a central location in Palm Tree Resort, the name given to the living quarters. Palm Tree Resort consists of row after row of two-person trailers and eight-person tents. The long-term plan is to replace all the tents with trailers. After Airmen located their living quarters they spent the rest of the day personalizing the space they'd live in for the following four months.
The two-person trailers offer better climate control, a cleaner and fresher feel, and superior noise reduction. The eight-person tents offer only one advantage, privacy. With the use of shower curtains the tents are divided up into eight separate living quarters. Living in a tent, Airmen must condition themselves to the noise of an active, 24/7 combat zone air base. Blackhawk helicopters, C-17 cargo planes and small arms fire can be heard continuously, with each of the noisemakers only a stones throw away from Palm Tree Resort.
The command wastes no time preparing the new arrivals for what lies ahead. Briefings from both the base command and the individual shops start one after another at 8 a.m. on day two. By that afternoon the new arrivals are at work in their designated shop or with their squad.
Sather AB is located inside the center of the green zone at the Baghdad International Airport. Protected by numerous Army camps including Camp Liberty, Camp Victory, Camp Slayer and Camp Stryker, together known as Victory Base Complex. BIAP, a civilian airport, which isn't under Coalition control, is directly across the runway from Sather AB and considered Sather's most viable threat.
After a few days most Airmen have settled in and are familiar with the amenities that Sather has to offer. Much like any other air base, Sather offers a fully equipped fitness center that is open 24-hours a day seven-days a week. The fitness center has equipment for cardio workouts, such as treadmills, elliptical machines and stationary bikes. It also offers both free weights and machines for those who want to bulk up.
In an effort to motivate Airmen to utilize the fitness center, organized activities such as basketball and volleyball are held on a regular basis. Events such as the Bench Press Competition and the Defenders Run create a friendly atmosphere to compete. The winners walk away with not only a t-shirt, but also bragging rights-- at least for a week or two-- until the next competition when they may be dethroned.
The recreation center is located next to the gym, in a similar tent, approximately 60 feet by 100 feet. It's here that Airmen can play video games, watch a DVD on a large screen TV or sign out a DVD for the evening. The recreation center, like the gym, also works on improving morale by holding weekly tournaments in games such as poker, spades and euchre. Events such as 9-ball, foosball and bingo are also held. Prizes for all range from an AAFES gift card to a 14-inch color TV.
In order for Airmen to stay connected with the outside world Sather also has a Morale, Welfare and Recreation trailer that allows Airmen have 24/7 access to computers and telephones.
Sather's chapel offers services to all denominations throughout the week. The education trailer offers Airmen the ability to continue their studies and take tests while deployed.
As for the chow hall, which serves four meals a day--breakfast, lunch, dinner and a midnight meal--it is much like any other you may have been in. The staff does their best to serve tasty, nutritious mass produced meals. The exception is that each individual controls his or her own portion. How many cheeseburgers, how many fries, how many scoops of ice cream on their pie is up to them. A recent article in Air Force Times is titled "Get fat in Iraq." The article points out that the average troop gains 10 pounds while deployed. Without self-control it can easily happen.
The work schedule can very from shop to shop. For instance, the security forces work three 12 hour days and one day off; the civil engineers work six 12 hour days one day off; the rest of the shops fall somewhere in between. A day off typically includes a trip to a post or base exchange in one of the surrounding camps. The Sather AB Base Exchange is no bigger than a one-car garage, and has a limited supply of goods. Along with a larger PX, the surrounding Army bases have a Pizza Hut, a coffee shop and gift shops that carry local goods. The surrounding camps also offer the opportunity to see first hand the lifestyle Saddam Hussein was accustomed. Many of his palaces are located throughout the surrounding camps and are now occupied by the U.S. and allied forces.
Three months have now passed since the 107th ARW Airmen arrived. They are now preparing for their journey home. They are reducing their luggage by shipping items home, they are gathering addresses and phone numbers of their newly made friends, but most of all they are counting the days until they hear "Folks, buckle in and prepare for take off."