Bondsteel A Small City
by Keith Nordstrom
BY CRAIG BORGES / SUN CHRONICLE STAFF
CAMP BONDSTELL, Kosovo -
A soldier's life at Camp Bondsteel isn't easy, but it could
The base, which serves as
headquarters for U.S. military operations in Kosovo, is
really a tiny city, providing housing, food, medical and
just about every other service for more than 2,500 soldiers
and 2,000 civilian contract workers, many of them Brown
& Root workers, the Texas firm that built the base.
Army tents are few with
most soldiers living in heated seahuts with hot showers
and bathroom facilities close by.
There is a movie theater that shows two films nightly; a
gym that stays open 23 hours a day; two vast mess halls
that offer a variety of meals and include salad and dessert
bars; a cappuccino bar run by local Kosovars; a pizzeria;
a Burger King; seven-day laundry services; a PX looks more
like a Kmart; a chapel; a continuing education center; a
post office and the best hospital in Kosovo.
Life at Bondsteel wasn't
always this good. When U.S. troops first moved into the
area after driving Serb troops back to Serbia following
a 78-day air war in 1999, there was nothing at this spot
but grass, and lots of it.
The first troops to arrive
formed a circle with tanks and erected tents on the lush
grass in the center. Since than the base has grown to cover
900 acres of former agricultural land, surrounded completely
by high metal fences topped with razor wire. It is the largest
U.S. military camp since Da Nang in Vietnam.
Sgt 1st Class Brian Thomas
says the Army learned a lesson from when it set up shop
at Camp McGovern near Brcko in Bosnia after the war there
ended in 1995.
"Those guys were living
in mud and wet tents for a long time," he says. "The
Army didn't want a repeat of that. They had a motto, 'soldiers
in seahuts in 90 days' and they kept to that vow."
The long, brown seahuts
contain several housing units that house five to six soldiers
"They dug their own
wells when they came in and set up their own power plants,"
Thomas, a public affairs officer at the camp, says of the
soldiers who built it. "It's pretty amazing that they
pulled this off so quickly."
The major problem now, he
says, is mud because all of the roads lack asphalt.
"They didn't want to
put asphalt down because it infers permanence," he
says. "But they're now planning to do it because when
it rains, all this dirt just turns to muck."
Most soldiers stationed
here, including those with the U.S. Army Reserve's 399th
Combat Support Hospital out of Taunton, work 12-hour shifts.
One way to kill time once
work is through is by taking classes at the continuing education
center. The center is run by the University of Maryland
and City College of Chicago and offers a wide variety of
classes, all free of charge for soldiers.
Sports play a big role in
the life of soldiers stationed at Bondsteel. Soccer fields
and volleyball courts are often full and the gym, a vast
warehouse-type building that includes a basketball court
and all the newest exercise equipment, is jammed in the
Alcohol is prohibited on
base, but the cappuccino bar takes the place of the local
pub. Soldiers, their M16s resting by their side, hang out
there for hours, sipping double mochas and other sweet drinks
while discussing the day's events.