Mark Geary’s Reporter Notebook: Camp Shelby Wednesday, August 25

Staff Sgt. Daniel Westwater of Cedar Rapids with the Iowa National Guard's HHC Company, 2d Brigade Combat Team Headquarters shows off his Iowa Hawkeyes twin-sized blanket in the barracks at Camp Shelby on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2010, near Hattiesburg, Miss. Westwater still had the set of sheets from his last deployment in Iraq in 2005. (Jim Slosiarek)

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By Becky Ogann

CAMP SHELBY - As I mentioned yesterday, we’re staying at a different part of Camp Shelby right now. About one hundred soldiers are stationed out here with us. Instead of cinderblock buildings, soldiers sleep in tents. But, they’re not your traditional tent.

These tents have fluorescent lights inside, air conditioning and a cement floor. From the outside, you’d have no idea the tents are this high-tech. There are bunk beds inside and even large lockers for troops to store their gear.

This morning, soldier’s alarms started going off at 4:30 a.m. One guy’s alarm was the song, “Summer of ’69.” After that music came on, all the lights came on, too. We went to sleep last night around 1:00 a.m., so we didn’t get up right away. Around 5:15 a.m., we were awake and getting ready for the day. The moon was still shining.

The latrine is about a block and a half away from our tent. Water pressure out here seems to be unreliable. When you’re brushing your teeth or taking a shower, the water pressure can suddenly drop down to a trickle. But, then it gets back to normal fairly quickly.

Breakfast included eggs, sausage, bacon, grits, fruit, coffee and juice. We all needed that coffee.

We spent the morning putting more of our stories together for KCRG, The Gazette and the internet. We were able to pay a small fee to access WIFI which allowed us to send back video and text much faster. Before we found the WIFI, we were using a cell phone card which didn’t always work well.

Many of the soldiers who are out here with us right now are from the Iowa City area. We’ve come across quite a few Hawkeye fans (and a few Iowa State fans, too). A lot of the soldiers say they enjoy talking about sports to pass the time when they’re not training.

We spent some time today at a place called the Camp Shelby Post Exchange. People often refer to it as the “PX.” When you walk inside, it looks like a typical convenience store. However, all of the customers carry rifles and wear uniforms. It’s an interesting sight. The PX has just about anything a soldier could ever want. The store stocks bottled water, chips, candy, magazines, dvds, clothing, pillows, towels, cookies, crackers and even flat screen TVs! In case you’re wondering, we actually did come across a group of soldiers who bought one of those TVs.

Next, we met up with SSgt. Mark Lansing and his wife, Sgt. First Class Heidi Lansing. They’re married and deploying together to Afghanistan. They’re from Ely. Both are “supply sergeants” for different companies. A supply sergeant essentially ensures soldiers have everything they need. The Lansings make sure troops have ice, weapons and even office supplies. Their jobs are stressful, time consuming and critically important. We spent a lot of time with the Lansings as they ran a few errands at Camp Shelby. Even though they’re deploying together, they don’t see each other as often as you might expect. They aren’t even supposed to eat in the same chow hall because they are members of separate companies. That’s the military’s rule. They both truly understand each other and rely on each other for support and strength. Watch for their story on KCRG-TV9 this week.

At dinner, we had the choice of breaded chicken or pasta. I chose the chicken and it wasn’t that bad. Candied yams, mashed potatoes, rice and rolls were also on the menu. Camp Shelby has a drink machine which dispenses Coca-Cola products, fruit punch, water, etc. Those machines also include something that’s simply labeled “purple drink.” Many soldiers have found that humorous. The purple drink is a grape flavored beverage.

Finally, we headed back to our living area out on the Forward Operating Base. Soldiers here were having a much different meal than we had just eaten. As part of the training at Camp Shelby, the Iowa National Guard wants soldiers to learn and understand Afghan culture. In order to do that, they want these men and women to be familiar with Afghanistan’s food. Beef kabobs, yellow rice with carrots and raisins, a mixed salad and flatbread are just a few of the items on the menu. Soldiers we spoke to said they were willing to try the food, but would rather have had a more traditional American meal.

We spent the rest of the evening writing and editing all of the stories we collected today. Tomorrow is our last day here at Camp Shelby. It’s been a lot of work, but we had a great time here. Can’t believe it’s almost over.

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