Thursday, June 15, 2006


You can tell the combat troops. First, they tend to be dirtier than the rest of us, whether it’s the raccoon-eyed look that results from wearing goggles in the air turret of a humvee, or the general sweat and grim resulting from a dusty foot patrol. And, although everyone here carries a weapon, it’s usually only the infantry (or troops serving as infantry) that carry anything other than the standard M16. Combat troops seem to prefer the shorter M4 carbine, often adorned with add-on lights, lasers, etc. Usually there is also someone in the group with the M249 automatic rifle slung over their shoulder (22.08 lbs loaded!), or the even new M240B medium machine gun (weighing in at a hefty 28 lbs!). And - a key point here - unlike the new airman who is deployed for the first time, combat troops tend to handle their weapons with an ease born of long familiarity.

Generally, the Infantry may usually be found on Forward Operating Bases, or FOBs, the name of which reminds me of those old triangular Fire Support Bases from Viet Nam. A FOB, however, might actually be quite large, and can include headquarters up to the division level. Less often, the grunts may occupy a Patrol Base, or PB, which can consist of as little as some abandoned building occupied by a single platoon (that is, about 30 guys). PBs are usually supported by FOBs, and the troops in a PB rotate back and forth from the main base. The idea is that to win the hearts and minds, you have to get out there and interact with the locals.

In contrast, the rear area support guys with pressed uniforms (like Public Affairs, or Finance) can usually be found at a larger Logistics Support Activity, such as LSA Anaconda, at Balad. Or with the cool State-Department-types in sun glasses that you see in the International Zone. That leaves us in the middle, the guys (and girls) who live on the FOBs with the grunts, but do not accompany the combat troops when they go to work They call us FOBBITs.

There is some degree of implied derision here, as every front line troop wants to think that the guy even one echelon back has it so much easier than he does, but it is for the most part a friendly rivalry. Although they would be loath to admit it, FOBBITs are a necessary accoutrement to this war, providing the Intel, communications, and fire support the modern grunt needs to survive. In fact, I’d venture that without FOBBITs, the infantry would be much less secure, and much less likely to accomplish their mission, when they did venture out into the red zone. But of course, that’s just another FOBBIT talking.

And when they really get on our nerves, we call the grunts Haji Bait (but usually not to their faces).


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