News: Forward Operating Base Bernstein: A Home Away From Home
By Spc. Angie Johnston
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division
TUZ KHURMATU, Iraq – Forward Operating Base Bernstein is a quiet, unassuming place in the middle of an old Iraqi airfield. It's a far cry from a super-FOB like Speicher in Tikrit, but it has everything the Soldiers need - and they love being there.
The al-Tuz Airfield, which FOB Bernstein sits in the middle of, is just shy of nine miles West of Tuz Khurmatu on the map. These days, the airfield is affably shared between coalition forces and the Iraqi army's 16th Brigade.
FOB Bernstein is mainly staffed by Soldiers from Company B, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, but there are a few Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division Soldiers (out of Hawaii) peppered into the mix. There are local nationals living on the FOB to interpret Arabic and Kurdish and workers from Uganda who help out wherever they're needed. Everyone fits in, too; there's a sense of solidarity noticeable between the guys - no matter their ethnicity or citizenship - when you see them together.
The Soldiers, the interpreters and the U.S. government-employed workers intermingle every day. Everyone shares the same dining facility and the same Internet and phone connections at the Morale, Welfare and Recreation building. According to the FOB's Deputy Mayor, Sgt. Andrew Defista, "I've learned more Arabic here in the last month than I did in a year last deployment."
Defista says that as deputy mayor, he's been working on significant improvements all over the FOB, including a very motivated quest for personal Internet connections for the guys.
Strolling around Bernstein, it wouldn't be surprising to find Soldiers doing the things they might do at home – like cooking Spam and eggs on an electric griddle. Sgt. James Jiminez, Spc. David Hall and Spc. Jonathan Crenshaw with the 51st Signal Battalion (Expeditionary) out of Fort Lewis, Washington, often do just that. Other Soldiers play frisbee, lounge on lawn chairs and have movie parties to pass the time.
Pfc. Matthew Wikaryasz, an Infantryman on his first deployment, credits the occupants of the FOB for its pleasant atmosphere. "They keep coming in with new supplies and making constant improvements."
"This is my first deployment, too, so I can't really compare it to anything... but I'm happy with it," chimed in Pfc. Donny Weeks, another Infantryman stationed at FOB Bernstein.
FOB Bernstein has been gradually improving over the years since Operation Iraqi Freedom began.
The FOB now boasts a permanent dining facility, a fully functional Morale, Welfare and Recreation building and a shop run by local nationals where Soldiers can purchase DVDs, electronics and good old-fashioned Coca-Cola in a glass bottle.
It's not always the amenities (like dozen-aisled post exchange buildings, sparkling dining facilities and laundry drop-off service) that make a FOB in Iraq a home away from home; sometimes it's simply the spirit of camaraderie that develops while Soldiers are living in an intimate, close-knit community.