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thedrifter
01-17-06, 01:38 PM
Making do in 'Driftwood'

By Christian Lowe
Times staff writer

HIT, Iraq - Don't look for happy hour specials or ladies' nights here. This isn't the place for bachelor parties or a night out with the boys, unless your idea of blowing off steam is warming up by a burning barrel of empty MRE bags and sleeping on a cold dirt floor.

Think five o'clock shadows and unbloused cammies, not pasties and G-strings. That's life for the leathernecks of 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines.

They may call their Alamo-like compound on the eastern shore of the Euphrates River "Combat Outpost Driftwood" - named after the infamous topless bar just outside the front gate of Camp Lejeune, N.C. - but life here is a far cry from the Jaeger shots and lap dances of the favored leatherneck watering hole.

And it's a lot better than life at the command post.

Forget the two hot meals per day and the showers at the Bravo Company command post just a quarter-mile away. There's too much brass there, and the first sergeant won't leave you alone.

"It sucks over there," said Pfc. Cameron Carr, 25, an infantryman from Sunnyvale, Calif., who much prefers life at Driftwood. "Over there, they've got the [commanding officer] and the [noncommissioned officers] watching the [bathrooms]."

As the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit came ashore, the battalion landing team took over rustic combat outposts and forward operating bases left by the unit they relieved here - Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines.

Some of the 1/2 Marines haven't taken a shower since they deployed to Iraq from their ships in mid-December.

With faces covered in stubble and heads bundled under mismatched beanies and Kevlar helmets to stave off the biting cold, the leathernecks man their guard posts, go out on foot patrols and drive their Humvees through the sleepy farming villages that dot this primarily agricultural area.

There's no electricity or heat at Driftwood, and most of the Marines don't have cots. Mail comes infrequently, and contact with home is nearly nonexistent.

Every time the Marines with 1st Platoon make a trip to Bravo's command post, they pilfer food and other needed supplies. On one trip, they returned to Driftwood with a bag of pre-made meatballs and sacks of pita bread. It's life at the bare minimum, but the devil dogs make do.

So far, things have been pretty quiet. The Iraqis are friendly and only too happy to spice up the Marines' day by selling eggs, cigarettes and even a live chicken to cook over a makeshift fire pit.

The leathernecks use old shipping crates to stoke the flames while telling stories about their girls back home and the things they plan to do when they return.

Rumors fly on the rooftop guard posts over the date the MEU will leave Iraq.

On one cool morning, a heated debate ensued over whether the MEU commander, Col. Kenneth McKenzie, will get his wish for a 30-day extension, leaving the MEU here until March.

"I'm telling you, the communications guys are the first guys to know, and they say we're leaving in mid-February," says the 1st Squad leader, Sgt. Anthony Sanders, 29, of Winston-Salem, N.C. But others on the roof shake their heads in disbelief.

The combat outpost sits on a dirt rise flanking a hard-top road with intermittent traffic passing by all day. Iraqi children walk to and from school, waving at the Marines as they meander by, wearing backpacks and warm jackets.

The troops pulling security on the rooftop pass their days watching the kids play soccer on a small dirt lot just west of Driftwood, quietly rooting among themselves for one of the sides to score.

But soon, all good things must come to an end. The Marines of 1st Platoon will have to rotate back to the command post, with all its rules and decorum.

This Driftwood might not have the barely clad glitter of its namesake hot spot back home, but it'll likely be missed just as much.

"I heard they're going to post a watch on the showers over at the CP to make sure no one messes them up," one Marine said as his comrades groaned with frustration.

"We'll have to do working parties and fill sandbags all day long."