Published on
the Times Online (UK)

US Troops in Iraq Forced to 'Rough It' on British Basra Base

Deborah Haynes

British soldiers select meals from the selection at the British dining facility at Basra military base (Peter Nicholls/The Times)

BASRA - The Americans knew that it would be tough taking over from the British in Basra but they never knew how tough: weird-tasting sausages, no wi-fi, rationed shower water and no Pizza Hut.

Other US bases in Iraq are like mini towns, equipped with coffee shops, well-stocked food stores and sprawling dining halls, serving up an unlikely range of food from burgers and stir-fry to ice-cream and cake. Constricted by a smaller budget, the main British base in Basra - which a US general will command from today - also offers various services to make the troops living there as comfortable as possible. The supplies are simply less extravagant and more, well, British.

"You only get one choice of meat," a US soldier said, voicing the general disappointment at the limited dining opportunities. He was particularly put off by British sausages: "They taste funny."

So different are the facilities from what the Americans are used to that an unofficial military website has warned the newcomers that they will have to rough it for a while. Staff Sergeant John Simms, a facilities manager helping to expand the base to accommodate US needs, is quoted as saying: "Nothing is comfortable in Basra right now, and won't be until we are done building."

There are no AT&T calling centres, internet access is limited and there could be a regime of "combat showers" - where water is rationed because of limited supply. The Americans, who have been moving into the base for several months, are busy rewriting the menus as a top priority. Now the choices include hot dogs, waffles, a pizza bar, sandwich bar and a salad bar.

"We have a lot more fatty stuff. That is why you see fat American soldiers and why British soldiers are so slender," said Sergeant Danny Choinard, 27, from New Hampshire, the acting manager of the Warhorse Café, as one of the former British dining halls is now named.

British dinners were accompanied by a cup of orange squash, blackcurrant squash, water, tea or coffee. In contrast, US meals are washed down with five types of fizzy drink, energy drinks, flavoured milk or fruit juice. "We have more of a selection," said Private First Class Cornelius Johnson, 25, from Kansas, who works at the Warhorse.

A Subway sandwich stall is up and running, as is a bright pink trailer selling fresh pretzels and "pretzel dogs" - a pretzel-flavoured stick with a frankfurter sausage through the middle. It is only a matter of time before Pizza Hut, a standard on US bases, arrives.

To complete the transition to the American way, out go the Mastiffs and Warriors, the British fighting vehicles, and in come the giant Humvees and MRAPs - mine-resistant ambush protected carriers. Out goes the British news on Sky; in come US news and sports channels - and more TV screens on which to watch them.

The modifications have found favour with departing British soldiers, who are enjoying a last-minute shopping spree, particularly at the newly opened PX, an American-style food-and-supplies store that replaced a similar shop run by the British Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes, the NAAFI.

"It is better," said Lieutenant Katie Fairley, 24, from Edinburgh, as she browsed a selection of mugs on a shelf. "There is more value for money, more choice."

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