Joint Base Balad
As part of the drawdown of US forces in Iraq, Joint Base Balad was handed over to Iraqi forces on 8 November 2011, with the last elements of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing departing. At the time of the turnover, Joint Base Balad was the US's second largest facility in Iraq. At its peak, the joint Army-Air Force facility had housed over 36,000 personnel and contractors.
Joint Base Balad was located on Balad Air Base in northern Iraq, approximately 68 kilometers north of Baghdad. Balad Air Base was one of the largest Airbases in Iraq at the time of the US invasion in 2003. As of Febuary 2006, Balad Air Base, known to the US personnel stationed there as Joint Base Balad, was home to about 25,000 US troops. The base, initially known just as Camp Balad, was so large it had its own nicknamed neighborhoods. These included: 'KBR-land' (named after Kellogg, Brown, and Root, a Halliburton subsidiary company) and 'CJSOTF.' The latter stood for Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force and was home to unknown special operations units. The CJSOTF portion of the facility was surrounded by especially high walls and was, according to The Washington Post, so secretive that even the base Army public affairs chief had never been inside. There was a Subway sandwich shop, a Pizza Hut, a Popeye's, a 24-hour Burger King, 2 post exchanges (PXs) that sold an impressive array of goods, 4 mess halls, a minature golf course, and a hospital. The base had a strictly enforced on-base speed limit of 10 miles per hour.
The installation became the launching point for US Air Force F-16 fighters, US Army helicopters, and US Army military intelligence unmanned aerial systems. The Balad Airbase was in a very strategic location for Air Force missions in support of combat operations into Baghdad. F-16's were close enough to Baghdad that by the time they put their gear up they were in the combat zone. If the base recieved mortar fire, fighter pilots were able to quickly bombard insurgents just a couple of miles from the runway. They also could streak to anywhere over Iraq's 227,000 square miles in about 15 minutes, refueled by airborne tankers and propelled by an engine that produced an earth-shaking 24,000 pounds of thrust.
Even when the pilots returned to Balad having not fired a single bullet or missile they were often crucial to missions by just the roar of their jet engines. The deafening and menacing sound was often enough to scatter insurgents and to reassure soldiers that assistance was at hand. Furthermore, skilled pilots had been able to spot IEDs on the ground before they were detonated and warn soldiers below of the explosive's location.
Balad became the launching point for many various aircraft. From the C-5 Galaxy transport to the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle and everything in between. In addition, the US Army had about 200 helicopters, including Apaches, Black Hawks and Chinooks, based at Balad. It was the largest and busiest aerial port operation in all of Iraq during the US occupation. In a typical month at Balad, as much cargo and 5 times as many people would move through there as they did through Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
No only do airmen at Balad keep track everything coming onto and going from the base but also of all military aircraft operating in all of Iraq. Radar antennae at the base scan the entire country, providing a complete image of everything in the airspace over Iraq. This information is scrutinized and disseminated by a half-dozen airmen working in two bus-sized containers crammed with high-tech equipment.
Camp Balad was established about 70 miles north of Baghdad at Balad Air Base (some initial reported claim that Camp Balad was 40-42 miles north of Baghdad) very early on following the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Arnold Schwarzenegger toured to Kuwait and Iraq for the 4th of July, 2003. Schwarzenegger, who had not yet become Governor of California, visited with injured soldiers at the Army field hospital in Balad, Iraq. As of October 2003, the 21st Casualty Support Hospital was deployed at Camp Balad.
On the night of 3 July 2003, American forces were attacked in 2 separate incidents in Balad, 90 kilometers north-west of Baghdad. The well-coordinated ambushes led to 18 American soldiers being injured and left 11 Iraqi fighters dead. The attacks involved typical guerilla weapons, such as machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, as well as a new element, highly accurate mortars. These could be fired from as far away as 6.5 kilometers. In one attack on a highway near Balad, US soldiers were ambushed 3 times over a span of 8 hours by about 50 enemies lying in wait in trenches and behind earthen berms on both sides of the highway. The guerillas were armed with AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns. Previously, most attacks on American forces in Iraq had involved smaller groups of gunmen.
Less than 2 hours before the first ambush, 4 mortar rounds were fired into the grounds of Camp Anaconda. A total of 16 soldiers were wounded in a mortar attack against the logistics post near Balad, Iraq on 3 July 2003. Two of the soldiers, all members of the 4th Infantry Division, were evacuated from the area and were in stable condition. The rest were treated and released. This was the first instance of a mortar attack against US troops since President Bush declared an end to major combat on 1 May 2003.
Also nearby to Balad was FOB Carpenter. Private First Class Stephen E. Wyatt was on a convoy on 13 October 2003 that departed FOB Carpenter on a routine mission. Shortly thereafter the convoy encountered an IED that killed Wyatt. In his honor, FOB Carpenter was subsequently renamed FOB Wyatt.
More than 70 tents had been erected since airmen arrived at Balad Air Base in early November 2003.
In early 2004, units of the 105th Combat Engineer Battalion of the North Carolina Army National Guard were spread over 4 different locations in Iraq. Their missions were mainly basic life support, such as caring for quality of life such as water, housing, dining facilities for troops to mess (eat) in, and setting up for long range sustained support. Company A from Rockingham and Wadesboro was divided between FOBs Cobra and Wyatt north of Baghdad.
Also associated with the base was FOB Vanguard, located in Ad Dujayl, a southern section of Balad. The 210th Iraqi National Guard Battalion used both the Balad Air Base and FOB Vanguard. This facility was initially known as FOB Omaha.
As of late June 2004, the majority of Balad's pre-existing bunkers had been abandoned by the US military. Facility Engineer Team 21 out of Fort Devens, Massachusetts was the Department of Public Works for the basecamp. As of September 2003, the unit was working on a Master Plan for the base, which was seen as having the potential to get as big as 20,000 soldiers. As of May 2004 the base had 17,000 troops and was 12 1/2 miles in circumference. General John Abizaid, commander of US Central Command, told the House Armed Services Committee in March 2004 that ". . . we are making Balad Airfield our primary hub in the region, and the idea of doing that is because we need to have the Baghdad International Airport revert to civilian control."
Balad Air Base saw the opening of Burger King and Pizza Hut restaurants on 10 October 2004. Lines started forming outside the 2 fast-food restaurants about 9 AM, an hour before the grand opening. The base was also home to a Subway and Baskin Robbins.
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