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Not Ali Baba's desert oasis; but it's the next best thing


Story Identification Number: 200335115840
Story by Lance Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

CAMP RYAN, Kuwait(Feb. 22, 2003) -- Two weeks ago, the bustling and noisy camp was just a flat piece of desert somewhere in Kuwait. With the help of local Kuwaiti contractors and Marines, the barren desert was transformed into a fully functional base camp in support of the Task Force Tarawa command element.

The camp, capable of supporting thousands of devil dogs at one time, was all built in less time than it normally takes to construct a house.

The Set-up:

"Marines and contractors have done an outstanding job in building up this camp. From the beginning the teamwork between the two allowed us to get this place up and running with great speed," said Lt. Col. Doug Thomas, the 2d Marine Expeditionary Brigade headquarters group commanding officer, and Task Force Tarawa headquarters commandant. "The living conditions here went from living in two-man tents to solid-floor 20-man tents in a matter of days."

Marine Air Support Squadron-1 was the first to arrive and begin the work to make the camp what it is today. Erecting more than 100 tents in four days, they quickly brought the quality of life out of the sand and made it as much like home as possible.

"The MASS-1 Marines, along with our engineers, established the camp perimeter with bulldozers and other heavy machinery," said Thomas. The Potomac, Md. native continued "after we set up the perimeter security and tents, we could move in the things that make field life almost enjoyable: Hot food, showers, laundry, toilets and mail services."

Many of the Marines imagined living in the field equated to getting up and going to bed dirty, wearing the same clothes day in and day out, and eating MREs.

"When I first got to camp, I thought it was going to be just like in the movies, living in the dirt and everything," said Private First Class Patrick J. Wilson, an administration clerk and native of North Myrtle Beach, S.C. "My biggest motivator is the hot meals. The shower and laundry are great too. We have a lot here to make our lives better."

The Food:

Setting up Camp Ryan involved something the Marine Corps is using more and more to get support jobs done: civilian contractors. Although the Marine Corps is capable of totally supporting itself, some amenities, like portable toilets, require the use of contractors to maintain. To avoid canned rations for meals or 'meals ready to eat', contracted civilian kitchens are used to provide the Marines mess hall here with things like yogurt, milk, fruit juices, and fresh vegetables.

"It takes a lot of team work from the mess men, cooks, and contracted civilians to feed so many Marines," said Gunnery Sgt. Stephen K. Vialva, the assistant mess hall manager here. The Brooklyn, N.Y. native, added "Marines knowing they won?t be eating MREs three times a day, and knowing that chow will be hot, definitely gives them something to look forward to."

The Showers:

In addition to hot chow, Marines also enjoy hot showers. The showers are in special trailers equipped with 12 showers and 12 sinks to every trailer. The camp has four shower trailers for the Marines to use.

"These are definitely not your average field showers. We have tanks of hot water, and the showers run on power around the clock," said Master Sgt. Maurice E. Johnson, the MEB headquarters group logistics chief and a native of Guthrie, Kentucky. "We always exercise force protection with the contactors to make sure they are safe to work in our camps and around Marines," he added.


Safety never ceases to be of paramount importance, both in the rear and on the front lines. "It's my job to make sure Marines are as safe as they can be, whether walking the camp or filling their canteens," said Sgt. Lisa A. Roy, the Task Force Tarawa ground safety specialist. "Every day we find ways to make the camp safer. Whether it's marking concertina wire or making sure all the vehicles have ground guides to clear the path when they're moving. Keeping everybody safe means more Marines will be able to do their jobs."


When not on the job, many Marines spend time writing letters home. Mail call is a very anticipated event, and is made possible by the mail clerks working in the camp.

"We have vehicles making trips to deliver and pick up mail every day," said Sgt. Julia A. Arambula, the mail chief here. "Because of where we are and what we're doing, the mail is free for Marines as long as the letter doesn't weigh over 13 ounces. This means Marines can write as many letters as they want, and send them all free. I know that definitely will make some Marines happy."


Another thing that will make many Marines happy is all the extra money they will receive. Because of their location and the imminent danger they may face, extra pay is allotted into their direct deposit account at their banks. The Marines in charge of making sure the right amount of pay goes to the right places is the Task Force Tarawa personnel and administration center, located in the camp. The center is open to any Marine during business hours to answer questions about their pay and where their money is going.

"We are accountable for thousands of Marines and their pay. Making sure all their information is up to date and making sure their pay is going to the right place is what we're here for," said Cpl. Lee M. Flowers, an administration clerk at the disbursing center. The Topeka, Kan. Native went on to say "we cut orders in the field, maintain service record books, everything we do back at Camp Lejeune we do here."


In addition to not having to worry about their pay, their health is also well looked after. Making sure the camp keeps up high standards of hygiene and cleanliness means Marines won't be put out of action due to disease.

The group aid station aboard camp maintains a staff of medical personnel 24-hours a day, seven days a week. "We can handle anything having to do with cuts, bruises and basic pharmacy needs," said Chief Petty Officer Lisa M. Blazer, the leading CPO of the group aid station here. She added "if the Marines' condition requires he or she be medically evacuated from the camp, we can make that happen as well."

Religious Services:

Something else available to Marines every day of the week is the camp chapel. Offering morale and recreation programs like movie nights, religious study groups, and religious services.

"We offer round the clock counseling services, and other programs to help Marines feel more at home," said Petty Officer 3rd Class (RP) Robert E. Brown. The Peru, Ind. native said "the chaplain's office doesn't just offer religious services, we offer everything a person could need to help them be a better person. From a library to a refuge from daily work to recreation, we offer a lot to Marines and Sailors." With all of the amenities put together by the different sections, many Marines are enjoying their stay here.

"My goal is to make this where Marines can focus on the mission and not be miserable in the process," said Thomas.

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