Video: Tastes of home at Camp Victory

By Brian Williams Anchor & “Nightly News” managing editor
NBC News
updated 3/7/2007 1:39:58 PM ET 2007-03-07T18:39:58

On the very day when they got word that so many more of their fellow soldiers had been killed, you would forgive a young lieutenant for showing some trepidation about the patrol he's about to lead into Baghdad — or the mission overall. But such trepidation is not for this lieutenant and not on this day.

"I think we should stay here until the job is done," says Lt. Quammie Semper. "You feel you have an investment? We do. I see that every day when we roll out of this gate."

The sergeant on this same patrol is on her third tour in Iraq. She says she keeps coming back and risking her life for the Iraqi civilians.

"I feel very proud being here to help them," says Sgt. Tina Neal. "I feel very proud for what we're doing for them."

Not all the soldiers are like her. Go to one of the new American outposts in a dangerous, exposed part of town and you will hear this from a staff sergeant, also on his third tour.

"I've seen too many people get injured for it," says Staff Sgt. Jason Simmer. "I've just seen enough."

The highest-ranking enlisted man on this base, Command Sgt. Maj. Jeff Mellinger, has been around a long time. He can readily spot the soldiers who have been out in it and badly need a break.

"They'll have signs and symptoms — dirty, tired, wrinkles on their face from looking down the road, staring at the same thing," Mellinger says. "Nobody here is riding for free."

Camp Victory in Iraq is a stressed-out, teeming city of American soldiers and those who support them who are keeping up a fast tempo in a spotty war. There are victories and defeats, desk jobs and dangerous missions, and for all of them, the military has tried to provide.

It is possible, in the middle of this 10-square-mile fenced-in corner of Baghdad desert, to pretend you're home. There's Popeye's, and there's Burger King. There's Cinnabon and some of Seattle's Best, and there's a spot for lunch right up against a concrete blast wall, with a canopy of camouflage netting.

There are other culinary reminders from home as well. There's Subway, and there's Pizza Hut. In this case, emphasis on the hut.

And inside the base PX, it's as if someone airlifted a Wal-Mart from America to Iraq.

Everything you could ever want to eat, drink, watch — including watches — and to wear. A massive attempt to provide. Yet soldiers’ complaints about life on base are as old as warfare.

"It’s not as action-packed — there's a lot of boredom, a lot of downtime, there's occasional small-arms fire — it’s not as action-packed as it looks," says Staff Sgt. Korbie Boughton.

From those back from the action, this station does provide a respite, but some aren't looking for any more action than they've already seen. Sgt. Kenneta Nelson thinks America ought to stay in Iraq even though we later found out she isn't.

"It's not possible to just up and go," Nelson says. "It's kinda like we're in the middle of something — even if I wasn't going home on Friday — considering my year is done, it's still not."

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