By Brian Williams Anchor & “Nightly News” managing editor
NBC News
updated 1/27/2005 7:37:05 PM ET 2005-01-28T00:37:05

It is four square miles of Baghdad real estate. Around it, a triple perimeter: an outer blast wall of concrete, 15 feet high; inside that, coils of barbed wire, then another row of barriers. And as one woman told me: "It's a place that's probably more like being on another planet than anything else."

Welcome to the Green Zone. By day, the compound is home to more than 20,000 people, half of them Iraqi, half of them American. From civilians to private contractors and from State Department workers to military personnel, the Green Zone is home to all kinds of people.

Deep in the basement of a former Saddam palace is the place Sgt. Shaun Olsberg calls home.

"This is where I do my relaxing," he says. 

Olsberg is a mechanic. His crew of 36 keep 144 kinds of vehicles running.

"We've put 250,000 miles on all of our trucks in a little under a year," says one mechanic.

"We went through 300 or 400 tires easy!" says another.

It's a kind of artificial Baghdad, where at least one shift is always awake — a tense, but quiet oasis barely separated from the real city — where chaos, gridlock and violence prevail.

Sgt. Olsberg is with the First Cavalry Division. In fact, an entire brigade of the First Cavalry is here and in charge of defending the Green Zone. Among their duties — securing and frisking those entering checkpoints as many as six times upon arrival.

And while the green in Green Zone is supposed to stand for safe, it isn't always, and so precautions are taken. The most recent mortar attack was Wednesday, although like most of them it was inconsequential.

The food is institutional and decidedly American — bacon cheeseburgers and ice cream bars —provided by Kellogg, Brown and Root. The televisions are tuned to American channels, like ESPN. Most Americans drive armored SUVs, staying inside the walls to move between the few bars, restaurants and sandbagged living quarters.

Connie Butler manages the laundry. She's earning double what she would get back in Texas.

"My husband's disabled so this was an opportunity to come over and to take care of my family," she says.

For Butler, Sgt. Olsberg and the thousands of others here, the Green Zone is now home. But   despite all the U.S. efforts to put the very best face on this coming election, American civilians have been advised never to be alone, not to exit the Green Zone, it's simply not safe.

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