Base Life: Risk and Routine in Baghdad

Army Spc. Joseph Hill telephones his wife.

Army Spc. Joseph Hill, 20, phones his pregnant wife from a phone trailer at Forward Operating Base Rustamiyah in Baghdad. She was half asleep, but "it was still good to her voice," Hill says. Ben Gilbert, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Ben Gilbert, NPR

Most of the U.S. troops in Iraq are there for a yearlong combat tour away from family and home. The U.S. counter-insurgency fight is being waged from dozens of forward operating bases across the country.

Amenities on these bases, commonly known as FOBs, have improved two years into the war. Eastern Baghdad's FOB Rustamiyah is housed in a former Iraqi Army officer's academy. The majority of U.S. soldiers there go on patrol and combat missions nearly every day. In their downtime, soldiers try to reach loved ones back home or pass the time with video games, TV or workouts at the gym.

The air-conditioned Liberty Center features nightly movies, music and pool tables. All are designed to provide relief from the stresses, heat and tedium of the soldiers' mission.

But boredom can turn to unwanted excitement at a moment's notice. Insurgents last month fired several rockets at the base. No one was killed — the rockets caused some minor property damage — but the base was on heightened alert for the next few days and soldiers were left on edge about another rocket or mortar strike.