Forward Operating Bases and Their Place in Military Strategy: Background information when reading Fobbit

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Fobbit

by David Abrams

Fobbit by David Abrams
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    Sep 2012, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Beyond the Book:
Forward Operating Bases and Their Place in Military Strategy

Print Review

David Abrams' novel Fobbit is set primarily at Triumph, a fictional Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Baghdad, Iraq.

Almost always very close to the action, FOBs are secure areas where military operations are planned and front-line soldiers are fed and housed when off duty. FOBs can be low-tech: generally tents or bunkers surrounded by minimal defenses. Others are made up of reinforced boxcar-like containers, and all are more heavily fortified. A typical modern FOB will be surrounded by high blast-resistant walls – often topped by concertina wire - and have multiple guarded entry points (at least two, one for vehicles and one for personnel). Large stone-filled gabions (mesh cages) or smaller barricades are placed around the base to prevent a vehicle from being able to ram personnel-filled structures. "Hedgehogs" – spiky metal objects that look like huge children's play "jacks" – are frequently chained together and used to impede free movement around the base. Bunkers may also be covered by a shell of high density polyethylene to protect them from overhead attack.

A game of soccer at FOB Prosperity in Iraq Sometimes the military uses captured enemy structures as FOBs, minimizing the work necessary to create and secure a working base. In the Iraq War, the U.S. used Saddam Hussein's palaces, most notable of which were FOB Prosperity in Baghdad and FOB Danger in Tikrit.

The role of the FOB has expanded in the 21st century. New technologies require the presence of more non-combat troops such as those who maintain the base's computer infrastructure. In addition, military psychologists have begun to realize the importance of FOBs in providing a place for front-line soldiers to relax in relative safety, affording much needed relief and helping to maintain their mental health. Also important to the troops' well-being is their ability to easily contact those back home via newly available media such as video chats, e-mail, and the Internet.

Still, conditions at FOBs vary widely. In some cases they're little more than places to sleep and eat, but others can be very elaborate. An article at Globalsecurity.org says of FOB Danger in Iraq:

For many Soldiers, a deployment to Iraq may mean long work days in a hot and dangerous environment. But the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Center on Forward Operating Base Danger gives the troops, including those visiting from other FOBs, place to unwind during their precious free time. The MWR center offers a variety of activities and entertainment for soldiers. For the fitness fanatic, the palace gym has a full weight room with stationary bikes and punching bags. Additionally, the gym offers "Thai boxing" classes every Thursday night at 1900 and step aerobics and kickboxing classes Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 0600. Fitness aside, the MWR has a sports bar, an internet cafe and a movie theater. The sports bar features two big screen televisions, billiards tables, a bar stocked with snacks and beverages, and a "Music Night" every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 1930-0100. The movie theater shows three movies a day, the internet cafe has several video game systems and computers for soldiers to check their e-mail. The bazaar sells CDs, DVDs, clothes and other souvenirs. Soldiers living on FOB Danger say they are happy with the range of services the MWR center provides. Officials at the center constantly search for ways to help soldiers in the combat zone relieve stress. Nolen Andrews, MWR coordinator, believes he might have found the perfect solution: Comedy. On 02 April 2004, he hosted the initial "1ID Comedy Jam," an open microphone comedy competition for amateur comics."

Although more or less a safe haven for off-duty soldiers, FOBs aren't completely secure in spite of the military's best efforts. Enemies view them as prime targets, and attacks have been common in both Iraq and Afghanistan. For example, FOB Salerno near the city of Khost in southern Afghanistan was shelled so frequently it garnered the nickname "Rocket City."

Medical checkup at Salerno FOB in Afghanistan One tends to think of FOBs as present only in war zones, and indeed the United States maintains a large number in Afghanistan. There are, however, nine FOBs even within the United States, which support missions at home. For example FOB Border Wolf in Deming, New Mexico, supports the mission of Operation Jump Start to patrol the U.S. border. FOBs within the country are set up as a solution when the local towns might not have the manpower or infrastructure to support military missions. When Operation Jump Start was announced by President George W. Bush, Deming had too few residents to support a large National Guard presence, so an FOB was set up to provide support and backup.

For pictures of Tikrit and Saddam Hussein's palaces, click on the video below:

Pictures from defenseimagery.mil. Prosperity picture by Staff Sgt. Sean A. Foley. Salerno picture by Staff Sgt. John Zumer.

Article by Kim Kovacs

This article is from the October 3, 2012 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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