Unseen Iraq

Watching the Big Game, Far From Home

(Andrea Bruce - Twp)
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By Andrea Bruce
Washington Post Staff Photographer
Monday, September 29, 2008

Lighted only by the moon, its windows blacked out, a small U.S. outpost in southern Baghdad looks abandoned. Hulking armored vehicles, still hot from a recent mission, rest on imported gravel. Bats flutter and fall like a sudden twitch in the placid night sky.

For a moment, light hits a wall of sandbags. A door opens, held by a soldier dressed in shorts. He leads the way through the building to a room smelling of microwave popcorn and locker-room sweat.

The scene looks like a basement keg party, with its fluorescent lights and worn furniture. Soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division sit in rows before the television, on any chair they can find. The soldier is greeted with a warning smack on the legs. No one stands in front of the game.

Alabama vs. Arkansas. Out of respect, most soldiers are quiet, while others lean forward to hear the football cheers and announcers -- the sounds of autumn back home. It's the first quarter of the Sept. 20 showdown, and Alabama is ahead 14-0.

"They love it. I just kind of sit here and laugh at them," says Sgt. Adam Rainville, holding the unit's "force protection dog" like a baby. Another dog sleeps under homemade bookshelves stacked with donated books, inscribed with loving notations from small Texas and Ohio towns.

Dinner, from the main base, is late.

Another Alabama touchdown. 21-0. The guys swear or cheer.

During a commercial, the LT, as the lieutenant is known, stands in front of the television. Knowing how unpopular he is about to become, he takes a deep breath and tells his men to gear up. They have another mission.

A sigh of disappointment deflates the room. Some men, lips closed tight, hold back words of disappointment. Most don't.

Washington Post photographer Andrea Bruce is documenting the lives of people in Iraq in a feature, Unseen Iraq, appearing regularly in the World pages. For a photo gallery and previous columns, http://visit blog.washpost.com/unseen-iraq.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company