COMBAT OUTPOST ELLIS, Iraq -- Marines are known for their ability to overcome and adapt to almost any situation whether it is actual combat or their living conditions.
Marines from the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, have been living in what has been called the most austere living conditions in all of Iraq since late November when they began operations in the Haditha Triad of Iraq.
Starting with a dusty bare piece of ground in the desert just outside of Barwanah, Iraq, Marines and sailors with BLT 2/4 have been seeing some new changes happening to Combat Outpost Ellis in recent days.
According to Capt. Jeffrey Brooks, camp commandant for BLT 2/4, the main purpose for the changes to the camp are mostly for the morale of the Marines.
“We’ve had several visitors come out here and say this is austere, but now, it’s not the greatest but it’s far better (than it was),” said Brooks, a San Diego, native.
The general purpose tents set up around the COP, which Marines, sailors and some soldiers have been calling home for previous months, were heated by gas heaters and had dirt floors.
Brooks explained part of the renovations being made to the COP are the additions of wooden floors, electricity, and heating and air conditioning units. Other changes include a new chow hall, new shower, restroom facilities and several new office spaces.
"We’ve been here now for an extended period of time. It wasn’t the 30 to 35 days we were initially planning for,” said Brooks. “Now we’ve got to the point where you can’t gut it out and suck it up, you’ve got to have a plan to build for the duration and by doing that—with lights you can turn on and off as you need them, with a/c units—the Marines can be far more comfortable,” said Brooks.
Some Marines have made their own “home improvements” in their tents to make life a little easier. Brooks said it is a testament to the ingenuity of the Marines based here to come up with their own ways to build up their morale.
“They’re resourceful, they’re ingenious and it’s just a typical Marine attitude—what do we have and what can we do to make it better. As long as it’s safe, and it’s not way out in left field—good on them,” Brooks said.
One of the first Marines to make his own improvements to his living space, commonly referred to as a “hooch,” was Gunnery Sgt. Aaron Salyi, an explosive ordnance disposal Marine with Combat Logistics Battalion 15 in support of BLT 2/4.
Salyi explained that many of the modifications made to his hooch were out of necessity first, such as a floor, and shelving for gear, but eventually became a chance for him and his Marines to make their tent more like a home.
“I think it’s the responsibility of every senior Marine to make their living conditions as comfortable as possible,” said Salyi. As Marines are in the defense, it’s your responsibility to make constant improvements. I think if the materials present themselves, and you and your Marines have the aptitude and they show a desire, making anything better makes their morale better,” said Salyi.
It is hard not to notice the EOD tent when walking by it. Aside from looking just like any normal GP tent, a look down the side of it will show the difference.
Taking necessity one step further, needing shade from the sun, protection from dust and using the area around their tent as a place to cook food outside, Salyi and his Marines built a small patio in the rear of their tent that includes a back door that opens up into the rest of the camp.
“We were only limited by our imagination and the drive of the Marines. I can’t say enough about what they were able to accomplish. The one thing I will say is that we didn’t take or do anything that anybody didn’t have the ability to do, we just went a little further,” said Salyi, a native of San Diego.
Improving on what they have and making it more personalized is important he said. It gives the Marines a place to look forward to coming home to at the end of the day.
“It’s nice to come home to. It really does feel like home. I would say—not because our tent is any better than anyone else’s—but because we took ownership of our space,” said Salyi. “We tried to say ‘Hey, this is our spot’. We really enjoy being back here and we have no reason to leave unless we get a call. It feels like home in here,” he added.
One Marine noticing the changes going on around the camp was Cpl. Lucas Shook, a sensitive site exploitation Marine supporting BLT 2/4.
Shook explained, when first arriving here in late November, he along with many other Marines were dealing with challenging living conditions.
“Life is getting better though, and it makes a person appreciate what they have back home,” Shook said.
Of all the improvements being made to the camp, Shook appreciates the new floors and the a/c being installed in the tents the most.
“We were working with a stove type heater that would always break down. With summer around the corner and temperatures above a hundred degrees, you wouldn’t want to drag on during the day suffering in the heat,” said Shook, a native of Grand Rapids, Mich.
Like Salyi, Shook and the Marines he shares a hooch with have added some of their own modifications to their living space in an effort to make things slightly more comfortable.
“We’ve built a door and shelves. We always try to improve everyday and try to make it more comfortable,” Shook said.
Though the COP is far from being a base of the likes of Al Asad, things are getting better around the camp and life is improving for the Marines, said Brooks.
“It’s austere. It’s not like Al Asad. At the end of November it was just plain desert and today we have tents with floors and heating and cooling units, but it’s definitely no Al Asad or one of the large bases. It’s a battalion COP and it’s definitely front-line,” said Brooks.
BLT 2/4 is deployed to Iraq as part of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and has been conducting operations in Barwanah since late November.