A Tale of Two Wars:
I wish the HVAC industry would do more to convince the public of the importance of ventilation to good health.
I served in Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom and the HVAC situation was completely different in each situation.
I entered the Marines in 1988 and went to Saudi Arabia in August of 1990. Prior to Desert Storm the only experience the Marines had in the desert was the ill-fated Beirut excursion which cost the lives of 243 Marines and Sailors.
When I entered the Marines in 88 I went to Hawaii and joined the legendary Charlie Company 1st Battalion Third Marine Brigade under the even more legendary Captain Christopher Conlin. Captain Conlin would become the famous Colonel Conlin who led a full regiment into Iraq in 2003. At that time we trained to be jungle fighters with the idea that we would fight communist again in Thailand, the Philippines, or Indonesia. We pretty much operated the same way Marines had in Viet-Nam. We humped the hills all day and set up perimeters at night and sent out patrols. Then we would get up and do it all again the next day. When I was told that Iraq had invaded Kuwait I was sitting exposed to a brisk wind on a volcanic mountain in Hawaii. I had no idea where Kuwait was. I knew it was close to Iran somewhere, but at that time I thought Tel Aviv was in Egypt. I did know how to live in the dirt and hump a machine-gun to the top of a hill and set it up.
The Marines had knowledge of operating in the desert by experience at the bases at Twenty-Nine- Palms and Barstow, California.
When I got to Saudi there wasn’t an air conditioner in sight. HMMWVs didn’t have armor or air-con. The only refrigeration units I can remember where in regimental perimeters at the chow hall. In warm weather grunts lived under a camouflage net and in the winter each platoon got a GP large tent. The tent was for Marines, NCOs, and Officers. We all just piled in and lived in the stink, and man we got sick. We got rained on, the floor turned to mud, guys got in fights and we made do and had a pretty good time. We would hang up ponchos to afford a little privacy. The air would become dank and colds would be passed around. We lived like that for about four months once we got the GP tents.
In 2009 when I arrived in Iraq with the army every building and even most tents were air-conditioned. I was assigned to a forward operating base (FOB) as a public affairs officer. The base was a prison camp, and the insurgent prisoners even lived in air-conditioned buildings. They were just a cement floor with hard sides and a roof, but they were cool in summer and warm in the winter. Each building had one big AC.
My quarters were in a conex-box designed as a living space. We called them pods like Portable On Demand Storage. They had a window unit and electricity. I had either an armored HMMWV with A/C or an air-conditioned SUV to drive. I had an office with an air-conditioner. I can’t call it luxurious but I was comfortable. This was the case for most Service Members while they were inside the wire. Of course outside the wire could provide any conditions imaginable, and on patrol you were in love with the dirt again because that was the only place to go in a bind. The breakdown of the quarters is non-rates lived in an expanded pod 8 to a room, Staff Sgt. to Master Sgt. lived two to a room as did Major and below for officers, Sgts. Major and Colonels had the luxury of a private room. All quarters were air-conditioned and comfortable. The systems were maintained by KBR contractors.
We had an excellent hospital and a wonderful staff, and all of the prisoners went to the doctor and dentist if needed. On the part of the Service Members illness was very low. People got good rest and moral was pretty good most of the time.
During Desert Storm moral was high because we were Marines, but guys got sick a lot, were tired, and irritable most of the time.
I believe the installation of HVAC systems in the desert has greatly improved the effectiveness of our fighting force. The Services would call this force multiplication. Sound and comfortable quarters are as essential to success as proper chow is. To function you have to eat and you have to rest, and this has to be done every day at some point. The idea that soldiers are so tough they don’t have to sleep is a myth. At some point everyone sleeps and gets hungry.
In civilian life and on this site I read a lot about how people want to spent 100,000 on room decorations but want an HVAC system installed in their $2 million house for $2,500. The two most important preservation items in a house are the roof and the HVAC system. The roof keeps weather out, and the HVAC keeps the environment safe in the house. Good HVAC reduces dust, germs, CO2 and brings in healthy fresh air. The HVAC system provides the ideal environment for humans to thrive. You can see this in the systems installed in better health clubs. The climate is maintained to allow for peak athletic performance.
I have been in two wars and I will tell you that I would rather live in a conex with good AC than in Sadam’s Palace without.