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Living in metal boxes the best Qatar base has to offer

DOHA, Qatar—Out in the desert, in a warehouse with no windows, inside a white air-conditioned tent that can sleep 80 men, Gunnery Sgt. Andrew Lynch wakes up and opens his eyes. He can't tell if it's day or night.

In the tent, there is a constant amber glow, from the lights that hang from the warehouse ceiling, leaving a dark gloomy mood. It's the middle of the day, but the unearthly hue never changes in the tents at Camp as Sayliyah, which will be Central Command headquarters if the United States goes to war against Iraq.

"It's like we are living inside a spaceship or on Krypton," says Lynch, 39, who hails from Tampa, Fla. "Other than that, it's not bad. It could be a lot worse. It could be raining and miserable. I mean, we are in an air-conditioned tent inside a building. How hard is that?"

The women live in their own tent on the other side of the warehouse.

"Lynch has a cold and snored all night," a tentmate complains. "The guy sleeps in the middle of the tent and drives everybody crazy."

"I admit it," Lynch says. "I snore. Sometimes, I wake myself up snoring. I have weird dreams and I'll be jerking all around."

He lowers his voice after remembering that he has to be quiet because a couple of men are still sleeping. On this 24-hour base, somebody is always sleeping.

There are two classes of quarters at Camp as Sayliyah. Some soldiers live in tents, and the others in Corimec Boxes, small living areas made of metal that are stacked two high inside another warehouse.

Two soldiers share a box, 8 feet wide and 20 feet long, which looks like a miniature mobile home. The boxes are air-conditioned and have electricity and doors, which afford some privacy, but they are big enough for only two beds, a chair and a small table.

Lynch has been in Qatar four months. He used to reside in one of the metal boxes, but he was moved to a tent recently. As higher-ranking officers arrive to prepare for a possible war against Iraq, they take the best offices and quarters, bumping the others.

It's accepted without question, without complaint. It's how things work in the military.

Some of the officers have equipped their metal boxes with televisions and DVD players. The guys in the tents are envied if they manage to scrounge up a camp chair or a table. "It's not stealing—just repositioning," the saying goes.

Lynch, who's been in the Marines for 19 years and served in Afghanistan and Egypt, is skilled at the art of repositioning.

He prefers not to explain the tricks of the trade, which he says with a laugh include "everything from getting a van to a power strip."

"My main mission is operations and logistics," he continues. "I make things run in the office. I get transportation. I make problems go away."

But he hasn't been able to figure out how to make that depressing 24-hour amber glow in the tents go away.

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ILLUSTRATIONS (from KRT Illustration Bank, 202-383-6064): iraqfaces

Two sketches of Lynch by Rich Johnson will be available via KRT, file names 20030217 FACES LYNCH portrait ILLUS and 20030217 FACES LYNCH Corimec ILLUS.

Iraq

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