The Meanest Little Chow Hall in Al Anbar

Chow hall_2.jpgBack in late 2004, an attack on a chow hall at a U.S. base in Mosul killed 22 people, including Seabee Joel Baldwin. More than a year later, the attack still keeps U.S. commanders awake at night. At Ramadi, where mortar attacks are a weekly affair, the Seabees of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133 are putting the finishing touches on a fortified chow hall that Chief Michael Romero says is intended to make sure the Mosul tragedy never happens again. For Romero, a friend of Baldwin's, it's personal.I had breakfast in the new chow hall this morning. It's weird. Rather than the wide open bays of chow halls in less dangerous areas, this one has several narrow hallways criss-crossing each other. The walls are wood. Behind the walls are several feet of wire mesh and dirt -- enough to keep out all but the biggest mortars. The ceilings are earthen too, and capped with concrete to keep out water and rats. The place bears an eerie resemblance to pictures I've seen of the Maginot Line, that doomed underground defensive network meant to keep the Germans out of France.The food, by the way, was pretty good: eggs, ham, toast and black-sludge coffee that'll kick you right in the head. I always eat better in Iraq than I do at home.-- David Axe

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