In the Army Now: A Report from Iraq

Army Lieutenant Newman McKay has been in Iraq for one month. This is what he’s learned: 1) It’s hot. 2) The trek to the bathroom is no fun. 3) Never, ever, order the breakfast burrito.

I’ve been in Iraq for a little over a month now, and I think I’m finally getting settled into a routine. Much of what I expected to be bad about Iraq isn’t. Like the food. Except for the breakfast burrito (never order the breakfast burrito!), it’s actually pretty good.

But being here has made me realize how much I took for granted back home. Like…

Cold: It’s hotter than the Victoria’s Secret fashion show here, all the time. How hot? Ridiculously hot. The heat is inescapable. And the worst part is the breeze. Maybe you’re thinking, “Hey, wait a minute. A nice summer breeze is very refreshing.” Okay, but here the breeze here is like having someone point a hairdryer at your face. I grew up in Kentucky, so I know a bit about humidity. But my experience with scorching sun is limited. The only comparison I can make is when you open the oven door, and you stick your head halfway in—that’s Iraq. Except here you can’t close the oven door.

Green: There’s nothing pleasant about Iraqi landscape. There are few trees, and no grass, which is not that surprising, considering that the ground looks suitable for little more than being paved over to create a parking lot. Let me dispel a common rumor—Iraq is not a “desert” in the sense most of us think. There are no rolling sand dunes. In fact, there’s hardly any sand at all. There is dirt, though. And rocks—lots of them. There are big rocks, little rocks, round rocks, and flat rocks that would be perfect for skipping across a pond. If there were ponds—which there aren’t.

The Opposite Sex: Hey, I’m 23, just a year removed from college. Sexual contact is technically prohibited while deployed (unless you’re married and your spouse is with you), but that isn’t the worst part. There are unspoken Army rules about who you can and can’t talk to, so my interaction with women is limited. It sucks, because I’m young and naïve and still need to hone my skills with the ladies. Sure, the uniform will help when I’m back home, but my game is going to be a little rusty.

Being close to the bathroom: I have a newfound respect for anyone who lives without indoor plumbing. Having to go outside to use the bathroom is a pain in the ass. (Pun intended.) It’s so bad, I watch how much water I drink before bed. It’s a long trek to pee in the middle of the night. We do have a regular bathroom with toilets and sinks. But making that long walk to go to the bathroom, shower, or brush your teeth is a hassle. Even worse, we frequently run out of cold water. That sounds counter-intuitive, but the water tanks are outside, in the sun, where, if you remember, it’s ridiculously hot. So if you want to splash some cool water on your face, you better do it before 8 a.m.

Technology: I am well aware that my generation is spoiled, but I can’t help it missing satellite TV, and the iPhone bubble wrap game. Mainly I miss the basic function for which these devices were intended (watching the 6 o’clock news, or calling friends and family). Accountability is huge in the Army, so when your boss asks you where someone is, you’re supposed to know. Back home in cell phone land, all it took to find someone was a quick call or text message. Now it takes a search party.

(One nice thing so far: The World Cup is on here at a much more convenient times than it is at home. Score one for me. Don’t worry—you guys are still winning.)

With all that said, I don’t want anyone to think that we’re “roughing it.” Yes, it’s hot. And yes, the days are long. But there is plenty of food, clean water, and shelter. I have profound respect for the men and women who served in places like Vietnam and Korea. Now that was roughing it.

About Newman McKay

Newman McKay graduated from Centre College in Danville, KY in 2009. He is currently a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army and is deployed to Iraq until Spring 2011.


  1. The pictures look to be from Ali Al Saleem air base, which is in Kuwait, not Iraq. And nobody spends their entire tour in a tent these days, so please stop suggesting this with your photos and selected details.

    Hell, even at Ali Al Saleem, they have indoor bathrooms in separate trailers. So you have to walk to the trailer over a few yards of stones – boo hoo. At least you aren’t in the middle of nowhere in Afghanistan living in a shithole and getting mortared nightly. Enjoy the ice cream and internet cafe and quit bitching. It isn’t like you got drafted or are the only one who’s been there.

    Nice try though.

  2. David Wise says:

    Good luck and be safe! You gotta a whole lot of living to do when you get back.

  3. Colin S. says:

    Newman, remember that you have chosen a career (at least for now) in the Armed Services of your country. The key word being “service”. As with police, fire and paramedic services, when we choose to serve our country we accept that Congress (or in my case her Majesty) will send us to places that are not always the nicest and we are good with that – because we understand that our service allows the majority of our fellow citizens to enjoy those things that they take for granted; like cell phones, reality tv, drive thru food and yes, indoor plumbing.

    Have a safe tour and from one officer to another , remember that your senior NCO’s are a wealth of knowledge – to not take that knowledge as part of your development as a leader would be an opportunity wasted.

    Colin S,
    Lieutenant (Navy) – Canadian Naval Reserve
    former Adjutant, Theatre Support Element, Task Force Afghanistan


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