03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Iraq Troops Sing Karaoke, Join Book Clubs, Rarely Go To War

A new USA Today article has some interesting details about how U.S. troops stationed in Iraq are spending their time these days. Soccer makes the list of activities. So do "karaoke nights," salsa classes, book clubs, and advanced geometry. According to the piece, many of the 117,000 U.S. troops still stationed in Iraq report more free time now than at any other time since the U.S. first invaded 6 years ago.

Some in the military, like Sgt. Gussman a long-time army veteran, went to Iraq prepared to fill the hours.

In Iraq, [Gussman] was surprised to see few soldiers reading for pleasure, so he started two book clubs. One, called Beyond Narnia, reviews essays by C.S. Lewis, who wrote the children's series, The Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis' religious themes have made the club popular with chaplains here at Adder, Gussman says.

The other club, the Dead Poets Society, is reading the works of Dante and Virgil. At one recent meeting, soldiers debated the notion of romantic love, a concept that Gussman argues was first introduced in Virgil's Aeneid.

The soldiers discussed whether marrying for love was logical, and whether some of the Iraqis they've met have it better through their arranged marriages, Gussman says.

"When I asked if any of them wanted the group to arrange a marriage for them, there weren't any takers," Gussman jokes.

Troops' feelings about the down time were mixed. Some reported feelings of depression, frustration and under-utilization, especially when Obama is considering sending more troops to Afghanistan, and still spending $7.3 Billion a month on the Iraq war. But some were happy about the unexpected freedom:

"When I signed up for the Army, I thought I was going to be a hero -- go out and do some fighting," says Vesik, 19, during a break at a Filipino-Okinawan jujitsu class. "I haven't come close to doing anything that I was trained to do. I work, maybe, four to five hours a day. I have time to try all these new things. It's not so bad."

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