One night earlier this fall, a string of detonations shook the walls of a company-sized U.S. Army outpost south of Baghdad. It was the middle of the night, but outside, behind a nearby palm grove, reports echoed and the horizon glowed. The sound and light show--courtesy, it turned out, of another American unit in the area firing illumination mortar rounds and other ordnance--didn't stir a single one of the dozens of soldiers sleeping in the back room. They slept as deeply as if they were in their beds at home.
Home, in fact, was where they were. This latest deployment, which has gone on for more than a year now, is the third in Iraq for Bravo Company, 2/14 Infantry. The company, which belongs to the Army's most deployed brigade (the 10th Mountain Division's Second Brigade Combat Team), patrolled Iraq last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, and the year before that. I first encountered the brigade's officers here in 2004. Then in 2005. Then again in 2006. And now in 2007.
Gen. David Petraeus elicited a few chuckles when, testifying before Congress in September, he inadvertently referred to Iraq as "home." But in the constellation of American bases that loop around the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys and in the spectacle of young Americans knowing Iraqi neighborhoods as well as they know their own, there is evidence that Petraeus meant what he said.
In the months since I had last been to Bravo Company's patrol base, it had expanded and its comforts multiplied. In June, a suicide bomber tried, unsuccessfully, to drive a truck packed with 14,000 pounds of explosives through the front door. Shortly after, engineers ringed the house with concrete blast walls, cleared a landing zone inside the perimeter, and even moved the road that passed by the front gate.