Gamers in Uniform
It would be hard to find someone in this day and age that hasn’t heard about the country of Iraq. It’s an area of land that’s been host to human civilization since the 6th millennium BC. However, even though it has a long and rich cultural history, a landscape that has seen the rise and fall of many empires - Persian, Mongolian, and Ottoman to name a few -, we tend to think of Iraq only as we’ve seen it on the news over the course of the last twenty five or even fifty years years: a land that has been torn apart by repeated violence, a nation seemingly perpetually at war with neighbouring countries, with countries far from its shores and with itself.
In 2003, Iraq was invaded again, this time by a coalition of international forces lead by the United States. For the purpose of this article, we won’t debate whether or not this invasion was justified. Instead, we’re more interested in the lives of the men and women in uniform from all the countries serving in Iraq. Millions of soldiers have now come and gone through Iraq over the last seven years; some are even TOG members. Each country handles it differently, of course, but soldier’s life seems to be the same regardless of which color of uniform you wear. They leave family, friends, and homes to go to Iraq and get little in return for their service. Many come home injured, both physically and mentally: servicemen and women at home face higher rates of alcoholism, suicide, and divorce rates compared to the civilian population. And then there’s the time in Iraq itself – the danger, the boredom and the long wait to go home.
So, what does a soldier do in order to pass the time when he/she is stationed over in Iraq? Many turn to gaming to pass the time and help with the stress they face each day. One such soldier who has returned and is a member of TOG is a gamer known as Skycop.
Skycop has served for 20 years in the military and he isn’t shy about the dangers that come with the career. His unit was one of the first into the New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit and he served two years on the Vice President’s protection detail after 9/11. Skycop has just spent nearly a year in Iraq, returning last August. He’s graciously agreed to share some of his experiences in Iraq and as a gamer in today’s armed forces.
Kreed: Where were you in Iraq?
Skycop: I was deployed in northern Iraq in a city known as Kirkut. The airbase was sat right on the edge of Kirtuk. Two-thirds of our parameter butted up right along homes and the major urban area.
Q: What was you job while you were deployed?
Skycop: Security Forces - responsible for security and defense of Kirtuk air base, also known as FOB Warrior. (FOB = Forward Operating Base). It was divided up into defensive sectors and each sector has enough bodies to man all their posts 24/7.
Friendly competition is also good for morale.Q: What would be a ‘normal’ day on the job for you?
Skycop: About a 16 hour duty day. We would have fixed observations posts and mobile patrols inside and outside the base. We also controlled all entry and exit off the FOB.
Q: 16 hours doesn’t give you much time before you had to be at it again. Did folks just head back to sleep or did they try to relax at all?
Skycop: Guys would work out by hitting the gym, eat, clean up and grab something to eat before sleeping. So maybe an hour or two of free time depending on how tired you were. Guys would check emails when they could.
Q: In a 7-day week, how much free time would you have when not on duty?
Skycop: We worked a 3 and 1, which means three days on and one day off.
Q: What did you do during that free time?
Skycop: Some of the other soldiers brought Xbox 360 and playstations over with them. They also had these games consoles at the MWR (Morale Welfare and Recreation) tents to sign in and out.
Guys were playing the Call of Duty 4 and Halo stuff, but the Madden Football and Basketball video games were real popular.Q: What types of games were being played?
Skycop: Guys were playing the Call of Duty 4 and Halo stuff, but the Madden Football and Basketball video games were real popular.
Q: Why were the sports games so popular?
Skycop: We would set up tournaments on our flight level and get into bigger ‘seasons’ with other sectors. There were establishing prizes you could win if you got into the finals or won the championship.
Q: What kind of impact did this have on those around you?
Skycop: It gave you something completely different to think about. Most people were interested in it and so a lot of the folks participated in it. Friendly competition is also good for morale. Give you something to talk about with the guys you were stuck on duty with for 16 hours on patrol or up into a tower. It was just a great outside source of entertainment that help the time go by faster.
Q: Was it all game consoles?
Skycop: Some of the guys would bring their own laptops with them and they played games on them. World of Warcraft, for example, but the internet connection there was so terrible that most had a pretty rough time connecting to anything. Thus why the gaming consoles were preferred over the laptops. Some guys were buying the consoles on line and having them shipped over to them, cheaper then buying a computer.
Q: You have all these gaming consoles, where did you get the TVs?
Skycop: The FOB had been there since 2003 and the guys had been buying TVs from the BX/PX (Base Exchange/Post Exchange = Store) over the course of the past years. When you are rotate back home you would find some newly deployed ‘dude’ and sell your TV to him/her. So eventually you would have a lot of TVs on base. They were not the best quality, but they did work.
Q: And the games themselves?
Skycop: One could buy the games from the BX/PX, bring them, or from family members. Soldiers could even have their NetFlix forward to them at the FOB.
Q: Were there any official base tournaments outside of the individual units?
...each serving nation had their own sport, but Halo was the one that would have some friendly competition between countries.Skycop: Yes. There were soldiers whose job was to keep morale up and they would do things from dance lessons to tournaments for gaming. These were more organized and it would be from all services and nationalities serving there. Base didn’t do any of the sporting tournaments because each serving nation had their own sport, but Halo was the one that would have some friendly competition between countries.
Q: Any other interesting note about gaming and your experience?
Skycop: When rotating home, the flight broke down and we were stuck for 7 days at Al udeid air base in Quata. This is a major transition point. They built a mall, movie theaters, and a major gaming center. It had PS3’s all link together, as well as Xbox 360’s so that troops passing through could kill time between arriving and departing for Iraq or Afghanistan. PLUSH. Spent a lot of money there. Trivia note, it is the location that the Decepticons attacked the human race in the first Transformers movie.
Thank you, Skycop, for taking time out to share your story with us. On behalf of TOG I’d like to wish you – and all the other TOG servicemen and women – the best of luck and thank you for your service to your respective countries.