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How they Live: A Guided Tour of (most of) Patrol Base Olson in Samarra, Iraq

September 24, 2007

Patrol Base Olson, located in the northwest corner of Samarra, is home to Charlie Company 2-505 Parachute Infantry Regiment, from Fort Bragg, North Carolina's 82nd Airborne Division. The unit, whose Company-plus sized unit of paratroopers arrived at the beginning of August 2006 and has now been there for nearly fourteen months, is responsible for the 20 km2, 170,000-person city of Samarra, as well as for a large swath of the surrounding countryside.

Replacing a company from the 101st Airborne, Charlie Co. arrived to an austere Patrol Base which had very little necessary equipment, and even fewer amenities and comforts. Over the course of their time here, the unit has done a great deal of work renovating, building up, and improving the base, which is laid out around one main building, called the "Casino" based on its function before the war.

Below is a pictorial tour of the Patrol Base.

The front entrance of "The Casino," the main building on Patrol Base Olson in northwestern Samarra. (photo © Jeff Emanuel 2007)

The motor pool in front of the main entrance to the Casino. (photo © Jeff Emanuel 2007)

Rear entrance of the Casino, which is one story larger in the back than in the front. Behind the T-Walls to the right is a shower trailer, which usually has 2-3 functioning showers and uses heavily chlorinated water. (photo © Jeff Emanuel 2007)

The lower motor pool, outside the back entrance. The trucks on the left (one of which is refrigerated) contain the food for the patrol base, and on the right behind the T-walls is the living area. (photo © Jeff Emanuel 2007)

The "Dining Facility," a room just inside the back entrance to the Casino. Hot meals are served three times per day, and snacks are left out for grazing. The majority of the food is deep-fried (and breakfast and lunch is generally the same every day, with dinner repeating itself weekly), and fresh fruit is a rare luxury. (photo © Jeff Emanuel 2007)

The Cardio portion of the two-room workout facility at Patrol Base Olson is on the second floor of the three-story Casino building, and faces a reed-encircled lake fed by the Tigris River. Early in their deployment, Charlie Company's paratroopers built the wood platform that the elliptical machines and exercise bikes sit on to maximize space in the room. (photo © Jeff Emanuel 2007)

The weight room, located caddy corner to the Cardio room (the door is behind the wood platform) is the other half of PB Olson's gym, which Charlie Company's paratroopers use religiously. People can be found in the weight room or on the cardio equipment at almost any time, 24 hours per day. (photo © Jeff Emanuel 2007)

The lake off the Tigris (directly behind - West of - the Patrol Base) from the roof of the Casino. (photo © Jeff Emanuel 2007)

Facing into Samarra (to the east), from a battle position on the roof of the 'Casino.' The 52m high Spiral Minaret (built in 852 AD) is visible almost directly ahead. (photo © Jeff Emanuel 2007)

A single "chu," which houses 2-4 people. This is what the people here at PB Olson live in. The sandbags are stacked around this and every chu, as well as the windows and landings of the building, to protect from mortar fire. They are not very big, but are home for the duration of the paratroopers' tour here (and are much appreciated, as there were no such living facilities at the PB when Charlie Company arrived in 2006). (photo © Jeff Emanuel 2007)

An outdoor "hallway" in the living area behind the Casino. Chus are on the left and right, reinforced by sandbags and with netting over the roofs. (photo © Jeff Emanuel 2007)

Two Chus, side by side, in PB Olson's living area. (photo © Jeff Emanuel 2007)

The living situation would be considered austere by most at home, but Charlie Company's paratroopers make the most of it. Inside the Casino is a pair of cubbyholes housing five computers and five pay-per-use telephones that all of the occupants of PB Olson share. There is also one small, grainy television which plays the Armed Forces Network 24/7, and around which the paratroopers crowd in the early morning on Sunday and Monday to see football games.

However, the top priority at Patrol Base Olson is not comfortable living, healthy eating, or watching sports -- it is maintaining readiness and performing daily (or more) missions into the city of Samarra.

This mission is 100% funded by reader donations. If you would like to help continue to make this reporting possible, please consider clicking the PayPal link on the right sidebar and making a contribution. You can email Jeff at

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At 9:53 AM, Anonymous Paula said...

Thank you for what you do. It is great Americans like you that help us at home understand our soldier's delima's. Thanks for the great photos. Keep up the good works.

Paula in Sparks NV

At 4:56 PM, Blogger membrain said...

Really great work Jeff. Thanks so much. Please let the Partroopers know much their work is appreciated.


At 10:44 AM, Anonymous Allums, Floridda said...

I so appreciate the pictures. My son has been at Camp Olsen since August 2006. I've been wanting to know what his living conditions are like and what the facilities look like. From a grateful Mom

At 12:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for giving us at home a picture of where our troops are living... GOD Bless 'em! We are thankful for their presence there and their willingness to put their lives on the line.

At 11:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow the American public has no idea.I really appreciate all that the troops do to protect and serve.I look forward to your safe return home. Ms Shauna

At 7:33 PM, Anonymous Spc Guza said...

Hey Jeff, I SSG Olson was 1st squad's squad leader when I was there, I was out on patrol the night he was hit by the IED...anyways, I've been wondering what things were like there since we left, you guys have really done a nice job on the upgrades! Any "other" pics from the area and inside would be awesome. I'm heading back over in 2009 sometime and hoping to get over to Olson, but if you could send some pics to I'd definatly appreciate it. Keep up the good work!


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