CAMP IWO JIMA, Kuwait -- Marines and sailors with the 1st Force Service Support Group were treated to a surprise after a long and tiresome cross-Atlantic flight, as they stepped off the bus and onto the friendly confines of Camp Iwo Jima, located in Tactical Assembly Area Coyote.
Before their weary eyes a camp suitable for living and fighting conditions had been erected.
"Iwo Jima is the model home," said Maj. Dave V. Raimo, camp commander, "the design was always to provide Marines and sailors with adequate billeting conditions, so that we could do our job."
The camp can house approximately 800 to 1,000 Marines and sailors depending "on how you pack them," said Sgt. James R. Nelson, the camp utilities chief.
Building the camp was not easy for the first wave of Marines who descended onto this desert paradise.
"The area was completely open, except for a few sand burms on the north and south ends of the camp," said Sgt. Matthew J. Epright, a generator mechanic with Headquarters and Service detachment 1st FSSG.
The overall set up of the tactical assembly area can be compared to Camp Pendleton, in the way that at Pendleton you have a headquarters building somewhere in the camp and the different camps are spread around it, Epright said.
For the few Marines who have been here since Jan. 10 helping to erect the camp, having to perform duties outside of their military occupational specialty has been a challenge, one that they have overcome.
"The Marines I have are not afraid to work," said Nelson, a native of Broaddus, Texas.
"They've done a fantastic job, everybody has gone above and beyond ... wearing different hats," said Raimo.
Another challenge Raimo and his Marines faced was adapting to the culture of the contractors from Kuwait and third country nationals.
Just having to adjust to their sense of timeliness and breaking that cultural barrier down was hard, said Raimo, an Albany, New York native.
For many of the Marines and sailors who are going to live and work here, having some of the commodities they have back in Camp Pendleton has been a great surprise.
One comfort from home, which brought smiles to many Marines and sailors, was access to warm showers.
"I've been very impressed, at first I thought we were going to be living in tents and sleeping on the ground," said Epright.
"The hot showers and chow are the best part, chow here is better than at Camp Las Pulgas," added the Cape Cod native, referring to the shower trailers that were set up and the hot food that is catered in for breakfast and evening meals.
"My biggest surprise was having hot water," said Pfc. Antonio J. Wheeler, a Marine with the force protection platoon.
With both the forward and main elements of the FSSG now on deck, Nelson sees their arrival as a "Godsend, because we were operating on a skeleton crew and a lot of work was postponed. With the forward and main being here now, the progress of building the camp can resume."
"Every pair of hands that we have out here helps out in one way," he added.