Best Regards from Baghdad

My One Year in Iraq

Mike's Notes - A Packing List

November 15, 2008 – The Iraq Service Recognition Package provides 250 pounds of airfreight for employees transferring to Baghdad.  I packed under possibly the worst possible conditions.  My wife was transferring to Frankfurt, and she was concerned about being limited to her own weight allowance and not having our doubled authorization, so she was determined to put as much as possible into storage.  The likelihood was that whatever I didn’t bring with me to Iraq would be put into storage and unavailable to me.  As a result, I threw a bunch of things into a corner to be packed and, of course, ended up being quite overweight.

I couldn’t find any advice on how to roughly estimate 250 pounds, other than by weighing each item individually and adding it up.  Official guidance seems to shy away from offering a volumetric rule-of-thumb, since a shipment could vary depending on whether it contains mostly pillows or books.  Yet personal effects shipments should have a normal distribution of heavy and light objects and so have a fairly consistent average weight.  On this basis, I later realized that one airfreight packing crate weighs around 250 pounds and, since a large suitcase weighs around 70 pounds full, a 250-pound airfreight shipment should be no more than the amount that can be packed into three large suitcases.

Now that you know how much to take, what exactly should you be taking?  The best approach under normal circumstances is to take advantage of Embassy Baghdad’s access to APO and mail as much as possible.  You should also keep in mind that you can pack extra clothes with you on your return from an R&R and that you do have to be prepared for four seasons in Baghdad.  With this philosophy, some people send almost nothing in airfreight.  You should also keep in mind that you will most likely wait several weeks after your arrival for your airfreight to arrive.

You can locate detailed suggestions on what to bring, down to a recommended model of sunglasses, but the fact is that few items are mandatory; most items that you ship will be for comfort and convenience, so will vary with the individual.  You’ll have to consider what is a “necessity” for you.  For example, I like to weigh myself daily, but the NEC fitness center does not have a scale and there are only two scales randomly placed in the Palace hallways, so I was glad that I shipped a bathroom scale.  There are tennis courts and a swimming pool at the NEC, so, if you do either activity, you’ll want to bring the appropriate equipment, like swim goggles.  Likewise for the pool and ping pong tables at the Palace.  Martial arts classes are available too, so you could bring a uniform if you plan to participate.

If you are planning to take advantage of the free KBR laundry service, you’ll have to be sure to have enough clothing, particularly socks and underwear, to cover the laundry’s turn-around time.  Since you will only be issued one sheet set, you might also want to bring another full-sized set to use and you might also want to ship your own set(s) of towels.  Had I been thinking about what we bought for our kids’ dorm rooms, I would have also thought to buy a collapsible laundry hamper or laundry bags to hold laundry either to take to the laundry drop off or to use the washer and driers located on each floor.  (The PX also has laundry bags normally in stock.)

Since the rooms are provided with DVD players and a “boom box,” you won’t have to bring either, although you might want to bring some DVDs or CDs.  (People also subscribe to Netflix.  Pirated DVDs are available at stores in the IZ, but there is no rental facility anywhere, or at least not yet.  PX DVDs are relatively expensive.)  (I have no detailed information on DVD price, availability, or quality, since part of my overweight resulted from the approximately 80 DVDs that I shipped and that I have not finished watching.)

The apartments provide more storage than the trailers and an opportunity to personalize your space.  Just like in a dorm room, you might consider bringing a bulletin board or framed photos or plain posters to hang up.  (I regret not doing either.)  In addition, you’ll probably be spending most of your time in the bedroom when you’re in the apartment.  Since the dominant item of furniture is the bed, you might want to bring your own comforter, bed spread, or quilt to make the room more “homey.”  (I was issued with a burgundy bed spread, which I’m actually quite happy with.  I did bring my own pillows, and so bought an extra pillow cover set at the PX.)  Also, since the lighting is inadequate and we have only two table lamps that use fluorescent bulbs, I bought a desk lamp with an incandescent bulb.

Oddly, the apartment furnishings do not include book shelves, so you might want to see whether you can find a light, collapsible book shelf; metal book ends; or shelving that you might be able to install or have installed on the walls, especially if you are bringing a lot of books, DVDs, or CDs (like I did).  (I shelved some books on the window sill and the rest on top of the chest of drawers.  My DVDs are still in the packing box.)  I also prefer to hang my clothes on hooks, so I had my wife ship me an over-the-door hook set and wish I had another set for the bathroom.  (During my RRB, I also brought back a 220-volt night light for the bathroom.)  The PX normally has light plastic drawer units and plastic trunks, which are good additions to your room.  Several people have also purchased the collapsible camp chairs that are used for picnics and such at the PX, but they could also be shipped.

At this point, I should describe the differences between the two bedrooms.  The original bedroom (the A bedroom) has the advantage of having built-in closets, while the converted living room (the B bedroom) is furnished with a wardrobe, with half the capacity.  Since this is the only advantage, however, if you have a choice, opt for the converted living room.  Both bedrooms are the same width, but the B bedroom is about three feet deeper and has two windows (vice one in the A bedroom).  The B bedroom has a sofa loveseat and coffee table, while the A bedroom has a sofa armchair.  The A bedroom also has a narrow three-drawer chest, and the B bedroom comes with a six-drawer chest.  You can ask for the six-drawer chest, however, and I have both in my room.  And the B bedroom has four ceiling lights rather than two.

Particularly since you will have access to a kitchen and some of you will want to cook, you should also treat airfreight partly as a consumables allowance.  You might want to have certain seasonings available, for example, particularly if you like a particular ethnic cuisine.  (I bought a bottle of soy sauce at the PX, but I would have preferred Kikkoman rather than La Choy.)  Another possibility might be to ship pots, soil, and herb and spice seeds, so you can, for example, grow your own basil and thyme.  (They would also double as house plants, since obtaining plants and flowers seems virtually impossible.)  In addition to possible spices and seasonings, you should also think in terms of toiletries.  If you like a particular brand of toothpaste, for example, you might want to ship a year’s supply.  I would also think this advice would apply to ladies with respect to cosmetics.

We had the advantage of moving into the apartments new (some colleagues mutter darkly about how the shoddy construction will lead to rapid deterioration), but we had some moving in pains that you should be spared.  (On the other hand, our sheet sets were brand new.)  We were recently issued a waste basket for the bathroom, for example, and I moved out for one night to another apartment recently while some repair was made that required the toilet to be removed.  In addition, we had to be issued a cable for our laptops so that we could plug in to the internet, and there was some concern whether there would be enough available.  I’ll just leave my cable in the room when I depart, so the person who moves in after me won’t have that problem.  The standard electrical outlet is also a British type, although most appliances come with European round-pin plugs and there were insufficient adapters.  There seem to be enough now.  You might want to see about bringing a few adapters, in any case, although you also shouldn’t fuss if you can’t find them.  (The British plug is three flat pins, two oriented horizontally in a line and a third vertical between the other two.  Think of a capital “T” with the center part taken out so that only the ends remain.)  (My wife and I met in London, so we had several extension cords with British plugs so, had I known, I would have shipped all of them.)  I’ll also probably leave behind the multi-plug extension cord that I bought at the PX.

Finally, you might want to bring some items to adapt to specific conditions in Iraq.  Although this is a desert climate, drainage is poor when it does rain, so Anne mentioned the advisability of bringing rain boots.  In addition, you might think about shipping some dust masks, like the ones sold at Home Depot and used by people when sanding wood.  The health unit will issue one and they are also sold in the PX, but, if you bring several, you don’t have to depend on the PX and can stash them in the office and your apartment.  There haven’t been many sandstorms, but I always wondered what kind of crud I might be inhaling.  Also, whenever you fly on a military (not RSO) helicopter, you will be required to wear a long-sleeved shirt and protective glasses in addition to PPE.  The helicopter crews, being pilots, tend to be lackadaisical about enforcing requirements, but the rule makes sense.  It’s possible to buy expensive sunglasses made of high-impact plastic, but I found a pair of goggles used for playing racquetball to work well and provide good peripheral vision.

In another installment, I’ll discuss essential purchases that you should consider before arriving.