On outskirts of Fallujah, Marines find peace on dance floor

1 May 2004 | Lance Cpl. J.L. Bush

The sounds of Latin tunes blared out the door and the faint smell of sweat emitted from couples dancing for hours while black lights and glow sticks faintly lit the room. It may sound like a normal dance club, but there is nothing normal about “Club Fallujah.”

A few miles from the city where heavy fighting took place only weeks ago, Marines, sailors and soldiers danced into the night while sporting their camouflage utilities on May 1.

It is a big change to go from dodging bullets one day just a few miles away in Fallujah, to moving and grooving the next.

"We try to create an environment that is comfortable, and is a touch of home in a harsh environment," said Suzanne Raku-Williams, the area MWR manager, from Sussex, England.

Kellogg, Brown and Root, Inc. representatives and Marines are taking care of the service members stationed here by improving conditions at the MWR center.

The employees of the KBR recreation center spend much of their day providing for permanent personnel and transient units.

Pfc. John Gonzales, an artilleryman with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, and a Woodland, Calif., native said, "It's always good to have the opportunity to get in touch with family back home and do personal business on the Internet."

Currently, the recreation center offers movies, video games, a library and a full weight room along with many other amenities for the personnel here.

Salsa night at the recreation center was the first in a series of weekly dance nights scheduled this month.

“It helped to relieve a lot of the stress we have out here, and gave a lot of us a chance not to think about where we are,” said Lance Cpl. Imelda Vega-Sanchez, a cook with I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group field mess, and a Rexburg, Texas, native.

Meetings are being held between KBR personnel and unit MWR representatives to get the word out to the Marines and sailors here on new projects like spades tournaments, 10-kilometer runs and dance nights starting in May, according to Raku-Williams.

Units are pulling together resources to support the MWR Center with items like chairs, horseshoes and more televisions. One unit even supplied non-alcoholic beer for their cooler.

"It's nice to have something cool to drink for the troops,” said Raku-Williams.

The main problem facing the MWR program has been the lack of space to set up the kind of events and centers planned for, said Chief Warrant Officer 3 John F. Kauffman, the I Marine Expeditionary Force liaison officer to MWR.

The Seabees of Navy Mobile Construction Battalion 74 are working on renovating the dilapidated base theater, and hope to be able to start showing movies in the near future, according to Kauffman.

Camp Fallujah has been deemed a long-term base, and the units here are trying to set up accommodations for the troops in camp now and for future personnel.  This includes planning for more programs and activities, according to Raku-Williams.

Shipping crates packed with sports equipment, televisions and games have begun to arrive, according to Kauffman.

The plan for the next six months is to create another gym with a full-scale basketball court, a weight room and an aerobics center, according Raku-Williams.

"We want to do a good job for the troops," she said.

Although far away from home, the Marines and sailors here have a little something to help them remember what they’re fighting for.

“It makes me feel more comfortable, and reminds me what peace is like,” said Lance Cpl. Patrick McKenzie, a Dallas native and machine gunner with 1st Reconnaissance Battalion Headquarters and Service Company.