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Sweltering holiday in Baghdad

Times Staff Writer

Some barbecued. Some reenlisted.

As friends and relatives back home slept, members of the U.S. armed forces marked Independence Day in outposts, camps and forward operating bases.

More than 1,200 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines gathered from across Iraq to take the oath of reenlistment at Al Faw Palace at Camp Victory. Sgt. Maj. Marvin L. Hill said it was the largest reenlistment ceremony since the military became an all-volunteer force in 1973.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the multi-national force in Iraq, administered the oath.

“Volunteering to continue to serve our nation, while deployed, is both noble and inspiring,” he said.

Not far from Al Faw Palace, one of the surviving symbols of the excesses of former dictator Saddam Hussein, the headquarters company of the 716th Military Police Brigade held its Fourth of July barbecue in a more modest setting.

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About 70 soldiers gathered under a cloth canopy inside an enclosure of concrete blast walls. Before the barbecue began, they stood erect for half an hour as their commanding officers handed out commendations to about a dozen soldiers, then reenlisted two who had missed the morning ceremony.

Three officers made speeches that were mercifully short.

Capt. Nathan Brookshire, the company commander, advised the troops to enjoy the holiday, but to be prepared to get back to work afterward. The soldiers grilled steaks and hot dogs in 100-plus heat.

“I volunteer every time; I just love to grill,” said Sgt. 1st Class Wayne Ebenreiter of Chicago, whose Army T-shirt was dripping sweat.

Ebenreiter doubled as the vocalist, belting out songs about combat in a grunge style.

Like most of the soldiers, Ebenreiter talked wistfully of home -- barbecue and baseball.

“At home this is how I cook every day,” he said.

He’s from Chicago: “ChiTown, my Cubbies. Nothing but the best. I wish I was sitting there right now by Wrigley Field.”

Soldiers ate at rickety wooden tables that had been made by hand. They talked quietly as a band played for an hour. There was no dancing in the gravel courtyard.

In two hours it all broke up. Time to get back to work.


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