(The mantra “War Is Hell” takes on special resonance with the availability of Fran Healy via satellite dish)

Though stressing that US combat troops are in constant peril, and that the living conditions for many are what we’d associate with a brutal desert conflict (searing heat, weeks without showers, little sleep, etc.), the New York Times’ Kirk Semple discusses the similiarities between the modern PX and a stateside Best Buy :

“We had no idea conditions were going to be this great!” said Lieutenant Deaton, 25, the public affairs officer of the 256th Brigade Combat Team and an ambassador of the exclamation mark. “My first thought was, oh my God! This is good!”

As much as modern warfare has changed in recent decades, so has the lifestyle of the modern warrior – at least the modern American warrior on base.

Camp Liberty, one of the best-appointed compounds in the constellation of American military bases in Iraq, has the vague feel of a college campus, albeit with sand underfoot, Black Hawks overhead and the occasional random mortar attack.

The soldiers live in trailers on a grid of neat gravel pathways, and the chow hall offers a vast selection of food and beverages, ethnic cuisine nights, an ice cream parlor and, occasionally, a live jazz combo. Camp Liberty, like many other bases, also has Internet cafes, an impressively stocked store, gymnasiums with modern equipment, air-conditioning everywhere and extracurricular activities like language and martial arts lessons.

Gadgetry, in particular, proliferates among the 138,000 troops stationed in Iraq: laptop computers, MP3 and DVD players, digital cameras, televisions and video game consoles. On bases in greater Baghdad, many soldiers have cellphones and some have satellite dishes that pull in scores of stations. Personal DVD collections numbering several hundred are not uncommon; the legendary ones top 1,000.

Never in the field of human conflict has so much stuff been acquired by so many soldiers in so little time.

“I don’t know how they managed to acquire so much audio-visual machinery,” said an amused Lt. Col. Geoffrey J. Slack, 48, commander of the First Battalion, 69th Infantry, of the New York National Guard, which is garrisoned on Camp Liberty with the Louisianans. “Some of these kids, they’ll go out and fight all day, and they’ll come back and play these goofy space-age electronic war games all night. The furthest thing from my mind is to play war games. You’ll walk by and hear them hootin’ and hollerin’.”

For Specialist Chris Foster, a guardsman from Baton Rogue, wartime comfort is often no further away than the nearest Xbox game controller, and he is particularly proud of his division-wide invincibility at Halo 2, a shoot-’em-up video game in which the player is “a genetically enhanced super soldier.”

“They call me ‘Halo God,’ ” Specialist Foster said. “Half my deployment I’ve spent playing Halo 2.” He and other soldiers once He and other soldiers once ran cables between several different trailers enabling as many as 12 players to play at one time.