That's what my Marine (retired), now a project manager for the Army's transportation command, calls his small speck of the stark Afghan desert.
Located just six miles from the town where the Taliban originated and now holds forth, the base was secured in December 2001 by my favorite general, James Mattis, and his Few Good Men. It's now under NATO command with about 25,000 people - the center of the universe for our troops in the southern area of operations.
At its north end is civilization, according to Rich. He and his guys call it Rocket Magnet Central. It's a boardwalk of metal containers that used to house coffee shops and fast food joints such as Burger King, until Gen. Stanley McCrystal made his very unpopular decision last spring to close many of them down. There remains a little bistro operated by the French contingent, I'm told, where the guys took Rich for his 53rd birthday in April. And there's a market where on certain days you can buy things made by the locals, such as beaded bracelets and rugs. There's also a spartan venue where performers such as Toby Keith appeared before large crowds as recently as late May. Blog readers might remember the location took a direct hit in concert with a large, coordinated attack on the base exactly a week after Keith's gig. But back to the Dark Side.
My Marine says it's the "heart of America, in its truest sense."
Far from the Boardwalk and over a quarter mile from the nearest shower facilities, this is where government guys, soldiers and contractors churn out vehicles for the troops. Machinists, mechanics and other experts work long hours in temperatures reaching 120 degrees to process the new vehicles that are transported overland from Pakistan by hired drivers, often tied by rope to whatever will haul them, stripped of important parts, sometimes even booby trapped.
The experts in the fabricating shop also help anyone who needs a part or a fix, even saving the day for the new hospital ER recently, just in time for a push in offensive operations.
No soldier is turned away.
The guys, no women, make sure the forward troops have what's needed and most evenings hit their racks, 12 to a tent, early. When it's still 100 degrees with a hot wind blowing a fine, choking dust, it's easy to see why.
But the Saturday Night Poker Game has grown in the five months Rich has been there, and now attracts every type, looking a bit like the bar scene from Star Wars, he says.
Old and young, pony-tailed and ear ringed contractors sit next to clean-cut soldiers near hulking, multi-ton trucks and MRAP (mine resistant ambush protected) vehicles. Under an improvised roof rigged from camouflage netting, roughneck types, Canadian troops and an occasional member of the Air Force's Red Horse Squadron (engineers in red ball caps) sit around a table made from a used cable spool with a fabricated poker top, awaiting the nightly rocket attacks. Flying high overhead on a pole created just in time for July 4 are the Stars and Stripes, properly illuminated by a scavenged spotlight.
A supply of good cigars and refrigerated Cokes and water are featured attractions.
"The folks back home haven't fallen down on the job," my stringer said. "They're still sending goodies." And the "Any Soldier" grab box is prominently displayed.
Contractors aren't allowed to have weapons, so I have a feeling part of the strategy is to keep armed guys around as much as possible.
Music is provided by Kevin, a machinist from Michigan who's downloaded iPod songs from soldiers met during multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has it all. Strangely enough, the BeeGee's "Stayin' Alive" had cigars bobbing all around the Dark Side in the midst of my phone time with Rich, prompting this entire description. When you hear the Osmonds, he said, it's really surreal. Gunfire from a nearby range, jet noise and the smell of burning trash complete the unique ambience.
It's not exactly our fireside family room, is it?
In all seriousness, many of the tool and die machinists making it all work hail from rust belt states that are in big trouble. Their trade was once America's backbone, handed down from their fathers and grandfathers. But now work at home is unsure.
The politicians and elites of this country think they make America work, but I believe I'll beg to differ.
Remember after 9-11 when we applauded the truck drivers and firefighters of NYC? The guys playing poker at the Dark Side, like those American icons, are the men who make it all happen.
They are Great Americans, Rich suggests. I just hope we'll remember that when they all come home.