Get Your War On

Urban Explorer Handbook 2006

click to enlarge GENERALLY SPEAKING: Gen. John P. Abizaid coordinates activities halfway around the world from briefing centers like this one in CENTCOM. - Wayne Garcia
Wayne Garcia
GENERALLY SPEAKING: Gen. John P. Abizaid coordinates activities halfway around the world from briefing centers like this one in CENTCOM.

Where: U.S. Central Command, MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa

Public access: Public tours of Central Command, or CENTCOM, are extremely limited, and getting in even with permission is a chore: You have to go through various checkpoints and down a long driveway that is set with concrete-and-steel post barricades. Then you are challenged by MPs several times in a span of a few minutes wandering the halls.

Element of danger: Low — the place is pretty close to impregnable. Yet you have to figure that CENTCOM's leading role in the War on Terror makes it a potential target.

Why we went: Not only are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan run from this command base, the entire War on Terror is coordinated here as well. Not to mention any military or humanitarian activities across 6.5 million square miles in 27 nations centered around the Middle East, from the horn of Africa to Central Asia and Pakistan.

What we discovered: CENTCOM is like a really big, nondescript office building, except that some of the workers carry automatic weapons and in some rooms there are guys listening to Osama bin Laden take a dump. CENTCOM had its roots in the Iranian hostage crisis. Today, it is a unified military command that coordinates Navy, Army, Marine, Air Force and Coast Guard activities in 27 nations, everything from the Iraqi War to patrolling the Arabian Sea for pirates (yes, they still exist). As important as that military function, however, is its humanitarian mission, like providing relief in the Pakistan earthquake. "It's about the safety and security of that region," said Ensign Joe Vermette, a Coast Guard media officer stationed at CENTCOM.

It's all coordinated from Tampa, and at the center of CENTCOM is a tastefully appointed conference room where daily briefings are held with military leaders on-site and around the world via teleconference. The chair at the head of the table is clearly marked for Gen. John P. Abizaid, CENTCOM's commanding officer, who reports directly to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. And while there were plenty of rooms where we could poke our heads, door after door in many hallways had security systems that even our military escort could not get into if he wanted to. Top secret.

Most mind-boggling of all: The Coalition Village next door to the CENTCOM building, where representatives from 64 nations (including, yes, France) work side by side in portable trailers to fight against terrorism. Even nations that hate each other find their representatives a few doors down, cooperating and getting along. If only the entire world could be like that. Sigh.

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