Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Things You Might Not Think About

Today was a beautiful day in Iraq. It was one of those fleeting-moment days that occur in small quantity here - a high of 68 degrees, slightly overcast and little, if any, movement of the air. Simply beautiful.

Only the distant sound of small arms fire,  the rythymic whopping of helos overhead and the rumble of large diesel power armored trucks rolling down dust laden roads could remind you that you are in a war zone. That said, you get used to those sounds and sights, they become somewhat common place and routine, allowing you to appreciate even the simple pleasure of fair weather, brief as it is.

It was the kind of weather that makes it easier to get outside and conduct your daily constitution - a visit to the latrine. I don't know why, in the Army, we call it the latrine, but we do and for now we'll just leave it at that. At any rate, it was the perfect day for visiting the latrine. Under normal circumstances here in Iraq, this decision is not made lightly. With temperatures reaching scorching highs in the summer and rain and dust storms in the winter and spring, the decision to leave the comfort of your office or living quarters to walk anywhere, whether 100 feet or one hundred yards, to do your business is not an easy task.

And really, this is the subject of my blog - the Latrine. It's the luck of the draw here, you may be lucky enough to be a few steps away from a latrine or cursed enough to be a days walk from that little rest stop. In some cases, Soldiers totally luck out and they get a latrine right in the building they work in. That's like living in the lap of luxury.

There are other aspects of the latrine question that affect daily life here. That is, where is the latrine in comparison to where you live. Some, again, are lucky to be pretty close, others, like me and my Soldiers are a bit further. In my case, I live about a minutes walk from the nearest latrine. Once again, some are blessed from on high to actually have a latrine and shower co-located to their sleeping quarters. I personally, don't know any of these golden soldiers, but I hear that they exist, albeit in some other realm.

What I'm getting at, is that the situation is not convenient. In some cases, there are soldiers of the male persuasion who, when it is late at night and nature calls, opt to fill a predetermined container within their own living quarters, as opposed to getting up, getting dressed and walking in utter darkness over gravel, hardened mud and unbearable heat to relieve the urge.

This situation is only exacerbated by the fact that to keep your body well hydrated in this climate you drink an incredible amount of water and that, of course, causes a regular urge to use the latrine. So, where you are located in relation to a latrine is of grave importance here.

There are other inconveniences caused by the sparse location of latrines here that one may not consider. It is a matter of supply and demand. Often times, latrines (like ours, pictured above just outside our building) are not within hollering distance of friendly forces (ie. other unit members).

These mobile latrines are maintained by contract companies that clean, restock and empty them on some kind of semi-regular schedule. So, there is no guarantee that when nature calls, all the supplies you need to conduct your business will be available. At home, when supply of TP does not meet the current demand, you simply yell out, "hey can someone get me a roll of TP!"

Out here, that call may not be heard, by anyone, much less one of your "friendlies". So your visit to the latrine may last longer than you had anticipated - unless you are lucky enough to have an innocent passerby hear your call for help.

Such is the case with me when I was an innocent passerby. I headed to the latrine to do my business. I walked in, pulled the door shut and was about to latch it when I heard a calm, but desperate call for help. "Umm, do you have any toilet paper over there?" - I did not.

Recognizing the situation for what it was - grave - I sprung from my latrine, like Superman from a phone booth, "I'll find some for you," I said. I returned to my office and asked if anyone had any TP, and relayed that there was a Soldier in the latrine, literally caught with her pants down and in need of rescue. Without hesitation, the small group around me dispersed to find something that would get the job done. "I have wet wipes," said a one, "that'll do it," I replied and slick as snot on a cats fur, I was out the door and claiming victory at the latrine of the unknown Soldier.

Slowly, the door opened, only wide enough for a small paperback to fit though, and the handoff of wet wipes was made. "Thank you," she said quietly.

I had no intention of being a hero when I came to Iraq. I just wanted to do my job and get back to my family.  I don't need a ticker tape parade for my actions today, it was my duty. Anybody else in the same situation would have done the same thing because when duty calls, you do your best. It's how we Soldiers operate - we back each other up.

Somehow, in spite of all the inconveniences we deal with out here, opportunities arise that make it all worthwhile. Today, I helped a fellow Soldier - it wasn't life or death, but it made a world of difference to her and to me. It's an insignificant thing you might not otherwise think about.


1SG Martinez said...

I wanted to share a response I got via email to this blog entry from one of my battle buddies in D.C. Thanks sir, I'm glad you're still with us.

He writes. . .

Nice. One additional thing to worry about...one spring night I came back to my hootch in Baghdad, un-harnessed my gear, and went for a "download." I was, well, relaxing and noticed a small object on the floor directly between my feet. Now, having just returned from a long, dangerous, hot, and dirty five-day trip involving numerous convoys and helo rides, I had a hard time focusing. When I picked it up, it was a spent ak47 round, still warm from its trip from somewhere across thr river. I looked up, and sure enough there was a neat hole above my head. A minute earlier with my business and I might have taken my last trip to the latrine.

Keep safe
Lt. Col. Gerald Ostlund

MichelleWilliams said...


alyce lawrence said...

Enjoyed your comments... To me, I can't leave home without knowing where the next place of convenience might be located... Iraq looks dry and barren, I wondered what y'all did in that situation...now I know, thanks for sharing!

Take care, Mom

Familia Martinez said...

I know what to send in your next package! TP and wet wipes that you can strap to your leg so you will never be caught with your pants down! Love you!

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 02/24/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

AFSister said...

As the saying goes.. there are heroes... and then there are HEROES!

You're a gentleman and a scholar, and apparently... a latrine hero to boot.