When in Tabuk, be a Tabukian….
For the next few months, I am going to do a series of posts intended for my children. This will be a written diary of what I experienced in Iraq during the spring and summer of 2003. These are stories that I don’t want to tell them now and in twenty years I might be a vegetable so now is a good time to get these stories down. These will be glimpse into what life was like in a real shooting war. I will be using my memory as the primary source but I also have my Loadmaster’s diary to use a reference. These thoughts and comments are all mine though, and I will only refer to my crew by the first name. All of the following pictures were taken by Captain Bill Grimes. My pictures are all on 35mm film and not digitized.
We arrived in Tabuk, Saudi Arabia on 9 March 2003. Our first flight was on 29 March. So we only had about 20 days to make our home and then it was time to wait. As I sit here today, my memories of those twenty days are blurry. Not because time was moving so fast, but the opposite. Nothing was happening. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say it was the longest twenty days of my life.
For us, time had ceased to exist because time did not matter. We ate when we were hungry. We slept when we were tired, we pottied when we needed to potty. Days on days went by, just by sitting in a folding chair in front of the tent. We played games, like throwing gravel at water bottles. We went to Ops town, just to see what was going on. We went to the MRE station to see if anything new was going on. We went for a walk just because. At night we watched war movies and later on we dreamed about war. It was tough for a couch potato; it was torture for those with ADD.
For a couple of days, we built tents. The 1LT in charge of the tent building exercise had his hands full. He was directing a couple hundred aircrew guys in the mechanics of putting up a tent. It wasn’t hard, even the Navigators could figure it out. Like a big transformer pull one bar, pin it into place. Attach it to bar two. You get the idea. Put the canvass on, lift in the middle. Once we got the hang of it, it was a tent an hour. We were in ten person teams, and in less than a week base housing was built.
The third day of tent building, I had the most traumatic event of my life. I hesitate to even tell the story but I made a promise to myself that I would tell it the way it was with no filter. Deep breath, here goes. We had been in Tabuk for about five days at this point, and I had not defecated. Maybe it was stress, different food, change in environment who knows but I had not gone yet. In the middle of the tent building, my body decided it was time. But I put it off because things were not imminent. Three tents later, my body protested, so off I go in search of a suitable location. The bathroom tents were a long distance away but there was a port-a-potty sitting alone on the dusty ground. My stomach was rumbling and walking across the base was not an attractive option.
I select the port-a-potty and make my way there. Mentally, my body knew it was going to relieve itself so the urge became more urgent. In my rush, I did not do a good preflight of the facility with the door open. Once the door closed, it was too dark and too late. Things were going to happen. Unzipping the flight suit, I sit. The sensation was indescribable as I discovered that the port-a-potty was filled to the rim. Nearly vomiting, I added to the overflowing toilet with my waste. Now I had a dilemma, there was no toilet paper which was fine because I needed a towel.
Wish my port-a-potty looked this good.
With no way to clean up, I redressed and went back to the tent, mud and all. Walking back to the tent, I knew that I was stained on the backside. I held out hope that the tent would be nearly empty and maybe my mistake would go unnoticed. I am not that lucky. As it turns out, I was the only sucker in the tent that was trying for the tent building merit badge. Everyone was there, napping, chatting, or reading. The tents are one big open area, there is zero privacy and no way that I could hide my adventure. I took it like a man who just sat in human waste. I got naked and pulled out the baby wipes.
Once I was reasonably clean, I gathered a new set of clothes and made another walk of shame to the shower tent. We called them combat showers, meaning turn on the water and get wet. Turn off the water and lather up with soap. Turn on the water and rinse off. Two minutes maximum of water usage, while wasn’t a problem because the water was freezing cold. I used about five minutes of water that day, not only cleaning myself but washing out my flight suit. Of course clean is a relative concept and nothing was every truly clean in Tabuk.
War is hell and I felt like the knucklehead of the century. No intelligent human would ever sit in a tub of human waste. My tent mates, let me know how funny it was, and yes I even laughed because the comments were funny. The story spread like wildfire, by the end of the next hour I was the hero who filled up the port-a-potty.
Fortunately, my friend Paul G, a pilot on another crew pulled the same trick a couple days later. It felt better to have a friend. Because of Paul and my experiences and the relative uncleanness of the facilities, the airplane became the best option when one needed to relieve themselves. It wouldn’t be long before we spent more time in the airplane than in the tent.
The next story will be dedicated to the storm of the century. Until then, keep on rocking!