Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Cultural Differences, Suspicions, and A Song

Think this is going to be a long one, so pop the top, kick back, and get comfy. Drinks should be good until 'Suspicions'. Hope you like bathroom and ass-humor...

Cultural Differences.

Before we left, we had numerous classes on the cultural differences that we could expect to see in country.

Much of it we already knew more or less, like the position of women in the social structure, bathroom practices, and inadvertently insulting a host by refusing gifts. Most of was details, such as never look at, speak to, or even acknowledge a woman or girl unless specifically introduced or okayed by a male family member. Of course, it was made clear that mission came first and if it came down to it we would have to deal with them, but when it came to females, they made sure that we took every precaution and made every effort to be sensitive to their culture. Other specifics was that if we were offered food or chay (a sweet tea served quite hot), we should thank them profusely and if we could, offer them some food in return... with the right hand, lest we offer any (additional) insult.

The instructors also mentioned personal space. It is a common practice there that if a man and woman are walking down a dirt road, the man will be in front and the woman, behind (because we all know that the ladies never do a booty check). If two guys are walking together, often times you might see them holding hands, or walking arm in arm. They stressed that this was not anything unusual to the rural Iraqi, but just a sign of friendship. They also told us that if they saw any Marines walking hand in hand, it was too late to get out of the deployment, so don't even try it... Seriously though, the concept of personal space to the average Iraqi (like many others, actually) is a lot more close than one is used to here in the States.

They told us about little things like removing your shades before initiating a conversation, or leaving them on if you were a part of a security detail (this might signify to the locals that you were not the one to talk to, they should look for the designated 'talker'). They stressed learning small Arabic phrases, 'thank you, food, water, yes, no', and the like. Have some candy for the kiddos, but make sure that they aren't helping themselves to your pack when your back is turned. They told us the kids were very inquisitive, friendly, and some of them would speak decent English. They noted that if the kids ran away when we arrived in a village, that was never a good sign, or a really good sign that word had gotten out that the Marines were about to get hit and that all children should make themselves scarce.

They told us that most of the stuff we were learning in the pre-deployment work up was to be considered a sort of guide-line, and that we would learn the details when we got to our actual deployment site, from the guys that we replaced.

The Forward Operating Base.

Once we had been in country for a few months and pretty much gotten ourselves situated, we would up at a Forward Operating Base (FOB). The FOB was also an Iraqi National Guard (ING) training center. I'll go into some of the details of the particular adventure that was training Iraqi soldiers at another time. For now just note that the FOB was a small little outpost situated next to a decidedly unfriendly town. Another way of saying this was that our FOB was well within reach of rockets and mortars.

Living with Iraqi solders was an interesting experience. We would eat chow with them, practice one anothers language, and on occasion, train & do missions. We were not the primary point of contact when it came to training the ING, that was left to other Marines, but we did have our moments.

I was able to see that the soldiers were a lot like many of the other nations soldiers, sailors, marines, and commandos that I had trained with before. A lot of differences, of course, but much in common.


As the FOB didn't have running water more than a slight trickle, someone had set up port-a-johns at various locations. The hills and Hesco barriers (think huge, mesh, sand-boxes) protected the johns from incoming, 'cause who wants to arrive at the pearly gates not from the glories of the battlefield, but the indignity of dying on the shitter?

One day a turd was noticed, not in the port-a-john reservoir, but on the shelf supporting the seat.

This was a delicate situation.

Most knew that the Iraqi solders naturally squatted when... taking care of business, and some suggested that one might have thought that the proper procedure was to secure the door, climb up on the seat, squat down, and do their thing. Improper 'sight alignment, sight picture' could possibly account for why the turd missed it's intended target. I don't know if anything was communicated the first time, probably just cleaned up and brushed out of mind.

When the poos continued to make their appearance, well, something needed to be done.

The first thing that happened was humor, of course.

Walking into the command center to get a brief for my next patrol, I noticed that the Administrative bubbas had treated the mystery of the shitters as a mission intel 'dump'. Someone had taken photos of the offending deposit, posted it up on the wall, and included it in the incoming data information table. With a pen, some had likewise created an 8-digit grid, including the likely Point Of Origin (POO, get it?) and Point of Impact (POI). Like some of the BOLOs (Be On LookOut) that we had running around in the neighboring villages, the Mad Bomber, the Rocket Man, etc. whomever was doing the dirty deed needed a name. I'm not sure who suggested it, but 'The Mad Shitter' was suggested, and it... uh, stuck (Har!).

I think this time the Gunny, prompted by the CO, wandered over to his counterpart in the ING and suggested that the ING Soldiers might take a little more care when in the johns.

A done deal, right?


After another deposit, the CO was starting to get pissed. There were rumors of securing the heads at certain times, or placing a guard on them, 24/7.

Late one night or early one morning, we returned to the FOB from another uneventful patrol. We were driving lights out and with our NVGs, so when we pulled around the FOB to hit the fuel station, I noticed a curious sight. I saw what looked like a number of chem lights suspended in the air in a circle around the shitters.

I told my driver to stop, instructed my second to get the vehicles cleaned and fueled up, and the Marines started on weapons maintenance. I told him I was going to check out the shitters, go do the debrief, and get some word on our next patrol.

Walking up to the johns, I noticed that there was one Marine, just kind of hanging out, like.

He was the shit-house guard.

No shit, neither.

As I approached, he gave me the greeting, asked 'One or Two?'. Apparently, the johns now had designations, for ease of guardianship. I politely inquired, WTF? He informed me that the Mad Shitter had stuck again, the CO was pissed, and his platoon had mounted a guard, indefinitely. All persons had to have the guard inspect the johns post use for the time being.

At the risk of repeating myself, WTF?

I did my business (damn that evil MRE Cheese!), got my port-a-john inspected, and continued on with the plan of the day.

Despite the barbed wire, armed guards, and inspections, the Mad Shitter somehow struck again.

This was when he became somewhat of a... not quite a folk hero, but there was definitely a sense of respect for the drive of whatever nasty sumbitch it was, doing the dirty deed against all odds.

Odes were written, lyrics were created, whispered suggestions as to the identity of the culprit (or culprits?) were bandied about. It was a work in progress, for a while, because...

The Army (God Bless'em, everyone of those stinkin' buggers) had decided to install shower tents at the FOB. We had gone for so long without decent regular showers that when they started to set up tents and the rumor spread that we would actually have hot showers soon, I instantly took back every bad thing I had ever said, thought, suggested, insinuated, spray painted, joked about, etc about the fine organization that is the most honorable United States Army. I have never been more excited about washing my crack, that's for sure. That lasted for all of two days, but it was memorable because...

After the excitement of the shower tents wore off... yup, you guessed it, the Mad Shitter stuck again.

This kind of pissed me off. No, when the shower tents were secured (closed for use, as punishment), that really did piss me off. There were those however, that continued to admire the guts (courage, not what they produced) of that sneaky, dirty, bastard with Ninja-like prowess of the night that was the Mad Shitter.

The final product, more or less, of the admiration of the Marines to the still-unknown Mad Shitter, battling the forces of decency, basic cleanliness, risking the ire of all Staff NCOs and Os, and escaping under the cover of darkness to continue the fight another day, went something like the following.

The Mad Shitter
(sung to "When Johnny Comes Marching Home")

The Mad Shitter struck again today,
Hoorah, Hoorah! (x2)
The C.O.s pissed and he's gonna find out,
who's been shitting around and about.
And the Corporal says we'll see him,
never again, no more!

The Mad Shitter struck again today,
Hoorah, Hoorah! (x2)
Well he left a pile, steaming hot.
When he gets caught, he's gonna get shot.
And the Sergeant says we'll see him,
never again, no more!

The Mad Shitter struck again today,
Hoorah, Hoorah! (x2)
He dinna' come to steal and loot,
only to leave a wee lil' poot.
And the Staff says we'll see him,
never again, no more!

The Mad Shitter struck again today,
Hoorah, Hoorah! (x2)
The wire is laid and the guard is set,
the house is open, taking bets.
And the Gunny says we'll see him,
never again, no more!

The Mad Shitter struck again today,
Hoorah, Hoorah! (x2)
In the middla night and past the guard,
he left his stinky calling card.
And the Cap'n says we'll see him,
never again, no more!

The Mad Shitter struck again today,
Hoorah, Hoorah! (x2)
Well he shit in the showers
and now they're secured.
No more bathing on account of a turd.
And we all say we'll see him,

Amazingly enough, I don't suspect that that one is ever going to realize inclusion on the military music CDs or cadence call rolls anytime (ever) in the future...


Tech Like Me said...

Me being the philistine that I am only recognized the song once I youtubed it and realized that it was the tune of "The Ants Go Marching".

Still, you got to admire the sheer persnickety-ness (cussedness) of The Mad Shitter... even if his mission is a rather disgusting one.

K Powers said...

We had one of those at Sullivan Barracks, Mannheim, FRG when i was there with 8TH ID in the early 80's. Ours preferred to shit on the back seat of commander's jeeps in the motor pool.

Murphy said...