Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Momentos & Things that Make You Go... WTF?

The Military Academy in Columbia that we went to was an interesting place. The training was great, but it was the first time for most of the Marines to truly see how lucky we were to be in the United States Marine Corps. Yeah, we might piss and moan about training, chow, lack of sleep time, some of the officers, and just about everything else, but there we got to see a whole different world.

The first interesting moment came when our Staff Sergeant came back from the initial tour of the campus and told us to get ready for chow. He explained that we would each take an MRE and 'field strip' it. This was to say, open the bad boy up, take out what you want to eat, trade what you can, and toss the rest.

We were bringing MREs to breakfast. Okay...

He went on to explain that we were not to eat the MREs during breakfast, or make any, ANY comments at all about the food that we got.

One thing about many of the infantry forces in South America. Just like infantry anywhere, a few guys are worthless, some are studs, and most fall in between (hopefully closer to the 'stud' rating). Some could sneak up on an insomniac ninja juiced up on 3 gallons of coffee, and some guys couldn't find their ass with a map. And help. That being said, the overwhelming majority of them are tiny compared to the average U.S. Marine. That's not to say that we are for the most part huge and hulking beasts, neither. I'm talking about 5ft 5in & 140 lbs, in that neighborhood. Friggin' wee li'l tiny guys, they were. It helped out when running through the jungle, those guys could haul ass when needed. But that's another story.

We got to chow, met up with our counterparts, and entered the building. Chow consisted of one 4 oz cup of coffee and a small piece of toast with half a slice of bologna (no second servings). The Staff Sergeant's advice to pack the extra chow was much appreciated. The worst part about it for me was the coffee. Not only was it woefully undersized, but true to military form, it wasn't even that good. It was Colombian, dammit!

There were only a few mumbles and grumbles when the Staff Sergeant told us that the other meals were going to be quite small-sized (from our perspective) as well. For the most part, the Marines were great about going out of their way to avoid insulting our hosts.

Bathrooms, on the base tested their patience, though.

I got a few funny looks when I told the guys to save the paper from the MREs (they think of everything, don't they?). 'But we're on a military base', they said. 'We'll just find a crapper with paper', others replied.


I saved all the paper I could find, because 1) I remember the times when almost nobody in the platoon had any sleeves for their t-shirts, and 2) I have been to a South American toilet before.

So, after a long day of traipsing through the jungle, we returned to the base, got assigned some empty junior officers quarters, and turned to on a few hours of free time. The base had some cerveza at the corner store, so that motivated a bunch of the guys. The hat was passed, and Pvts were voluntold to run down to the store and buy as much beer as they could. The rest of us passed the time smoking and joking with a few of the Colombian enlisted guys. This was about the time when Cpl. Grog decided to use the throne. Armed with (some of my extra) paper he went in to do his business.

That was when he found out that the toilets didn't flush.

Easy enough of a situation to resolve, but he had never heard of using a bucket to flush a toilet before. I don't know if it is a water pressure thing, pipe size, or what, but for y'alls future reference, you can fill a bucket of water and 'dump' (Har!), but not pour the bucket into the commode. This will essentially kick start the flush and make the toilet do what it's supposed to do. It does take a little bit of aim (with the bucket, guys... that too, I guess) in the right area, but it can be done.

Before anyone tries it out here in the states, I might mention that I've never had to do this anywhere but in South America. Proceed at your own risk.

Having resolved the 'shitty' situation, we went outside to the courtyard to find that the Privates had returned with the refreshments. We smoked cheap cigarettes, drank some decent beer (the two beer (pack) limit was loosely obeyed, and swapped some war stories with the Colombians.

A few hours and more than a few beers later, and I noticed that one of my Lance Corporals was going around collecting the bags of water. He was enthralled with the clear plastic bags of water, and thought that they were just the coolest thing he had ever seen. I wandered around and into the room that he was staying in to find that he was carefully placing the bags into his pack.

"Uh, what are you doing?" I asked. "You do know that we are going to be here for another week or so, there's plenty of water around, and you are carrying alot of crap in your bag anyways, right?"

He responded, "Thish is sooo cool, I gonna take 'em home, n' ssshow the folks".

Allrighty then. Carry on.

We all had a chuckle the next day when, fighting a massive hangover, he slung his pack onto his back, tightened down the shoulder straps, and tossed his mortar component on his back, bursting all of the bags of water inside. His pack was immediately soaked, and we hadn't even started the day.



Dustin said...

Regarding the manual toilet flushing, it works in the US, too. Our hunting camp in the middle of nowhere has no indoor plumbing, so there's two five gallon buckets next to the toilet. Fill them up from the pump outside when you use them, and you're good to go. I also am not aware of how the mechanism actually works.

SpeakerTweaker said...

That's excellent. I'da paid a decent sum for a picture of the look on the guys face both when he realized he was soaked (a "WTF?!?!" look) and then why he was soaked (an, "I am such a Dumbass of the First Order" look).

Nice to see you finally up to your old tricks again, Murph. Look forward to the next one!


Alison said...

Hi Murph... Just curious... were you there to train them? Is FARC the only organized militia there?

Murphy said...

Training wise, it was only a couple of weeks, but there actually was training going both ways.

In a lot of places the US will conduct some training, and believe it or not, in some countries the host nation forces teach us quite a bit. Case in point, the Colombians have a lot of recent, real-life experience in jungle warfare situations, so they were able to teach us quite a bit.

If I remember correctly, the FARC aren't the only ones, but they are the ones who get on the news up here more often than not.

Kaerius said...

I love your stories Murphy, your words paint vivid pictures. I couldn't help laugh about the corpral with the water bags.

I also am not aware of how the mechanism actually works.

The lying down S shape pipe is a water "lock", and is normally filled with air at the upper bulge.

When enough pressure is applied on the input side(ie: someone flushes the toilet) then it overpowers the lock, and goes through it, and on down the pipe. This also causes suction, that pulls most of the water out of the bowl. When the pressure stabilizes, water from up in the bulge flows back down to the bowl, and the lock has reset.

Farmgirl said...

I'm listening to your interview now, you did a good job. You had nothing to worry about, dude.

Murphy said...

Kaerius - Good to know, thanks.

farm girl - Too kind, too kind.

Old NFO said...

Murph, sorry I missed the interview, I'm over in the 'other' part of the world for a while... I remember the ahh... toilets... in SA well, and NOT fondly! We had a crewman get a massive case of Montezuma's revenge, and we had to be water boys for him for about two days. He finally took a couple of lomotil (remember the little white tablets in the emer med kit? The one that you were only supposed to take one of?) So three days later he had to go to the hospital to get an enema...LOL

Good to have you back on the net!

Shay said...

I had someone tell me once about a CISM session they attended in Senegal where breakfast was five live chickens tossed off the back of a truck...