Comfort Call

I was chatting with some friends about who had been in the coldest situation, and it reminded me of a small incident when I was a young troop.

My company was in the field on Ft. Carson, CO one cold, snowy winter. And by cold, I mean, below zero. Just existing was a bit of a challenge. We weren’t getting much training done. Mostly we were just trying to keep ourselves from freezing to death.  And as a result of environmental concerns, the training areas had porta-johns scattered all over the place in rather random clumps. The Army had contractor that would service the porta-johns on some schedule that was known only to them. It seemed that wherever we were stopped, the porta-johns were full to a degree that induced a great deal of nausea in any poor soul unfortunate enough to require one. Sadly, over the course of a two week trip to the field, chances are, you’re going to need to use a facility at least once or twice…

Now, my boss at that time, SFC Perkins was a man’s man. Burly, Irish (complete to the shock of red hair), ruddy faced, and loud. He was also a tough sonofabitch, able to carry enormous loads like a packmule, and go for days with no sleep, and the bumps and bruises of infantry life concerned him not a whit. To say the least, he was an imposing figure.

It came to pass that one evening, as the sub-zero wind whipped around my tent, and my team and I laid in our sleeping bags, desperately trying to keep the clutches of hypothermia at bay, that SFC Perkins stuck his head in the tent (and annoyed us greatly by letting in a blast of cold air and snowflakes) and told me to get dressed. “Hurry the hell up, I need you to drive my Bradley.” I wasn’t a Bradley driver. I wasn’t even on his crew. I’d never even been a Bradley driver. But I didn’t dare hesitate. I grumbled, sure, but I got dressed quick like  bunny, and hustled after my boss.

While I was finding where the hell I’d left my gloves, SFC Perkins was busy rounding up the crew of one the tanks from the armor platoon attached to us. They didn’t even work for him, but when he told them to fire up the tank and follow us in the Bradley, it never even occurred to them to argue. They fired up their 70-ton, 1500 horsepower jet turbine powered behemoth, and fell in line.

Off we go. I’m having the challenge of my life trying to keep control of the Bradley on the icy trails, with SFC Perkins loudly and repeatedly urging me to go faster and faster. After about a 20 minute drive that took about 5 years off my life, and gave me my first grey hairs, SFC Perkins told me to pull over.

Off to the side I go, and I hop out of the Bradley to see where he was going. He’d seen the toilet contractor drive by, and had me chase him. Coming up right behind the contractor, he found a nice, freshly serviced and cleaned Porta-john. A couple of quick hand and arm signals, and he had the jet powered exhaust of the accompanying tank heating the toilet to a comfortable temperature. And thus, at the expense of Lord knows how many gallons of diesel fuel, and the $200 a mile maintenance cost of driving a tank, SFC Perkins was able to answer the call of nature in relative comfort.

22 thoughts on “Comfort Call”

  1. That is why he was a PSG and not just an SFC!

    2 portapotty stories from my days.

    REFORGER 1982; Day 13. My company was lead unit in a mech task force which was the lead of the brigade which was the lead of the corps counterattack to end the REFORGER for that year. About 5 klicks past the LD we crested a hill and saw a line of about 20 portpotties in a woodline to our left. It was like a battle drill…the entire company went action left and pulled up to a halt in the woodline at the portapotties. Everyone jumped out and grabbed their own TP and stood in line to take their first sitting down dump in 14 days.

    Several years later at FT Stewart while the S4 for a mech battalion we used to take turns for each brigade to serve as OCs for the other brigade to get ready for NTC. Instead of your track each OC had a jeep and a driver. Before going out the S2 would hand out the weather brief…the S3 would hand out the rules of engagement, AAR times and sites and their grid coords, etc. I then produced my masterpiece…the portapotty overlay. I had goen out the week prior and found every portapotty throughout the training and plotted the 8 digit grid. We never had access to portapotties in the mech battalions! The S3 and XO wanted to give me an impact AAM.

    1. You certainly deserved an award, but as a guy who’s written a bunch of AAM recommendations, I’d hate to be the guy tasked with coming up with the language to justify it.

  2. I can remember a couple times, at Riley, out on Arteps, in like, December, January, in the mid ’80’s. There is no way to describe it. 12+ inches of snow, 20 degrees, and that does’nt account for the wind chill factor, Thank the Lord I was the driver of the 113, the entire time I was there, and always had a working heater in my track. I specifally remember jumping out my hatch, and jogging thru the snow, about 200 meters to the chow truck, all my snivel gear on, including the trigger mittens with liners, after I got my paper plate of food, I just wiped it all into my mouth, mittens still on, and ran as fast as I could, to get back in my track.

  3. Oh yea, never saw a single porta-john in the field at Riley, not a single one. Woods only, if you were lucky, and set up in a draw, somewhere out there.

  4. May, 2003. We just completed a nightmare road march from Kuwait to Baghdad and were laagered around the ministry of oil. I discovered a couple of home-made porta potties. The one I selected was so full, i had to chuck a big rock into it to smash the contents down low enough that it was lower than the level of the seat. I went back to my CP and told my story. My training NCO was jealous. He wished he’d thought of that. His method was to take his wet-wipes out of the plastic wrapper, put his hand into the wrapper, and smash the contents of the porta potty down.

  5. Porta-a-johns in the field? I guess the Marines are right about the Army being a bunch of wusses.

    I bever had a working heater in any of the tracks I was on. Fortunately, the lowest temp I saw in the field was about 20 degrees. Alas, mother nature won’t give us balmy temps when we want to fight.

  6. When i was a young infantryman, I thought porta potties in the field were dumb, too. But having followed the Marines into Baghdad and seeing how they liked to live right in the middle of a surface-laid minefield of their own crap, I am all about a porta potty, and highly encourage their use by all. As for heaters, not having working ones doesn’t mean you are hard core…
    In my second OIF rotation, we constantly had Marines attached to us, and I always made a point of treating them like my own Soldiers. It is amazing how many of them tried to come back to support me, or wouldn’t want to leave at the end of the mission because they were going to go back to living like crap.

  7. Porta-johns in the field seem a little silly, but you don’t have to practice being miserable. But the porta-johns on Ft. Carson weren’t there for our comfort, but for the benefit of keeping the land on post as clean as possible.

  8. I agree, with exception that for some reason, many Soldiers and Marines are too #$)* lazy to dig a cathole and seem to not mind living in complete squalor amongst the excreted remains of t-rats and MREs with little bits of toilet paper stuck to it. No matter how much you say, they hold it until the dead of night and then float out of the AA to do their nefarious deeds.
    And it is not true that tankers don’t dismount to take care of business.

  9. I am sure the occasional tanker dismounts for #2, but as a Cavalry Scout for 20 years, i have spent many a day right alongside our tanker brothers, and the larger majority of them have no shame in dropping their drawers, holding onto the bussle rack, and doing the deed. The fact that they have the ability to not get it on the side of thier tank make me wonder about some institutional instruction at some time in their career development.

    1. Reforger 1982 I watched an M60 TC climb into the bustle rack and traverse the turret over the right side…an he then proceeded to take a dump right there in the middle of a giant field.

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