01 October 2009
Let me tell you how my day started. We weren’t quite half way through what was the first half of a back to back 10 to 15 day mission. “Turn and Burns” we call them. We had just returned to Arifjan from 15 days out, and had just enough time to conduct maintenance on our trucks, get laundry done, catch up on our sleep and then head out all over again.
The nights drive had been plagued by minor maintenance issues. Nothing major, just the kind of delays that result in frustration and short tempers when you’ve been on the road for as long as we had. By the time we pulled into our next FOB, I was exhausted. I wasn’t just tired, I was the kind tired that makes your bone marrow ache. The kind of tired where you just don’t care anymore.
I had just walked the 300 or so yards to our tent from the staging lane after we parked our trucks. The weight of the .50 cal receiver on my shoulders, coupled with my ruck, my rifle, and my assault pack was crushing and my back and feet were screaming in protest. I dropped my load on a cot and sat down with a sigh that sounded like what I might imagine my last breath would sound like. I unrolled my sleeping bag, shed my dusty uniform and peeled off socks that held their shape when I dropped them on the floor with a dull slap. I collapsed and surrendered to unconsciousness.
Phase 1 of my day
I awoke in disbelief and stared at my watch through bleary eyes. It was only 11:15 AM! I had been asleep for exactly 4 hours, and just been awakened by one of our squad members stomping, stomping back and forth mind you across the wooden floor of our tent, like Sasquatch during mating season! Until this unidentified clown, I had no idea you could slam a tent flap, but somehow he did…repeatedly.
Thankfully, I fell back asleep only to awaken 5 hours later feeling like my bladder was about to implode. As if that suffering wasn’t sufficient enough, my back and my skull throbbed in agony. I needed a hot shower like a heroin addict needed a fix. I grabbed my shower gear, and walked the walk of death to the shower trailer, anticipating languishing in the hot torrent that I knew would soon greet me. The shower trailer was like a steam room and the relief of my own little stall of hot, wet, heaven beckoned me like a sirene’s song.
I hung my brown military issue towel on the hook next to my shower stall, and set my things on the bench. After treating my bladder to much needed relief, I returned to my shower and began to shed my PT’s only to look up and see that my towel was missing. At first, I thought that maybe I had just hung it on another hook, but my superior police investigative skills soon revealed that my towel, was in fact no longer where I had placed it just moments before. I was beyond incredulous. I was tired, dusty, smelled like fermented death, and was feeling just short of ready to commit genocide if it meant delaying my shower just 1 more minute!
Then it happened. The curtain next to mine opened and I was greeted by the alarming vision of a 6 ft 3 Ugandan national, an employee of one of the private security contractors, drying his nether regions with my towel, cotton, brown, US issue, 1 each. I was speechless and stared in disbelief at how blatantly, and violently my towel was being violated before my very eyes. My response was born out of stunned silence. “Bro…did…did you just take my towel?” I sputtered. A young Nelson Mandela on steroids stared back at me, equally shocked. His towel, identical to mine, hung on the opposite hook. “Oh, my. I AM sorry,” he replied quietly, obviously embarrassed. He sheepishly reached out to hand me my towel, not bothering to cover up. After all, what else could he possibly do to shock me at this point? “Well, I sure as hell don’t want it back now!” I shot back. The young Ugandan, hung my towel back up without a word, and hanging his head, retrieved his own towel and pulled his curtain closed to resume drying off.
I stood there, staring at my now useless towel, hanging wet and lifeless on it’s hook. I wanted to mourn it’s passing. I longed for its dry, cotton, terry-cloth wondrousness, smelling of dryer sheets and soap, and knew that it would never be again. I had lost a friend. I climbed dejected and near suicidal into my shower and got on with my life. I dried off with my t-shirt, but it wasn’t the same. The moment I had longed for had been stolen from me.
I don’t remember much from the rest of the day. It’s all a blur at this point. I have to go now…group therapy starts in an hour and I need a shower first.