It was hot already the morning we prepared to leave Kuwait for Iraq. The sun wasn’t even close to the horizon and it was pitch black as I prepared for the day. Dressing out of bags, sleeping on cots, living in tents, eating MREs and hot meals from a temporary DFAC building that remains 4 years later on my second tour; I prepared for the day. I suppose some things you get used to in the Army, like digging around blindly through a duffle bag for clean clothes and getting dressed, shaving, and brushing your teeth with a red lensed flashlight and bottled water. This much I already had mastered. What I hadn’t gotten used to was the blast furnace. It’s on every map during the summer of the northern hemisphere you can find it. It’s called Kuwait. Somehow it’s hotter with the breeze than without, as the air heats up from the sun and rushes away from daybreak towards the dark parts of the world, stepping outdoors is like stepping up to an open industrial sized convection oven. To make matters worse, we have to wear our body armor. I feel like I could never get used to this, but I guess we’ll find out if that’s true or not. Either way, it won’t be happening today. Our flight manifest is read off by First Sergeant Gamboa as we herd about like zombies. We shuffle our feet this way and that, still groggy and definitely oppressed by the heat and weight of our gear. The bigger guys, like myself, grab the gear of the weaker or smaller or older Soldiers. We’re partly doing so to be helpful and partly doing so to get a move on because we’re impatient and don’t want to wait while they struggle. The gesture usually goes unnoticed. Our duffle bags get stowed onto a pallet that is carefully arranged and then has a net placed over it to keep it secure in the cargo hold of the plane, which just so happens to be the same hold where our seats are located. We step away and the sun heats up the tarmac as fighter jets fire up as they prepare for take off. The added heat isn’t welcome. The exhaust from the jets and from our C-17 military fixed wing aircraft sucks out what little humanity is left in the air. I suck on my water source. Great. Now I have to piss. Couldn’t be better timed since we’re about to sit through a briefing by some hangar rat that likes to hear himself talk. Just by looking at him I can tell he isn’t a pilot. He probably doesn’t even work on the planes. He just likes to act the part since he’s so close to them all the time. I’m bouncing my legs and shifting back and forth as the discomfort grows inside of me. I can see the latrines. Hell, I can even smell them. Not that much of this country isn’t scented to the point that you can tell what is within 100 yards with your eyes closed, but I know the latrines are right there. We’re still wearing our body armor, too, and the front SAPI plate is digging into my bladder. Someone has a question. Great. I can’t hear what they’re asking but no doubt it’s irrelevant to my need to urinate so intensely. The hangar rat says something to the question. I can’t hear his response either, but what I can clearly hear now is the growing chorus of Velcro as a wave of motion starts from around the question and works its way towards me. Awesome, we can take off our armor inside the hangar, I’m sure the rat was in such a hurry to talk to us about safety and the photography prohibition on the flight line that he forgot to tell us. A mild sense of relief as 50 pounds of pressure is lifted from my bladder. I fold up my body armor and stack it up neatly on my feet. I still have to pee and the building is still hot. Someone in a flight suit walks in from behind us and the rat stops talking for a second and approaches the man in the flight suit.
“Ten minute break,” the rat says after a short conversation with the flight suit.
I don’t even listen to the rest of what the rat is saying, I just bolt for the latrines. I left my armor and backpack at my seat on the hard wooden benches and sling my rifle onto my shoulder as I maneuver through the crowd, being careful not to hit anyone with my rifle. The smell is acrid and overpowering as I enter the latrine.
“Fantastic.” I think to myself as I see the accommodations are a urinal trough. I attempt to hold my breath for the entirety of my visit but fail just as I make my way to the sink to wash my hands. I have to cock one elbow up to make sure my singed weapon doesn’t slide off my shoulder and bang up against the sink.