By Eli Lilley
Much of the military’s resources are put to use training warriors for combat and combat support operations. As much or more of its resources are used in those combat and support operations. What the warriors come up with on their own is how to battle boredom and make war on monotony between missions and training. The more experience the soldier has, the more cunning that soldier will have filling in the often large gaps between exciting missions most people associate with the whole military. Two such soldiers I had the opportunity to serve with on a convoy security mission between Iraq and Kuwait.
As a substitute gunner, driver and truck commander(TC), I found myself in the position so seeing how each squad interacted. On this particular mission, I was supposed to be filling in as gunner for Jimmy Mad Cat, a Chinese- American from Oakland whose accent matched his ancestry more than his home. He was supposed to go on leave on the second day of a two-day mission , so he was able to give me pointers on his girlfriend, Miss Two-Forty and a little bit on how things were done in second squad. Once he thought he had about wrapped up telling me what I needed to know, he called up to the driver to open the 400-pound sealed and hydraulic door at the back of his crew’s Mine-Resistant Armored Personnel Carrier (MRAP). As it opened, he informed me that they call their TC, “Sergeant Stinky”. When I asked why, he said something about him being a nasty something or other cracker who never “wash his ass”. Satisfied with his contribution to the mission he would not be on, he said, “See ya, Honkee,” and meandered back to his tent to play on his computer. As he left the truck, the door was nearly half-way open, and my nose beheld for the first time what stinky must truly mean. The vile odor that emerged from that truck resembled perhaps what a small animal pooping after being ingested alive by another larger animal, and then both of those animals dying, might resemble. If I were to put it lightly. I looked to the driver to see his reaction, and he took a whiff and just shook his head, almost as though he were expecting it. I took the driver’s lead and just kept preparing for mission. At one point, he must have seen my eyes watering or maybe he saw me taking as much prep time outside the truck as I could, but he just said, “Yep, he’s pretty nasty,” and kept going with his mission preparations. Then it dawned on me that the mission ahead had two unique challenges. The first was the Sergeant’s youth. He was simultaneously still ‘one of the joes’ and had to prove that he would tolerate no insubordinate behavior. I had to make no comments or jokes on his apparently severe lack of elementary hygiene unless I wanted to receive a disciplinary statement from someone younger than me. The second was the fact that for all of the mission prep, the source of the stink was not even with us yet. That implied that, unless several hygiene habits had changed overnight, the smell would go from twice-dead roadkill aroma to three-defrosted-freezers-full-of-meat-and-a-near-death-cat-with-no-bowel-control fragrance. To this point in our tour, I had had several missions that became less and less favorable as we rolled on, but this was the first that presented challenges, albeit kind of funny ones, before we left the gate.
When Sergeant J arrived, I was relieved, surprised, and confused to find that the stink had only very slightly increased, and even then in a different way. What didn’t surprise me was the fact that he didn’t seem to notice. I was also pleased to find that this particular squad drove to the Kuwait-Iraq border with their gunners in their hatches (sometimes squads were asked to keep the gunners below while in Kuwait), which meant that I would have some ventilation. Frankly, it wouldn’t be enough, but at least it was better than the poor driver.
We quickly and efficiently checked the supply trucks we would be taking, lined up to leave the gate, and in a manner faster than I had experienced to that point, we left. Another small grace. Sergeant J called over the radio all the information expected of him as we left the gate, and we rode in silence for what must have only been two miles, but felt like ten. Some squads don’t talk at all for the whole mission. Others talk too much. I expected this squad to be one that had a good balance, but for that time it was almost eerily quiet. What broke the silence was very unexpected. WHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF. Silence. WHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF. Another brief silence. Whif WHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF. Awkward silence.
“Did one of you guys shit your pants?” So he had noticed. It was about time. At this point, I was confused at the fact he could smell it. You’re not supposed to be able to smell your own stink.
The driver and I both nervously chuckled. “I didn’t. Must have been Lilley” the driver said, implicating me in the olfactory offense.
I replied, “A man should be so proud to claim that one. But it wasn’t me, sorry guys.”
If it wasn’t Sergeant Stinky, then who was it? All of us in the truck must have been thinking the same thing, because the driver, who has a comment for all moments, had none, and Sergeant J called over the radio to the other trucks in the convoy, “Somebody’s been screwing with my truck. It smells like shit in here. Worse than shit. Anybody got any ideas on who?”
One at a time, several members of the convoy called over the radio with very brief laughter followed by, “We have no idea.” Then Sergeant J had an idea, one that was voiced by Sergeant M over the radio, “Say, didn’t the commo section have your truck last night? Did you piss one of them off?”
He replied, “Thanks for the tip. That’s just what I was thinking.”
The next several miles were filled with expletives and dreams of revenge and justice from Sergeant J and suppressed laughs from me and the driver. We knew from the last transmission that it had to have been Sergeant M that did it. Only he would find a way to make a truck that size stink that bad and then make the one he did it to believe that it was someone else. He had turned screwing with people into an art, and in that art he was Michelangelo. Knowing who it was made every curse and plot from Sergeant J even funnier, and we couldn’t hardly contain ourselves each time Sergeant M called over the radio suggestions to get back at them, or his musings on why they would do it. Miles and miles passed, and I suspect most of the other trucks had also figured out what had actually happened, if they didn’t already know, and were laughing hysterically. We made to the Iraq border, where we have to check in with Kuwaiti officials and do final mission preparations for all protocols related to Iraq. As we were entering the gates, it dawned on Sergeant J that it might actually have been the person whose headphones he put the icy-hot on that did it. He flipped out. His cursing increased tenfold, and he was ranting about seeking disciplinary action against Sergeant M, who wasn’t officially a sergeant yet. As soon as we got out of the truck, he went straight to the convoy commander and tole him that he thought that somebody in the squad had sabotaged the truck. With a roll of the eyes, a sigh, and the command, “SECOND SQUAD! OVER HERE, NOW!” Staff Sergeant D began to address this new problem I’m sure he was laughing about moments earlier. Half-smiling, the whole squad sheepishly gathered to their convoy commander.
“Now I know that these jokes are funny, but when it starts getting in the way of missions in any way, it has to stop. If, and I do mean if, any of you in my squad did this, you will help Sergeant J and his team clean the truck and we will done with the pranks”
The whole time our CC was speaking, Sergeant M’s face was growing darker, and a scowl was setting in. Several in the squad were just barely shaking their heads in disbelief that Sergeant J would bring the CC into this, while others were still trying to keep from laughing, with the exception of Sergeant J himself, who hardly let Staff Sergeant D finish before he said, “That is some messed up shit to do to another soldier! I am not cleaning any of that up! Was it you, Specialist M? Be a man, own up to it! Did you do it?”
Sergeant M let out a string of curses before saying, “Yeah it was me! I didn’t go crying to Sergeant D when you put icy hot on my headset, did I. No, I didn’t. I laughed with everyone else because it was a good prank, and got even. You’re such a baby, J. If you can’t take it, don’t dish it out.” And then he started to walk away. Before he could get too far, Staff Sergeant D called out in his loud voice, “J,M, wait for me by the barriers. Everyone else, get ready for mission.” He took both men out of site and talked to them for about five minutes before Sergeant M came out and went to our truck to help us get the stink out of it.
He didn’t seem mad anymore when he came to our truck, and he was happy to show us how he managed to pull off making such persistent stink fill the whole truck and not diminish. He got underneath each of the six backseats and pulled out a little brown piece of cloth from each one. Before we could draw the logical, and appalling, conclusion on the rags, he explained that he had ordered mink urine over the internet. They sell it for trapping, but if you want something to really stink, it works for that too. He showed us the Sergeant J’s headset too. He had put a very healthy serving of the mink urine on the microphone, which most soldiers keep right in front of their mouths. He also pulled the rags from under and behind Sergeant J’s seat and showed us that they, too, had a heavy helpings smeared on them. How he lasted those first two miles without really noticing or how he made it to the border without making us stop for a breath of fresh air, I have no idea.
Sergeant J emerged from the barrier quiet and subdued and remained mostly that way for the remainder of the trip to our base in Iraq. I was glad to have seen the prank war happening and a bit sad in knowing that it could and would not continue. For the rest of my life, I suppose it will be good to remember that sometimes things stink, but not as much as mink urine.