by Heath Hansen
It was 0530 hours the morning our first sergeant kicked open the door to our tent, and told us to “get the fuck outside and form it up!”
Late the previous night, we returned to base from a 10-day mission in Afghanistan. I could see through a small rip in the tent that the sun hadn’t crested the mountains to the east yet. I was tired. The squad was tired. The platoon was tired. Nobody seemed to know what was going on.
Half asleep, we put on our PT’s and got into platoon formation, next to the hesco barriers topped with concertina-wire. Our first sergeant approached the formation, and addressed the group.
“Listen up, First Platoon,” he said. “Last night, you guys got back from a mission. You were eating MRE’s for a week and a half. This morning, I walked over to the showers to get cleaned up. When I opened the shower curtain, I saw that one of you took a massive MRE shit right in the middle of the stall.”
He paused, and looked with a stern face at the formation, randomly making eye contact with different members of the platoon. He raised his right arm and extended his finger at us.
“If I find out which one of you mother fuckers is shitting in the showers, I’m gonna Article 15 the fuck out of you – loss of rank, 45 and 45,” he said. “Don’t fuck with me.”
The entire formation stood silent – not sure what to think.
After the verbal reprimand, he released us.
“Who do you think took a shit in the shower,” I asked my buddy.
“I don’t know, but first sergeant was pissed,” he replied. “I haven’t seen him this furious since the National Guard guy fell asleep in the watch-tower.”
“Not a lot surprises me anymore,” I said. “But shitting in the shower – that’s uncivilized.”
The following morning, at the crack of dawn, I was accosted by the voice of my first sergeant screaming into our tent – again. Apparently, he had found more shit in the shower.
“Alright, you guys thought I was screwing around. Guess what we’re gonna do about it,” he yelled, his face starting to twitch, as he looked at the formation. “You dumb mother fuckers get to pull guard duty, in the latrines, 24-hours-a-day, until we find out which of you paratroopers is the Phantom Shitter.”
The platoon stood at attention, listening to our fate.
“One more thing, you’ll be pulling guard in full battle-rattle,” he seethed. “Body armor. Helmet. Weapon. And ammunition. You play ‘fuck-fuck’ games, I play ‘fuck-fuck’ games.”
We were released, and the guard rotations began. Suspicion also began to grow throughout the platoon. No one knew who could be trusted anymore.
Me and another private got the first shift. We donned our equipment, and headed to the latrines. As we broke the threshold of the door, the mustiness hit us; it was like walking into a men’s locker room, baking in the sun, that hadn’t been cleaned in months – because that’s essentially what it was. The left half of the building was the shower section, with about eight shower heads in total. As you walked out of the shower, you went into the hallway with multiple sink-heads and mirrors. Across the hallway were about half a dozen toilet stalls.
My squad mate and I walked between the sections of building, checking the stalls every time someone finished showering or using the toilet. So, on top of the typical musty smell, we also got to experience the occasionally acrid smell of feces and urine. Some of the soldiers using the facilities appeared suspicious, and definitely fit the picture of how I thought a “Phantom Shitter” might look (shifty eyes, scowl, bad haircut, dirty clothes, etc.) But we never caught any of them in the act of defiling the shower. After a two hour shift of “fuck-fuck” games, our stint ended with nothing significant to report.
The shifts continued for two days, and the duty was already getting old. We were all losing precious sleep, and just hoped the Phantom Shitter would come clean. People I had trusted with my life a few days earlier, were becoming strangers. I used to worry about the enemy outside the wire; now, the enemy could be sleeping next to me. War is Hell.
Going into the third day, we continued the rotation through the night; the final shift started at 0400. Privates Zigler and Ashby were on duty. They made their rounds, but things were quiet at that hour.
At around 0445, an interpreter walked into the latrine. The Afghan was from a small village, far away from any American military bases. His hair was a mess, his beard scraggly, and his clothes disheveled. This terp was a new guy, and had only been on one mission with us. He rubbed his eyes, then looked at the two privates with a perplexed gaze, not understanding why they were wearing all their gear in the latrine. He decided to ignore them, and walked into the toilet section.
The privates continued the conversation they were having, until suddenly, they heard water sloshing and splashing. They went silent. The two slowly walked towards the toilet stall. They bent over to get a better vantage point of the area in front of the toilet.
Looking underneath the stall doors, they could see the interpreter was facing the porcelain-bowl, on his knees. He was reaching into the toilet and splashing the water onto his face and wetting his hair, slicking it backwards. When he finished, the privates stood up and stared at him, stunned, as he walked out of the stall.
“What the fuck are you doing?” asked Private Zigler, in disbelief.
“I wash face. What you think I do? Why you looking on me?” he said as he smugly walked past the privates towards the shower stalls.
Zigler and Ashby followed him to the showers. The interpreter had walked into one of the stalls and closed the curtain, but had inexplicably decided to leave his clothes on. He also hadn’t turned on the shower head. After a few moments, the interpreter opened the shower curtain and stepped out. He then proceeded to turn on the water.
The two privates made their way around the Afghan, and looked into the stall. They stood there, mouths open, staring. It was at this moment it all made (some) sense. The interpreter had defecated in the shower and was attempting to wash it down the drain.
After a few seconds, he turned off the water and started walking out.
“What the fuck are you doing?” asked Private Ashby, in disbelief.
The interpreter perplexedly looked at Ashby, and smugly replied, “I do a poop. What you think I do? Why you looking on me?”
The interpreter walked out of the latrine and back to his hooch.
Zigler and Ashby looked at each other and began laughing hysterically. Later that morning they reported their findings up the chain of command. When the platoon got word, we all breathed a sigh of relief, and the trust between us returned. The brotherhood that had been challenged by a piece of shit, was restored.
The first sergeant spoke with the base interpreters about what had happened. This particular interpreter was not familiar with Western showers and toilets. Upon first seeing the latrine, he assumed the toilet water was for cleaning the face and hands, and the shower was for washing away human excrement. After receiving an explanation from the other, more experienced terps, this guy realized his mistake.
Morale in the platoon was reignited, and the Phantom Shitter never struck again.
Heath Hansen writes frequently for Soldier of Fortune.