Tales from the Smoke Pit Vol. 1
By Aaron Ward | Mar 2019
(Warning: Contains some profanity, but you already knew that was inevitable coming from a U.S. Marine and military veteran.)
We as veterans have a ton of awesome stories, be they badass stories of combat or some high-speed low drag training we’ve done. Or if we’re feeling particularly boastful, telling tales of all the exotic and foreign lands traveled courtesy of good ol’ Uncle Sam. Often times these stories are the ones our civilian friends, family, and well everyone else ask for… “Bro you’re a Marine? What’s the coolest place you’ve been?” or “You’re in the Army, what’s the craziest thing they made you do?” Now don’t get me wrong I too like to drunkenly brag as much as the next guy, but on occasions where I’m not nearly as inebriated, I like to change it up a bit. How you might ask? Well, I tell those debaucherous or embarrassing stories that would make it no further than the smoke pit, or the circle of MRE boxes used as chairs and a boot’s back used as a card table. So to you fine readers, ladies and gentlemen; we’re still cool to use those right, I’m not gonna get swarmed some sort of PC hit squad, will I? Anyway… I offer you one of my smoke pit stories.
Spring…ish 2009, my battalion was stationed in the city of Ramadi, Iraq with companies spread to the winds in and around the city. My company called COP Tosh home, just outside of the city. As some of you will know, the COP’s at this point had the luxury of porta-shitters; glorious plastic boxes, that allowed you to shit with an illusion of privacy, if one was brave enough to shut the door in the 125-degree ambient temperature. Which would turn the shitters into Swedish saunas fueled by evaporating crap.
I had been in the country for about three months, living off the all-important care package diet of melted candy, the giant box of Slim Jims I had been sent and the our little chow hall’s never-ending supple of garbage tray rations. Which seemed to be nothing but Butter Noodles, with Shrimp; tiny little turd shrimps which to this day I’m convinced were actually Sea Monkeys that grew to maturity. To say that this kingly diet, full of nutritional value grew old would be an understatement. But alas, one-day things changed.
My platoon commander had a meeting planned with some local Sheik. We just called him Sheik Turkey. I’m up in what was known as Post 4 when Sheik Turkey arrives with his entourage at COP Tosh he brings with him what looks like the Iraqi version of a Thanksgiving feast. From up in my tower pulling security I stared longingly at the lamb and other mystery meats, the fresh grilled tomatoes, zucchinis, rice and that bread that was so damn delicious. I begin to salivate at the idea of something other than the dog food that was the normal spread. But my dreams of sugar plums were smashed by my buddy Sosa, being the Buzz Killington of the day reminding me we wouldn’t get any. Reluctantly I forget about the chance to try this local delicacy and turn my focus instead to staring out into the open desert hoping to burn out my retinas.
A couple of hours pass, our SOG comes along to our post and tells us to get some of the chow that Sheik Turkey had graciously brought to this powwow. Gunny wanted to get his meeting started and had ordered that the Marines of 2nd Platoon grab as much of the chow as they wanted to speed things along. Guess the meetings didn’t start until the food was gone. I gleefully sprint down the stairs of Post 4. Shouting at Sosa “Hurry the fuck up, let’s get some food!” He yells back at me in Spanish, and flips me off. I guess he was trying to get a head start on burning out his retinas. But who cares, I’m getting fresh chow and I’m gonna enjoy it. Let’s fast forward past me stuffing my face.
About an hour after I had gorged myself, I get a dreaded uncomfortable feeling deep in my digestive track. A feeling that can’t be mistaken. The bubble gut. In quick succession, I flash to Ben Stiller eating Ethiopian food with Jennifer Aniston in Along Came Polly. A tinge of panic hits me. I can’t leave my post, Sosa is somewhere over by the piss tubes taking his time. Things begin to get much more urgent in my world the longer he is gone, has it been two minutes? Five? Three hours? Two years? Time seems to pass slowly and quickly as I reevaluated my life choices up to this point. “If you hadn’t enlisted you wouldn’t be here wondering if this might be the moment you are gonna shit your pants.” Then in quick succession, I wondered if a Gatorade bottle would help me, or just make the inevitable worse? The longer he seemed to be gone, the less strength remained in my struggling innards. They were fighting a losing battle, my own internal Thermopylae; one that I would surely lose but that would be fought valiantly.
“Fucking finally!” I scream at Sosa as he walks back into view, lazily strolling back the 50 yards or so to our post. All the while I’m still trying to think about how many sets of desert trousers I have in my sea bag, I guess burning this pair wouldn’t be the end of the world. As my douche of a best friend finally closes to talking distance of Post 4, any shred of discipline that has ever been instilled in me fails. I fly down the rickety, uneven stairs as fast as seems safe given the flood that is sure to come. Shoulder checking Sosa out of the way and to the ground. Beginning the 50-yard marathon to my salvation.
As the distance closes, it dawns on me that I won’t have the time, or continence to shed my gear with any semblance of dignity. So in the fraction of a second, a choice is made, without my approval. My rifle shifts from my right hand to the left. The right-hand reaches underneath the cummerbund on the flak and finds its target. I look down as if in third person, and watch as my hand on its own accord yanks down and out on something. Then it clicks, I’ve hit the emergency cord on my body armor, I feel it loosen from the back.
40 yards to go. The shoulder buckles ripped open in quick succession. The back of my body armor falls away clipping my heels the front doing the same. The front and side SAPI plates tangling my feet and legs. Nearly causing me to face plant. A disastrous event would have followed should this had happened. But in a stroke of luck, I catch my balance. Pressing on with my journey.
30 yards to go. I reach up and unclip the buckle on my helmet’s harness, grasping the lip with my right hand and flinging it far over my shoulder. In those ten yards, I’ve learned a valuable lesson. I won’t be making that same mistake this time.
20 yards to go. My rifle makes its way back into my semi-sentient right hand, the pistol grip held in deathly white knuckles. The magazine falls free, skidding into the brown gravely abyss that was Tosh. My left hand now joins the right in acting on its own accord and reaches up and rips the charging handle with fury that hasn’t been seen before or since on this planet. I see the green tip round spiral out of the ejection port in a slow, lazy motion. I have now seemingly gained the power to slow time. Would this power save me? The battle brewing just behind my quivering sphincter is nearing the final stages, defeat is near.
10 yards to go. Free of the cumbersome gear, I’ve gained momentum. Throwing caution to the wind. The line between moving too slow to make it, or too fast to control my bowels is quickly approaching. I take the risk of speed over control. I fumble with my belt and stupid mother fucking buttons on my trousers. I scream to whatever gods may be “Come on mother fuckers! Please!” Hoping my pleas would be heeded by someone. I finally free the belt, then the top button. Good enough for government work.
0 yards to go. I hit the door of my prey, the most beautiful object known to mankind. The plastic throne in all of its glory. I rip the door open. Tossing my rifle in. I turn in place hoping against hope that there is still time. Yanking my trousers and compression shorts down, ripping two buttons clear of the pants never to be seen again. I begin my final approach in one motion. My embattled ass is now on station above the target. A swamping steaming mess of blue liquid, dozens of other Marines turds, and baby wipes used to clean up…well…. At this moment, the battle brewing inside me is finally lost. The dam breaks. What it was, I can only describe as butterscotch pudding being fired from a t-shirt cannon. And there I sat, trembling, bargaining, near tears for what seemed like an eternity. My journey was over, I had reached my destination. Like a Hobbit making his way across Middle Earth, I felt relieved, tired, war-weary. But the fight continued for several minutes longer. The one ring that ruled them all was destroyed.
In my defeated state I sat, door wide open for the world to see what remained of a proud Marine. Laying out my soul to Saddam’s Revenge. Unexpectedly, another platoon’s Staff Sergeant walked under the camo netting beelining for the piss tubes that sat a yard in front of me. He does his thing and looks up seeing me with some astonishment. We hold eye contact for hours, or seconds, I’m not quite sure which. My face possibly resembling the dogs at a PETA animal shelter about to be put down. He breaks the gaze, turning to walk away, then he sees it. The trail of abandoned equipment strewn over 50 yards from my post to what surely would be my tomb. The SSgt. turns on his heel. Locking eyes once again. Coming to arm’s length. I dream of him putting me out of my misery like Old Yeller. Instead, he places his hand on my matted head in the most fatherly gesture I’ve ever seen during my time in the Corps. “It’s going to be okay Ward.” He says, bending he kisses the top of my now sweat-soaked head, following up with a tussling of my hair. Then he seemingly disappears to carry on with his day. Leaving me to emulate Elvis Presley’s last moments, killed by the food that brought such joy.
So there you have it, my story. One of the smoke pit. That is told and retold. Needing little embellishment. This is a story I told when morale was low in my platoon. It seemed that nothing perked up my boys spirts like hearing the story of when I almost shit myself. Stories like these can have an immeasurably positive effect on your unit morale. So tell them, be a little bit red in the face afterwards, chances are your subordinates or friends will appreciate the candidness. So let’s hear some of your smoke pit stories down in the comments, or if you’re not brave enough to air it to the world slide into the DM’s and let us know, we can share it. We can even not disclose your name if you slide us $5 and a can of that Cope Wintergreen.