The frappucino of mass destruction
No joke, there I was. . . in the convoy yard at Camp Anaconda, Iraq, waiting to roll south through Baghdad to Tallil. The evening was nice and cool, and we had no intelligence about Improvised Explosive Devices on our route. Looked like it was going to be a quiet night.
This had been a good day all around. We had taken a convoy from Tallil to Anaconda early that morning, slept until afternoon, then screwed around until around 11 p.m. During our down time, my driver, who I’ll call Dot Ritchford so as not to give away his real name, wanted to visit the Green Bean coffee shop. When we got there, Dot asked me, “You ever try a vanilla frappucino?”
I’m not a frappucino-drinking metrosexual. The very name “frappucino” sounds ridiculous to me. I’m not even a coffee drinker and didn’t know what a vanilla frappucino was. But, what the hell, I was willing to try it. So I answered, “No, but I’ll have one.”
The barista, who I think was Iraqi, whipped one up. I BS’ed with Dot while we had our drinks. The frappucino tasted good but was so thick I couldn’t finish it. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but Dot didn’t have a frappucino, he drank something else. That bastard.
I caught the barista giving me the evil eye a few times. Or maybe I’m imagining that now, I’m not sure. I tossed the frappucino, gave the barista a glare and we headed back to our humvee to get ready for the convoy.
This was about eight months into our deployment, and by this time we had a comfortable routine going. An hour before our start time we would meet at the truck yard, get assigned a convoy of civilian 18-wheel trucks and line up at the gate. My humvee would hang back so I could count the trucks leaving the yard. The lead truck followed my team leader’s humvee out of the yard, and I stood outside to confirm the number of trucks in the convoy. This was about two hours after I drank the frappucino.
I began my count. One, two, three, fo. . . Oh my God I’m about to crap my pants RIGHT NOW!
I yelled at my gunner, “We’re at four, take over the count!” and sprinted to the nearest portajohn. This portajohn was for the use of the civilian truck drivers. Most of you won’t understand what that means, so I’ll explain. The civilian truck drivers were from all over the third world, and you could say they had varying standards when it came to hygiene. And varying methods of using portajohns. Many of them, instead of sitting on the john, would put one foot on either side of the hole and squat down over it. I guess their diet gave them intestinal problems, based on what they’d leave around the hole. Instead of using toilet paper, they apparently used bottled water to clean themselves. Their portajohns were always full of empty water bottles and always had crap sprayed between the muddy footprints next to the hole. And they smelled friggin’ awful.
However, this was war. Desperate times called for desperate measures. So I held my breath, ignored the disgusting conditions and did what needed to be done. Fortunately there was so much pressure, the entire process took only about 30 seconds. Relieved at the fact that the attack of the runs had hit me before we left the gate, I did a rush cleanup job, pulled my pants back up and ran to my humvee.
I asked my gunner, “What truck are we on?”
“Okay, I got it.” I picked up the count. Twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-f. . . Holy cow I’ve got to go AGAIN!
I yelled at my gunner to keep counting and ran back to the portajohn. This time I barely got my pants down in time before I destroyed the place. But I finished, straightened myself up and took off back to my humvee. The convoy had already left the truck yard and was lined up at the gate. I pulled on thirty pounds of body armor, ammunition and water, climbed into my humvee, strapped on my helmet and headset and told my driver to take off.
We fell in at the end of the convoy. I sat there nervous as hell. Not about the possibility of ambushes or IEDs, but at the thought that I’d have another attack of the runs during the mission. As my team leader gave the order and we started out the gate, I thought, I just took two huge, horrible dumps. I HAD to have gotten it all out.
The convoy weaved through concrete barriers and started down the route. My humvee was at the rear. As we cleared the barriers, another attack hit me like an anvil thrown from a fifty-story building.
My stomach twisted. I tightened every lower body muscle I had. Sweat popped on my face, my entire body shook. I groaned, hunched over in the seat and desperately hoped the attack would pass.
We rolled down the road. My crew eyed me with worry. Dot asked me several times, “You okay, man? You gonna make it?”
I whispered into my microphone, “I’m good.” That was a lie, by the way. “Don’t ask me to move or anything though. I’m barely holding it in.”
We kept going. I hoped an IED would blow up or a truck would break down, anything to make us stop so I could get out of the humvee and put an end to the agony. An hour passed. I shifted in the seat, leaned different directions, clenched my toes, tried every trick I could think of to lessen the pain. Nothing worked. I rethought my wish for an IED detonation, because if anything startled me, there was no way I could hold in whatever evil the frappucino had transformed into.
The convoy stopped, and a call came over the radio. A truck had a flat. Yay! I get to take a dump! I lifted my head to check our surroundings. We were on the most dangerous part of our route, near an intersection known for IED attacks and ambushes. There would be no dump-taking in that spot. My humvee pulled up to the disabled truck, and other civilian truck drivers bailed out to help change the tire. I bit my lip. That meant I had to get out and provide security for them.
I tightened my sphincter, grabbed my carbine and slid out of the seat. My stomach bubbled and gurgled. I could actually feel the skin of my lower abdomen distend. All around us were blacked out, multi-story buildings. Outside the humvee, truckers had every light they could get on the stricken 18-wheeler. We might as well have had a neon sign announcing “Shoot us, shoot us!”
I stood between trucks and faced the buildings. I didn’t kneel, didn’t try to use a truck as cover, nothing. I just stood there, shuddering in agony, trying not to move a single muscle more than absolutely necessary. I knew that if some insurgent shot me in the stomach, I would explode like a suicide bomber.
The truckers finished the tire change and ran back to their trucks. With a slow, rigid gait, I walked back to my humvee. Insurgents watching me might have thought, “This American has no fear! He isn’t even running!” But no, I had to move that slow or risk losing all colon control.
I climbed back inside. Sweat ran down my sleeves and pant legs. I hunched over again as the convoy rolled forward, and tried to calculate how far we had to go. We were in north Baghdad. To get to our next stop we had to skirt downtown, head south on the west side of the city, and pass several checkpoints and major intersections. The nearest available bathroom was ninety minutes south of Baghdad. We still had over two hours to go.
During those two hours, as our convoy made all the usual starts and stops, I trembled in excruciating pain, beat my thighs with my fists, tapped my boots on the floorboard, and banged my helmet on the headrest. To distract myself from the agony I imagined many horrible ways of killing the Iraqi barista, including drowning him in the truck yard portajohn. I pictured all the nice, clean bathrooms I had ever seen, with their shiny, welcoming toilets. I think I cried a little. It was horrible. I still cramp up just thinking about it.
Over three hours after we left Anaconda, we finally reached the next camp. I was almost delirious by then. Our convoy rolled to a stop inside the gate. I could see a portajohn a short distance away. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
My driver, gunner and a combat photographer in the back seat convoy looked at me. I think they expected me to sprint for the portajohn. But I had too much dignity, and was so worn down from my superhuman effort I couldn’t muster that much energy. I opened the heavy steel door, stepped out and pulled off my body armor. My arms shivered as I laid the heavy vest on my seat. I dropped my helmet on the vest, slung my weapon across my back and started a slow, deliberate journey toward salvation. I think my legs only moved from the knees down. It was still a coin toss as to whether I had the strength to keep the flood gates closed until I reached the portajohn. And if it was occupied. . . well, I was done.
It wasn’t occupied. I stepped inside, took a seat, and floated away in the most pure moment of utter relaxation I’ve ever experienced. I feel for whoever came in next, and for the poor Iraqis who had to clean up afterward. When I was done I went back to my humvee, told the photographer “You’re in command now,” climbed in the back and passed the hell out. I was exhausted, and slept most of the last leg to Tallil. But I also had a feeling of victory. I had held it in! Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you won’t accomplish amazing things in the military.
When it was all over, I vowed to never drink another vanilla frappucino. I vowed to kill the barista if I ever saw him again. And what about Doc Pitchfo. . . I mean Dot Ritchford, the guy who conspired with the barista to kill me with a frappucino? He was one of the best friends I ever had, a dedicated combat medic who eventually served four tours in Iraq. He must have just made an innocent mistake, there was no way he could have known the frappucino was poisoned. But just for good measure, next time I see him I’ll slap him.
Filed under: Iraq | 13 Comments
Tags: convoy, frappucino, humvee, iraq, war