Me Time

Life on a FOB is as public as it gets. Few have rooms to themselves. Even fewer have private latrines. Everyone eats together at the Dining Facility. We worked all the time anyway, and when we were off we went to the gym, or the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Center, or—if you were on a big enough FOB—the Green Bean coffee shop and hung out with the same people we’d already been with all day.

The smokers went to the smoke shack and stayed there for hours.

Most of us didn’t care much about the lack of privacy. Hell, we liked it. Soldiers are sociable to begin with, and especially now that we were deployed we were eager to share our views about whatever was going on. The last thing anyone wanted was to be left out, or left alone.

When I was with the Rough Riders, if anyone seemed out of sorts, we’d ask if he or she needed a “Rough Rider hug.” We were kidding, kind of. Really we meant, “Snap out of it, and stop being a baby.” The only time we might take it seriously was if we knew there were issues back home. For the guys, that meant they had been dumped, or found out their wife or girlfriend was seeing someone else. For the women, it probably meant there were problems with their kids’ childcare plans.

That stuff needed to get sorted out before the soldiers were any good again.

In the barracks, which we called B-huts, our bunks were partitioned off from one another by half-walls that didn’t extend to the ceiling. You could hear everything in the next hootch over and could easily carry on a conversation.  One officer in a hootch next to mine had memorized W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939,” a 99-line long poem. He used to recite it to me, almost nightly. Then he would ask me questions about it and Auden’s life.  I didn’t know that much about Auden, but thanks to our Internet connection I could look him up on Wikipedia while we chatted. It was kind of sneaky, but at least then I could hold up my end of the conversation.

If we wanted privacy, we retreated into a book, a movie, or the Internet. Or we slept.  That was our “me time.”

But young soldiers who had early missions or flights that required them to get up at, say, four in the morning, just wouldn’t go to sleep the night prior. They didn’t see the point. Instead, they’d stay up playing cards or watching movies until it was time to go. Older guys, officers and NCOs, would try to go to sleep a couple of hours early because they needed their full rest.

The only clothes we had were our duty uniforms or our Army physical training stuff, which we slept in. When rocket and mortar attacks came in the middle of the night, we would throw on armored vests and helmets along with our gym shorts and flip-flops and then wait out the attacks in the bunkers.

After a few minutes, we would get the “all-clear” and head back to our hootches.

6 Responses to “Me Time”

  1. Katrina Says:

    I thoroughly enjoy everything you write and share. I cannot thank you enough for allowing me and the rest of your readers insight into what war is like from an enlisted point of view instead of what the government and news would like us to know.

    Every time the email alert shows up that you have a new post, I rush to your page like running down stairs to the Christmas tree in my youth. Thank you. 🙂

  2. petermolin Says:

    Katrina: Well thankee very much! That’s high praise indeed. But in the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I’m an officer. I hope that doesn’t ruin things for you; I’m trying to say as much about the war as I can in ways that aren’t critical or give away any security secrets and yet are still honest and original. -Pete

  3. Katrina Says:

    Yes, Sir. I know you are an Officer. However, you seem to take great pride in your work and never leave out the perspective of those below you in rank. In fact, you come across as a bit of a softee. It brings a very understanding and human element to your entries. As for an “enlisted” angle, you were one of those at one point, yes? Have to start somewhere. I’m sure that part of your career is still with you. – Katrina


  4. petermolin Says:

    Katrina and all others–I was enlisted only long enough to go to basic training and OCS, but I have tried to write the blog entries not from the perspective of someone who was in charge of things and had to make momentous decisions, but in more general terms that touch on what it was like psychologically and emotionally, as well as physically and materially, to have been there, no matter what your rank. There are literary influences for much of my attitude toward things and how I’m expressing them, but I’m not telling all my secrets…..

    When I was in Khowst, I was a lot more direct in my thoughts, words, and actions than I’ve been here. But even there I thought that acting hard was often a posture designed to cover up impatience, short-tempers, and inability to deal with complexity. Real toughness was equal parts physical fitness, military competence, and quick and reliable decision-making under pressure. Staying upbeat and determined to continue day-in-day-out was important, too. The best soldiers had amazingly sunny-side-up personalities. They were ready for any adventure, and spread their good cheer to everyone around them. -Pete

  5. Katrina Says:

    Thanks for the “full disclosure”, Sir. 🙂 As said before, you do an amazing job writing rank neutral. My military friends that I have sent to you blog thank you for that as well.
    Please keep writing. For me, us, them.

    Katrina C. – Maine

  6. Peter Molin Says:

    Thank YOU, Katrina.

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