Many years after Desert Storm, a man who was colonel in the reserves asked me why enlisted don’t like officers. He genuinely didn’t know. Let me tell you a story …
You’ve already seen the showers we had to deal with in Saudi Arabia. They were outside, and water trucks came by every morning to fill the tanks on top. The intent was to let sun heat the water up so we have hot showers.
But when we moved to the place we called “Camel Race Track,” which was near a stadium where the Saudis raced camels, we were also headed into winter. I never thought that a place hot like the desert would feel freezing at seventy degrees, but it was!
The showers, which were not warm, became ice cold. So cold that as we marched deeper into winter, the rumor mill said that a soldier had a hard attack because of the temperature. We all believed it!
The showers had never been very good to start with, but they were a brief moment to get all the accumulated grime of the day off (even if it started accumulating again seconds later). Now I had to pull the shower lever and jump back to keep from getting assaulted by icy water. My washing consisted of sticking my hand under that stream and splashing it back on me.
One night I wasn’t able to make the showers by the set hours — don’t recall the reason why — and I rode over with the officers and the first sergeant to a nearby barracks. Those were inside, and they were steamy and wonderfully wwaaarrrmmm.
Wait a minute.
We were freezing our skin off, and the officers were going off and taking warm showers?
The officers evidently saw nothing wrong with that. Maybe they even justified it to themselves by saying they worked past shower hours. But to the enlisted, it looked liked arrogance. That the officers thought they were better and more special than the enlisted. One of the big things the army was to “lead by example,” and yet, we would see stuff like that which clearly said they weren’t.
Word got around eventually, and this trip to the barracks for the officers became very unpopular. Eventually, they trucked us out to the barracks for showers, but it was a logistics nightmare trying to get everyone out there. Finally, the officers arranged to have the water heated before it was put into the shower tanks.
The problem of all of this is that they officers were the leaders and if they had been leading by example, we would have had the hot water as soon as the problem became obvious. Instead, they ignored what was going on because it didn’t affect them. Not every officer is like this. I’ve met plenty of decent ones who wouldn’t have done this (even the colonel who asked me the original question!). But it’s tough when you’re a private because you really don’t have much say and are stuck when people don’t always care.