Linda Maye Adams

Soldier, Storyteller

The Army Private on Police Duty


Bet you just thought I was talking about police officers or law enforcement. In the Army, police means a different thing.

Especially if you’re a lower enlisted soldier.

It’s a work detail to pick up trash, and a pretty common one. If we go to a field site, we’ll go on “police call” to pick up any trash deposited. We line up in a row and walk forward, picking up anything we find. Usually it’s a lot of cigarette butts because army cigarette smokers (both male and female) tended to be terrible litter bugs. One time I chewed out a smoker friend who tossed a cigarette butt away carelessly:

“Hey! Go pick that up! We’re going to have to police it later, and I’m not picking up your trash.”

In Desert Storm, police call was a different experience entirely. We’d come in the middle of the night to a reception area at the port. Pretty much it was a place for the units to stay until their final destination was ready. So a lot of showers and shaving areas to accommodate the constant influx of soldiers.

Evidently the last unit, or two or three, hadn’t done police call. Soldiers are terrible with litter. It’s not the place they live, so they will discard pretty much anything where they are standing. Water bottles were everywhere, smashed down with boots, and clogging the water. We also found washcloths, used razors, shampoo bottles, etc.

The shower stalls were even worse, because really, the male soldiers didn’t care. And it was specifically the male soldiers. Once they didn’t have anyone to keep an eye on them, some of the men seemed to de-evolve, not only leaving all their trash in the showers, but even using them as a latrine. We started passing on cleaning those up beyond the water bottles, because it was really bad. The showers for the women were a luxury for us to clean up because the female soldiers left them clean.

Keeping locations clean is part of what’s called Field Sanitation. Free Republic says the following in The Nitty Gritty section:

“Field sanitation is a lost art,” according to the briefing. “Units need to deploy with materials to build showers and latrines.”

Since the end of the Cold War, the Army has conducted large-scale deployments to southwest Asia, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo. The notion that somewhere in the middle of this high operational tempo units have forgotten how to take care of field sanitation might strike some observers as odd.

Environmental restrictions at home posts are partially to blame, according to Hiemstra. “There are limitations in most training areas today about digging a slit-trench latrine – you can’t do it,” he said. “Those are environmental considerations … because you’re using that same terrain to train in all the time, and so there are hygiene considerations.

“If you look at our training in the United States, we rely a lot on fixed-latrine kinds of facilities, even if it’s a port-a-potty,” he said. “Then you go into a very austere theater like folks are in in Afghanistan, and the local port-a-potty contract isn’t there anymore.

“There’s a specific discipline that goes with being able to take care of yourself in the field for a long time,… [and] we don’t train to that standard in normal training here in the States.”

The article doesn’t address the other problem. Soldiers, if they’re faced with an issue, will come up with unusual solutions with the tools at hand. We had guys building swimming pools so they could cool off.

Yet, without direct orders, the first thing that went for most of the male soldiers was basic hygiene.

2 Comments

  1. Oh, ew.

    I know, in a war zone there are other priorities, but I’m really sorry for the people who have to clean up razors and biological waste. I just hope there weren’t used condoms in the mix.

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    • Thankfully I didn’t find anything like that in the mix! But waste like that always comes with war. The military does designate field sanitation as an extra duty, which comes with classes, but unfortunately, it also tends to mean that the soldier gets stuck on waste cleanup instead of using the skills properly.

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