Friday, January 20, 2017

Burning Shit

Funny that something as disgusting and revolting as burning human waste in the bottom half of a 55 gallon drum remains one of my fondest memories. It happens though that some of the most mundane tasks remain in our memory because doing them allows us to reflect.

In 1983 I was in the Sinai Pennisula as part of the Multi National Force and Observers Mission. I spent a lot of my 6 month tour on remote observation posts ensuring compliance with the Camp David Peace Accords of 1979. By remote I mean in the middle of nowhere desert surrounded by concertina,minefields and Bedouins.

Our basic accommodations on each OP consisted of a long trailer house type structure that housed our communications room, kitchen and common area. There was another trailer that served as bunk room and sleeping area. The latrine was an outdoor wooden affair that had slots cut in the back so you could slide cut off 55 gallon drums in and out. It was necessary to burn the waste produced when these drums got too full.

The process was simple. You took a 5 foot piece of rebar that had been bent into an L shape and hooked the drums to pull them out. You then replaced them with an empty drum. Grab a 5 gallon can of  diesel fuel and dose liberally. Light it with a match and start stirring until the whole mess turned into a charred ash in the bottom of the barrel.

The task was hot dirty and smelly. But it was mindless. As I aimlessly stirred the shit my mind would wander to the recent past and the Vietnam War where I imagine other privates had done the same thing while gazing at the jungle. I felt a connection and in a weird way part of a tradition as I gazed at my own jungle of scrub, sand and rocks. I would think about family a lot and how much I missed them. I would watch the goat herders drive their goats along the narrow foot paths between minefields. I would run over a plan of action if a suicide bomber attempted to ram the barricades protecting our guard shack. And sometimes I would just admire the sunset and the weird beauty of the desert. Even know my minds eye can see the barren brown mountains and the Red Sea on the horizon. Its funny how an experience that was so distasteful can also be so memorable.


  1. Not combat related but... when I was a pre-teen I would spend part of the summer at my Aunt's ranch in northern Colorado. It had been homesteaded in the very early 1900's and none of the buildings had indoor plumbing (or hot water for that matter). One of the tasks I was routinely associated with was the moving of the outhouse (a two holer). This was a ritual of custom and the "Crapper" was moved about 20 feet to sit on top of another pit. Once the move was completed, out came the Diesel fuel and a copious amount of Aspen firewood. In addition to providing some assistance with the muscle needed to move the wood building, I was left in charge of throwing the wood into the "pit of poop" until the residue had been reduced to ashes and the smoke smelled of wood and wood only. As I liked playing with fire, I tolerated this task well.

  2. We had the same system in Honduras in 1984. Same 50 Gal drums, same diesel burn technique, but at least we had hooch maids to burn it for us. I still remember the smell.