Pilot 1 to Pilot 2: “Shower Below!”

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Speaking of women in, or near, combat, Army Major Carol Hickey went to Iraq twice: as an intelligence officer in Baghdad in 2003-2004, and then as a company commander in the southern part of the country in 2010-2011.

In this March 2012 interview with the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, she talks of some of her recollections from her first deployment. Excerpts:

It was the most surreal experience I’ve ever had because we did drive. We flew into Kuwait, into Doha, which was the only thing open at the time.

We had these big bay sleeping areas, we just kind of tossed everybody in there. As the intel officer my job was to just track down as much information as we could.

Because we were an Aviation squadron we were actually separate from everyone else. We co-located with the Kuwaiti Army on their base, which was different.

We came in through Doha and then immediately pushed out to a Kuwaiti base away from any other U.S. Soldier.

I’d traveled to North Africa as a teenager but this was my first real shoulder-to-shoulder experience with any Arab soldier.

As a female it was interesting to go through that process and it was so new for them at the time too. We were just kind of both staring at each other.

It was really interesting and I just tried to figure out everything I could. We got the aircraft together and unloaded and prepared to go in…

I was very young. I was 22 and a female; kind of bright and bubbly. I hadn’t been jaded by the world yet. I just didn’t know any better to think of it any differently…

I have always been pretty fortunate to have really great NCOs who kind of kept an eye on me and made sure I didn’t get myself into any situations that weren’t going to be appropriate for either party.

I was just such an oddity to them. Most of them didn’t speak any English but we’d find a way to communicate and it would be more social experience than anything.

They would ask all these questions. My hair was even blonder then and they would try and touch my hair because it was something so different.

We would run; I would run with one of my Soldiers around this tiny installation in a t-shirt and shorts and that was something that was never seen around there, that much skin exposed.

They thought it was amazing, the most insane thing. They would cheer and kind of hoot and holler, not cat call but just be so excited about the Americans being there…

[Not to get too personal here but what did you do about bathing with no facilities?]

Initially, there were some metal-framed beds so we upended a metal-framed bed. Because it had been a war college there were random stockpiles of tarp kind of material or there was a dining facility so there were big pots and pans.

I had this huge thin pan and we would put that — that’s what you would stand in.

We upended this metal framed bed and wrapped this canvas material around it…

We had thought far enough ahead to bring a camp shower with us so we would fill that up from the drinking water.

We had to make the call, “How much water are you going to drink today?” so we only showered once a week. It was a good time.

I would just shower in this tent and eventually, after exploring the base itself, we found where local water was coming from this random pipe in this random abandoned building and that became the hotspot.

The Soldiers, like I said, are ingenious when it comes to necessity.

They found this crate so you could stand on this crate and the pipe would come out of the building.

The problem was that it was directly under the aircraft approach into the base.

You’d see the aircraft screaming in and then they had to stop and slow down so it would be like, “Errr.”

Right above you.

It was kind of like, “Thanks guys. How’s it going?”