Osama Bin Laden and the Baby Wipes of Death

Public schools have nothing on the military when it comes to creating our own worst enemies and then feeding and nurturing them as they slowly devour their creator…

Al-Queda plans for the occupation of Iraq

Anybody that tells you that Saddam Hussein was not in league with Osama Bin Laden prior to 9-11 is a nut! (A history and current affairs nut, that is, that knows what they are talking about). I am convinced that they were in league, due to the simple elegance with which one of the most nefarious plans for defeating our occupation of Iraq was laid out – they infiltrated the mind of the  American consumer, through subliminal advertising, and encouraged them to send baby wipes to their loved ones in the war.

Death by Baby Wipes

When my unit assumed command of LSA Anaconda, one of the first missions was to get the power and sewer up and running. The LSA was known as Balad Airbase by the Iraqis, and was a pretty well constructed place until we bombed the hell out of it in the first Gulf War. A functioning sewer system had used to carry the sewage from the base to a village a few miles away for treatment. Needless to say, the pumps and the pipes neede a little work. The engineer unit assigned to the task was great at getting it up and working. The first test run went a bad way when the system clogged and shut down. The culprit – Baby Wipes. Every soldier worth their salt had a pack or ten, because we knew before we got in-country that toilet paper was scarce (it had remained so for some time due to hording and black market trading). Soldier does their business, flushes the baby wipe, it travels downstream a few miles, and the sewer is clogged. The Base Command put our directives on baby wipes, it pleaded at meetings with the tenant unit commands, but to no avail. Each time the engineers would unclog the system, voila! Another baby wipe had knocked it out. Soldiers as a collective lacked the discipline to stop using baby wipes and start using the toilet paper that was becoming plentiful. This led to a series of insane consequences.

Insane consequence of baby wipes use #1 – pass the potatoes and the VBIED please!

Lacking the pumper trucks to pump the sludge out of our latrines, and wanting to jump start the Iraqi economy, we hired Iraqis who had access to pumper trucks to drive onto the base, pump out the sludge, and then drive off the base to download it. Sounds good, right? Wrong! My first day off of night shifts and away from the 3rd BCT of the 4th ID, and I am assigned to do a check on our defenses (entry control points, towers, etc). I go to the north gate, and watch the long line of pumper trucks drive up from who knows where (mistake number one – allowing for vehicles to come onto the base when you do not know the drivers, and what the vehicle may contain). I watch the first truck  come through the second and final checkpoint at the gate. The 3000 gallon tank is not checked, at all. This seems like it might be a bad thing (3000 gallons of explosives parked next to a chow hall of 500 soldiers…..you get the point). I ask the NCO on duty why the truck was not checked. He tells me that the initial checkpoint takes care of that. I traipse up to the initial check point, and watch their procedure. The driver and the cab are searched, and the truck is waved through. It is apparent that the tanks are not being checked, by anybody. This is a really bad idea, in a maturing couinter-insurgency. It could amost be called…crazy!

Baby Wipe consequence number 2 – The “Mentally Ill” officer that had it right

So I am tasked by my boss man – Major Johnson – to escort an Engineer officer as he has to go out and get the pumps going, again, after the last time they were up and running the sewer. This requires a re-start, and the pumps are of course located outside the perimiter fence by a hundred yards perhaps. Being bullet-proof, we go outside the wire alone, both of us with our body armor that will not stop bullets (it is the thought that counts – thanks). As I am scanning the vegetation looking for a little puff of smoke to signal the end of our existence, he is relaying to me how he has been ordered to take happy pills by the command. My inquiry into this decision yields the answer (paraphrased) “Because I keep telling them that the base is not safe, that we have processes and procedures that allow for a third grader to plan a devastating attack, and that we need to make changes”.  This guy has really lost it! I too would want to drug up anybody who recommended changes to the base defense and procedures – he obviously was so far gone he could not understand why it is just bad form to want to come home alive, when potential death could be easily averted by playing Army like it supposed to be played.  He was not the first, nor the last, officer or NCO that I saw go crackers due to the insane approach to base defense that became our reality.

Baby Wipe consequence number three – Same time, same route, same Modus Operandi….or…”Wake me up when it’s over, Ahmed”

If you cannot “flush and forget”, then somebody has to get the sewage off of the base. As the theater matured (sounds so warm and fuzzy) we were able to secure the services of KBR, which secured the services of Filipino truck drivers, and after a few months we were also able to not have the pumper trucks driven on to the base every day by Iraqis, after they had a full 12 hours to pack them full of boom-boom in the safety of their village. The sewage trucks had to go the sewage station in a nearby village, to be downloaded. This is understandable. What was not was the manner in which we did this. Same time, same route, same measley escort of a few hummers and 4 troops to go with them. When our guys from the 82 ROC went out, we had no heavy weapons, no secure radios to communicate to the ground unit that was operating in the area, only a short range radio that probably would not be heard over the blare of the video game being played by the person on the other end. This is like an ambushers dream. My complaints were duly noted on the situation, and I found myself having to pull a Kobyashi Maru (it is a Captain Kirk thing). Instead of always going out with a hummer in front and in back, I would ride in the truck with the diver. The next trip I would ride on top of the tank. The next trip, we might stop for a short time…long enough to perhaps fray the nerves of would be IED detonators. It was all small stuff, but we had to do something different, to perhaps increase our odds of making it back.

What do baby wipes, in Iraq, have to do with public schools? Think about all of the things that staff and administration do, seemingly innocuous, that have a detrimental impact upon students and staff.  It is the school secretary that greets Hispanic and poor children with a “Why are you late again?” vs. the “How nice to see you” for the “with-it” white student and her middle class parent as they come in a minute later. It is the school principal that tries to avert doing the investigation of bullying and harassment that comes to his desk on a daily basis. It is the lack of working together (which is now starting to come around, thanks to NCLB) between unionized staff and management, as the public loses faith that public schools can be safe, and good at what they do. Why do we as a collective keep flushing baby wipes? What percentage of school staff are on anti-depressants? Why do half of new teachers quit within three years? Before we prime the pump of yet another school year, we need to have a day of amnesty, where all identified baby wipes are turned in, no questions asked, and then thrown into a pile and burned.





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