Bring Your Own Toilet Paper: 3 Skills To Master Being a Woman in the Army
Lesson 1: Bring Your Own Toilet Paper
This lesson was learned early on in my Army career and occurred during basic training. During the third FTX (Field Training Exercise), my company was out in the field for ten days. That would be ten days without a shower, ten days of sweat upon more sweat, and ten days of the port-a-johns not being emptied. Let me repeat that last part: TEN days of the port-a-johns NOT being emptied. By day 2, the females learned to hoard toilet paper because who knew men needed SO MUCH toilet paper to poop. By day 5, there were overflow situations in certain port-a-johns. By day 7, it was full-on poop hell.
Luckily for me, I was assigned to play the key role on the OPFOR team (i.e. the enemy, the bad guys) because my Arabic was somewhat passable. This meant I was dropped off at a shack with two other females and some MREs whilst wearing burqas and told to wait until the platoons made their way through.
Spoiler alert: the Drill Sergeants forgot us. Straight up forgot about the three soldiers out in the middle of the woods. No platoons came through. No other signs of Army activity. Just the three of us in a shack. As some may know, MREs (Ready-to-eat meals), for lack of a more dignified way of writing this, stop you up. Classy, I know. Seeing as this field exercise was at the end of its course, we had hit the breaking point when said stoppage was “coming loose.”
This is when the three of us were beyond grateful that we brought our own toilet paper thanks to the hoarding that had taken place earlier. What else would we have used?! Leaves? The one thin and tiny excuse for a napkin that came in the utensil packet of the MREs? No, female genius won out and our bums were spared. Let this be the most important lesson if you are considering the military or even just a weekend camping excursion: bring your own toilet paper!
Lesson 2: Tampons as Currency
You read that correctly.
Whilst in BCT (Basic Combat Training), it became apparent that certain luxuries were no longer available. One of those luxuries being decent female-related items like tampons with a plastic applicator. All that was available for purchase from mini PX were the cardboard applicator variety. So you can imagine how valuable the “good tampons” were for those that received them in care packages from home. Pure tampon gold.
And it wasn’t just the “good tampons” that became a form of currency amongst the females. My mom, after having read in one of my letters that we were no longer allowed to pluck our eyebrows, sent tweezers to me in a care package along with a Vogue and InStyle magazine. The DS confiscated the reading material but let me have the tweezers (I’m almost certain he really didn’t know what they were). Those tweezers became my bartering tool. If I found myself in need of “good tampons”, the tweezers were handed over for an eyebrow shaping in exchange for a handful of non-cardboard applicator tampons. If I needed a stamp for a letter home, tweezers were again used as a way of repayment. In a matter of a week, our eyebrows were groomed as well as we could get them in the dim latrine lights during our night shift of fireguard duty.
Sadly, the tweezers only lasted two weeks before the female DS pointed out that our eyebrows were looking less bushy than they had in weeks past. Fearing the repercussions that would be handed down to me, I apologized to my fellow female soldiers and chucked those glorious tweezers into the trash. Our eyebrows slowly returned to their unkempt state, and my bartering tool of choice was no more. Let this be lesson number two: little things you may take for granted become nonexistent in the military; invest in the “good tampons.”
Lesson 3: Learn From My One Regret and Speak Up
Let me preface this by stating that I worked with some very supportive men during my time in the Army. Very supportive! In fact, I would state that about 95% of all the men I found myself working with and for were nothing short of being pro-females in the military. But there is the other 5% that taught me a very important lesson: to speak up for myself.
Although there were several instances in which I was demeaned for my gender, I’ll share one in particular that made me wish I had reacted with something other than silence. When I was in my last unit, I was assigned a mentor. He was a MAJ, and I was a fresh 2LT. Having a mentor excited me as I constantly had questions not just about my area of expertise (or lack thereof), but also about the daily tasks within our unit. To have someone to be my go-to to pepper with questions felt necessary, and I thought all junior officers in the brigade could use this kind of guidance.
My mentor turned out to be not the mentoring type though. Upon meeting him, he asked me how my latest trip to Fort Rucker for a duty assignment had gone. I started to explain my ineptitude with aviation terms when he cut me off and threw this question at me: “I meant did they (the aviators whom I was working with on Intelligence material) listen to you?” I thought he was referring to my rank, but he cut me off again and said, “No, because you’re a female, LT. No one listens to a female.”
I was caught off guard. I thought maybe he was being sarcastic or just lacked basic social decency, and I changed the subject to the upcoming PT test. Looking back, I wish I had spoken up about this crass remark of his.
The following month, he asked me to come into his office to go over a quiz he had assigned to me to complete. The office was small and windowless, essentially a closet with a desk and two chairs squeezed into it. I immediately felt intimidated and wanted out of there. Upon reflection, I think he sensed my hesitation because he told me, “to sit the f*** down.” Now, I was used to profanity given the Army is a hyper-masculine environment. But the profanity had never been directed at me and in a commanding way until this instance.
I sat the f*** down.
He then droned on about my lack of intelligence, both in terms of my job experience in the field and my actual mental abilities. To drive home the fact that he was clearly superior to me, I was assigned a book report. Yes, a book report. I had to analyze the war for Texas’ independence in terms of intelligence techniques and give pros and cons for each. And my OER (Officer Evaluation Report) was due soon and this book report of mine would influence how he would grade me.
It was a waste of time. It wasn’t mentoring in the slightest. It was putting me in my place because of who I was. A woman wearing the same uniform as him.
Yes, I completed my book report. I handed it into him only to have him throw it in the trash and tell me he just wanted to see if I could follow orders. I almost cried on the spot, but instead thanked him for the experience and made sure to include “Sir” for fear of not showing respect to his rank.
I left active duty status the following month for circumstances not related to this (my husband was being offered a job in Canada), but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some relief in knowing that I would never step foot in my unit’s building again.
Hindsight is bitter as to how I wish I had spoken up for myself. I wish that I had gone to my unit’s chaplain or my commander and shared what was transpiring with my “mentor”. I wish I had found the words to respectfully disagree with his choice of verbiage and attitude toward me. I’ve never been silent when made to feel less than again, but I hope you if you’re in a similar situation, learn from me: Whether you are in the military or not, you’ll never regret being prepared and speaking up for yourself.________________________________________________________________________
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kayley Nammari is an Army brat and a veteran of the US Army Reserve where she served in the Intelligence Corps in both an enlisted and officer role. She no longer targets terrorists but instead wrangles her two young sons. While searching for a new handbag, she came upon Sword & Plough’s website and has been using her wool handbag ever since. She now sports a mini tote to hold an assortment of sippy cups, baby wipes, and the occasional book about tractors.