20 Things You Only Understand If You’ve Deployed

Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jason Robertson

One of the greatest things about serving in the military is our “soldier sense of humor.” Different than other kinds of humor, it often functions as part of a larger pressure relief. Born of adversity, the imminent threat of violence, seriousness of purpose, and brotherhood, soldier humor helps military members make light of war, deployment, and monotony.

The military sense of humor is unlike any other brand, and is so unique that Reader’s Digest even publishes a regular column called “Humor in Uniform.” What’s interesting is that it has existed in armies across history, which uniquely bonds today’s troops with those who came before us. In the Civil War, northern soldiers often joked that “draft exemptions were only open to dead men who can establish proof of their demise by two reliable witnesses.” They dubbed their “hardtack” rations (essentially thick, pest-ridden saltine crackers) “worm hotels,” and decorated makeshift Christmas trees with them at the holidays. In World War II, Gen. George Patton was famous for saying he wanted to “piss in the Rhine,” and in March 1945, he did just that.

Related: 10 Things You Wish You Didn’t Know About Being Deployed »

Today, a steady stream of this brand of comedy emanates from the many places we have established ourselves across the world. When I was deployed last year, several of my guys came up with the following “top 20” list. This was our brand of humor as we sweated it out in the harsh, dry CENTCOM sun. If you’ve been deployed, you can no doubt relate many of these, and can probably add more.

Here are the 20 things unique to deployment:

  1. Millions of books nobody reads are everywhere, organized neatly on dusty shelves.
  2. Every meal is twice as large as it needs to be, and only tastes good with Rip Its.
  3. You can find palletized boxes of bottled water between every building and tent, and the top ones are usually torn open and falling apart.
  4. Receiving mail makes you feel like a rock star, especially at Christmas.
  5. Three letters: A-F-N.
  6. Care packages usually consist of socks, dental floss, lotion, and enough sugar to kill a full grown man. And don’t forget DVDs and music, like "19th Century Zither Tunes of the Ozarks."
  7. Every holiday has so many decorations that you can't see the building, desk, or hooch they're displayed on.
  8. Shipping containers are used for things you never knew possible.
  9. Pogs instead of pennies.
  10. There are more employees from Sri Lanka, India, and the Philippines than from the host nation.
  11. More crap hauled to the area of responsibility than you need, Like, ten times as much. Who knew a guy needed six padlocks and four giant packs of Q-tips.
  12. There’s a fine layer of dust in places you never knew existed.
  13. If it isn't made of canvas, it’s concrete, or it's a glorified double-wide with a Mike Brady-paneled interior and a noisy, ice-cold air conditioner.
  14. Gravel covers everything that isn't tied down.
  15. Everyone agrees that Green Beans coffee is better than Starbucks.
  16. There's not a pair of shower shoes on the planet that can protect you from down-range bathroom funk.
  17. The smell of diesel exhaust permeates everything.
  18. “The shelf.” If you've seen cadillac latrines, you know.
  19. Homemade artwork on every retaining wall.
  20. The nonstop white noise of generators and air conditioners (a.k.a. ECUs).

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