In March 2010, I deployed to Afghanistan as part of a female engagement team and promptly got the worst food poisoning of my life on Camp Dwyer.

Firing off a chow hall mortar in my cami pants and passing out was not how I’d wanted to kick things off. While recovering, I felt heartsick as the rest of my team was sent out to our assigned area of operations — Marjah in Helmand province — ahead of me.

A few days later, I hopped on a convoy to join them. I didn’t know anyone in my vehicle and my heart raced with excitement as we left the wire. It was my first deployment and as a Marine with both woman and POG characteristics, I realized I’d be under a microscope with the grunts.

“Oh, God, please don’t let me do anything stupid,” was my mantra as the MRAP creaked and groaned through Helmand’s moon dust.

Finally we made a pit-stop at a forward operating base, and I was relieved because I’d had to pee for hours. I could barely get to the plywood outhouses fast enough, and rushed to take off my gear. Right in front of me a PVC pipe stuck out of the ground at waist level, angled forward. “Perfect,” I thought, unclicking my kevlar and resting it on top of the pipe.

Upon emerging from the outhouse, wag-bag in hand, a group of grunts walked by and one of them pointed to my kevlar, wide eyed, exclaiming, “That’s our piss tube!”

As the rest of the group cracked up, I tried to act cavalier, shrugging my shoulders as I lifted it off the pipe.

Holy ammonia, Batman! How had I not noticed the stagnant urine smell before? Were these guys eating asparagus all day? I shuddered to think of the petri dish worth of germs the padding had absorbed.

When we got the call to mount back up I died a little inside. Looking to my left and right to make sure the coast was clear, I took a deep breath and put the kevlar back on my head, resisting the urge to throw up in my mouth. As we rocked along the dirt road I ditched the mantra and had to laugh at myself.

Things could only get better from here … right?

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