The implausibly heartwarming story of how toilet paper became an Air Force base mascot
“Apparently I’ve been accused of pandering for likes through trading toilet paper."
Remember way back at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when everyone was freaking out about having enough toilet paper? Chief Master Sgt. James Lyda sure does, because he and his commander at the time, Brig. Gen. Michael Drowley (then a colonel), got in a fake Facebook beef over it. At the time, Crowley and Lyda were posting separate daily COVID-19 updates on the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base Facebook page to keep the community informed of commissary access, infection numbers, and other essential information.
Amid the constant bad news and uncertainty, the base commander and his chief tried to bring in some levity by competing to see who could bring in the most likes on their update videos. Then Drowley stirred the pot with some hot, albeit facetious, gossip.
“I heard a rumor, that rumor may have been from me, but it’s from a very credible source, that Chief Lyda may have been out bribing personnel with toilet paper for likes,” Drowley said at the end of his afternoon update on March 19, 2020. “If that’s the kind of person you want to give likes to, I would strongly urge you to consider where those likes are going.”
Lyda shot back in his next video.
“Apparently I’ve been accused of pandering for likes through trading toilet paper,” the chief said while discretely slipping a roll of toilet paper in front of the camera. “I don’t know where that message came from, but what I’ll ask each one of you to do is to click that little thumb whenever you’re finished with this video.”
Little did either of them know, but that roll of toilet paper would stick around for a year and counting. Now known as Scott (after the toilet paper brand), the roll sits with Lyda and the new wing commander, Col. Joseph Turnham, whenever they host a Facebook update, which is now held every week rather than twice a day. After a while, Scott grew a smiley face, Mr. Potatohead-style toy appendages, and a stamp of green footprints, which is a symbol of the search and rescue mission at Davis-Monthan.
“Over time the roll took on his own character, and since then he’s been the staple of our COVID updates,” Capt. Elias Small, chief of public affairs for the 355th Wing, told Task & Purpose. “It started out small and it turned into this thing that brought smiles to people’s faces. Anything we can do to raise spirits is worth doing.”
Scott held up pretty well over the course of a year, especially considering his travels around the base. At one point, the wing leaders hosted an update from the side door of a C-130 cargo plane. Later, they posed Scott on one of the rotor blades of a Pave Hawk helicopter (both vehicles were parked and engines off when the updates were filmed).
For Star Wars Day, May 4th, they even gave Scott a Darth Vader mask and a mini red lightsaber in a CGI image posted on Facebook. To this day, Scott remains a figurehead of the updates, which start with a close-in shot of the toilet paper roll before zooming out to include the officials giving the update.
The coronavirus pandemic is a serious situation, and Small emphasized that Scott was not meant to minimize any of the suffering or sadness we’ve all been living with the past year. Instead, the toilet paper roll was just meant to help make it all pass a little easier.
“It’s not like we’re just goofing off, COVID is incredibly serious and we recognize that,” he said. “It’s more about bringing a little light into a dark situation.”
‘Light’ may not be entirely fair. Looks more like two-ply to me.
Featured image: Scott the toilet paper roll stands watch over a weekly update given by 355th Wing leadership at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (Screenshot via Facebook video)