Civilians have a romanticized perception of war that they likely adopted from popular Hollywood movies. But anyone who has been deployed knows that it is a lot… different.

Civilians tend to have a certain idea in their head about what going to war is like. Whether they got their ideas from Saving Private Ryan or Lone Survivor, their perception of what life while deployed is like usually leaves out many of the things veterans fondly remember the most. Sure, there are firefights and explosions, as well as other more abysmal aspects of going to war. But that’s not all that happens, and it’s not everyday for most. So we compiled a list of the top five things most civilians wouldn’t know about military life in a combat zone!

Leslie Dixon enjoys a mid-day tanning session with a few friends while off duty on Camp Adder in 2010. Photo courtesy of Leslie Dixon.

Leslie Dixon enjoys a mid-day tanning session with a few friends while off duty on Camp Adder in 2010. Photo courtesy of Leslie Dixon.

Tanning. If there is one thing that Iraq and Afghanistan has plenty of, it’s sun. Military uniforms cover everything but the face and hands, which make for tan lines that even a farmer would laugh at. So why not take advantage of those rays and get your bronze on while off duty?

Micah Brown, a Ranger who was assigned to A Company, 3rd Ranger Battalion, always found a way to work on that bronze: “I hid a cot behind a connex in BIAP and tanned almost every single morning after the gym. I wore only Ranger panties and even rolled them to where they looked like a thong. Started with baby oil, and then eventually had someone’s wife send me Hawaiian Tropics tan oil in their care package.” Brown’s tanning habit became so regular that he started to attract the attention of his leadership. “About three weeks of that and the First Sergeant looked at me in the chow hall and was like, ‘what the fuck Brown? You got a tanning bed in your room?’ He wasn’t impressed, but he never actually caught me or found my spot!”

Crushing steel. Service members are often times confined to small combat outposts that don’t offer enough room to go for a run. What does that mean? Time to bulk! The gyms overseas are almost always occupied with a variety of guys and gals trying to transform themselves over the course of their deployment. There were even rumors that bodybuilding.com had an entire warehouse just for APO orders!

Phil Null, a combat medic with Bravo Co. 120th CAB, 30th BCT, recalls a lifting partner who had a bad day at the gym: “One of my Joes that I went to the gym with was allergic to shellfish. Neither one of us knew that at the time though. So we loaded up on some N.O.-Xplode pre-workout, and about 15 minutes into our squat session he starts to break out. His lips puffed up, his eyes were almost swollen shut, and his right arm for some reason was swollen too. After noticing this, I rushed him to our aid station to pop him with some epinephrine. Every time after that incident, we told him to try and not explode whenever we went to the gym.”

Surf ‘n’ turf Fridays. Every time I have ever told someone that we had steak, lobster, and fried shrimp once a week while deployed, they can’t believe it. Sure the steak was like chewing rubber, and anyone from New England laughed at the quality of the lobster – but it was something to look forward to all the same.

Jeremy Gray, an infantryman with the 1/297th Infantry, recalls a fond memory of one night’s surf ‘n’ turf: “I was tasked to drive an Air Force Lt. Col. from FOB Camp Bucca to Ali Al Salem Air Base. It was supposed to be a turn and burn, but we had maintenance issues with my vehicle. We ended up spending the night on ‘The Rock’ while the mechanics fixed the issue. It just so happened to be surf ‘n’ turf night at the chow hall, so I loaded up a to-go box and ate it on top of my HMMWV before taking it to the maintenance bay. I had a magnificent view of the sun setting over the flight line.”

Chick flicks. On a long deployment, you tend to burn through every movie and television show that you have ever wanted to see. Then, you re-watch them over and over. After a while, you get desperate and start watching shows that would typically be well outside of your area of interest. Enter the chick flick. James Stanley, a Ranger who was assigned to A Co. 2nd Ranger Battalion, didn’t even have a choice in the matter: “I was forced to watch The O.C., one episode per day, for the first three seasons. It was ‘squad TV time’, which was squad leader induced, team leader enforced.”CAF_c9ee5ad6-b1ef-40d0-a325-9d76118b9e2d_large

The combat jack. Men have certain… needs. Unfortunately, they don’t go away just because you happen to be somewhere that people shoot at each other. Due to the often cramped, group quarters that service members live in while deployed, they have to get creative when it comes to vigorously cleaning out the ol’ Howitzer…err, ‘relieving stress’. William “Doc” Allen, a combat medic who served with Grim Troop, 2/3 ACR, still occasionally reminisces about those days: “I’ve cranked ’em out in porta-pottys for so many years that now, when I’m at an outdoor concert, the blue water and distinct smell (of the porta-pottys) is like Viagra to me!”

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