Marines brave adventures in a world of military ‘wag bags’

This john has been set up for use with a "wag bag" at Camp Hanson, Afghanistan.  Dan Lamothe//Staff

This john has been set up for use with a "wag bag" at Camp Hanson, Afghanistan. // Dan Lamothe / Staff

PATROL BASE YAZZIE, Afghanistan — I’ve been meaning to do this blog entry for quite some time, but, well, I figured we should get to know each other a bit before diving in.

In my newly educated estimation, one of the things Americans take for granted the most is their plumbing. Fresh, crisp running water is a beautiful thing, whether it’s used for bathing, drinking or flushing the toilet.

Flushing the toilet, you ask? Oh, yes, compadres. This is a blog entry about what happens when you no longer have that option. And since this blog is devoted in part to showing the little things that service members have to live with downrange, I think it falls squarely in my wheelhouse.

Anyone who hasn’t lived downrange hasn’t known the joy of the “wag bag,” the setup the military commonly uses to, uh, collect poop in a non-polluting way. Essentially, it requires service members to take a garbage bag with them to a wooden, outdoor stall that has a hole cut in a seat. Frequently, there’s a toilet seat to sit on, but that’s not always the case, either.

A "wag bag" in its natural habitat.  Dan Lamothe//Staff

A "wag bag" in its natural habitat. // Dan Lamothe / Staff

In any event, the garbage bag is wrapped around the toilet seat, and filled with a packet of liquid-absorbing powder. Individuals then sit on the bag-wrapped seat, taking care of business, as the, uh, poop, drops into the bag below. When finished, they clean up using the toilet paper and wet-wipe provided in the “wag bag” kit, tie a knot in the bag and put it in another garbage bag that has a Ziploc-style zipper. The zipped bag is then tossed in a bin that gets emptied and carried away every few days.

The bag shower system at Patrol Base Yazzie, Afghanistan, requires some set-up.  Dan Lamothe//Staff

The bag shower system at Patrol Base Yazzie, Afghanistan, requires some set-up. // Dan Lamothe / Staff

Still with me? Let’s move on to the shower.

While some bases have trailers filled with shower stalls, Yazzie is small enough that it uses the “bag shower” system, in which water drops out of a rubber sack onto an individual below in an outdoor stall.

Three weeks ago, I probably would have groaned knowing that the only shower I would get in a five-day period would come under such circumstances, but last night, it simply felt fantastic.

The one I used had a rubber bag hanging from a rope, tied to a hook on the wall. I untied the rope, allowing the bag to drop from a piece of metal that it was wrapped on above. I then brought the empty bag over to a hose leading from a large tank of potable, but undrinkable water, filled it up, and brought it back to the stall and reconnected the bag to the rope. I hoisted the bag, filled with maybe two or three gallons of water, back in the air by pulling the other end of the rope over the metal rod above and tying the rope to the wall.

The key piece: There’s a small stopper on the bottom of the bag that can easily be pulled and reattached, allowing the person in the shower to control whether or not the water is running.

Marines here with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, take it all in stride, but it’s not like they’re in love with either process. One sergeant here said he plans to flush his toilet repeatedly when he gets back to the U.S., watching the water spin in circles with wonderment.


About Author

I'm a senior writer with Marine Corps Times, covering ground warfare, manpower, weapons acquisition and other beats. I embedded in Afghanistan in spring 2010, and plan to return at least once in 2011.


  1. Thank you so much for the “blogs”! I have not heard from my son in months. (he is with the 3/6 Kilo) So any information about what he is going through is somewhat comforting. Even if it is about the toilet he uses or the shower facilities.

  2. lol! Thanks so much for sharing! This may sound crazy, but the families reading your posts are so comforted by the news you share and it’s a refreshing change from the typical “news” you see out there. YOU ROCK!!! Thanks so much for doing this and all the best to you and the Marines you’re with!

  3. Thank you. My son just arrived at an FOB last week and described this “toilet”. Like Mary, this kind of information comforts me. And like Mary, your posts do great things for our family’s morale. Please keep up the good work.

  4. Thank you so much for the “blogs”! I have not heard from my son in months. (he is with the 3/6 Kilo) So any information about what he is going through is somewhat comforting

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