Editor's note: U.S. Army Capt. Dan Sukman is serving a one-year deployment to Iraq. For previous entries and his bio, see the Soldier's Diary archives.

April 2, 2006

A number of people have asked what it is we value most here. I had this conversation recently with Sgt. Jason Davis, one of the NCOs (non-commissioned officers) with whom I work.

Sgt. Davis, like so many soldiers living in Baghdad, was here about three years ago when we first started Operation Iraqi Freedom I. Right now, he is halfway through his second year in Iraq.

An artillery observer by trade, Sgt. Davis has completed his obligation to the Army but is here under the "stop loss" program. He will never complain or even mention his feelings on it. He works hard day in and day out, performing his mission and looking out for his soldiers.

Below is what he had to say on what he values the most here. It describes the one thing that I think all soldiers value.

“I’m living the life right now. Some might even say luxurious. TV, PS2, porcelain toilets, dining facility, Internet, 24-hour phone center, PX [post exchange] and free laundry service. These are all amenities enjoyed by most in my brigade.

"Certainly, they are appreciated, and never taken for granted. Some of us still live in tents, on cots, or spend a large amount of time 'outside the wire' before returning to the FOB [forward operating base]. Some of us have a two-man trailer with electricity and heating/AC combo unit, a bed with mattress and a lockable door. With all this, what more can one ask for in this environment?"

I’ve received several “Dear Soldier” boxes, or care packages from distant and unheard of relatives, church friends, even my neighbor’s dog, Mindy. It’s a nice gesture, and I politely return a handwritten letter thanking each individual personally.

• Readers write to Captain Dan

Now, I don’t mean to sound unappreciative — I enjoy receiving as much as they enjoy giving, and if they can find it in their hearts and wallets to think of me, then I’ll most certainly find it in mine to enjoy the packages. But to be honest, there is only one thing I need. I mean, really, really need.

So, what could be more important than Halo tournaments and "Desperate Housewives" marathons? A clean, soil-free shower drain.

It makes no difference to me where I sleep, what I eat or how I spend my downtime as long as I have a clean shower with a curtain, scalding hot water and an unclogged drain. Everything else is just icing.

Nowhere else on the FOB am I really, truly alone. Sure, most of the time there are at least three to four other occupants around you in the curtained stalls, but that can be forgotten and put aside. A clean shower is the true measure of how well you are taken care of.

In early April 2003, after personally walking every square inch of the southern Iraqi cities of Kufa, Najaf and Karbala, just south of Baghdad, my infantry company was settling down for a couple days rest at an abandoned Iraqi Air Force base. After nearly five weeks of continuous combat patrols with very little food and water (one MRE and one canteen of water a day), we were refit with some downtime prior to entering Baghdad.

One day, a water truck was hired to “bathe” us. My entire company was allotted 10 minutes to bathe before the truck moved on to another company in the battalion. One can imagine 200 dirty, nasty, smelly, floppin’ Joes hanging around this truck, buck-naked and pale white, showering under an umbrella stream of liquid purification.

Everyone but me.

For five weeks I walked nearly 12 hours a day. I rotated sweat-soaked socks and T-shirts every other week, but I did not shower under the fire hose of that truck. Disgusting, I know, but I just couldn’t do it. What’s the point of showering just to throw on your same old dirty clothes anyway? My prissy attitude toward personal hygiene and the fact that I carried my own pair of Revlon tweezers led others to nickname me “Princess.”

Later that deployment, some companions turned a tiled bathroom into a shower, using a 10-gallon tank from a commercial coffee dispenser as a water heater.

Such "A-Team" and MacGyver-esque contraptions are no longer needed. The current configuration is a large trailer resting on cinder blocks. One half of this trailer is devoted to sinks and mirrors, while the other half houses 10 shower stalls, complete with curtains and adjustable spray-pattern nozzles, that are serviced twice daily by KBR to fix, maintain and de-clog my cherished drains.

E-mail Dan at soldiersdiary@gmail.com. Click here to read his bio.