A group of warrant officers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, gained notoriety last week after their hangar bathroom was shared by U.S. Army WTF Moments.
The 2-158 Assault Helicopter Battalion latrine lacks many of the amenities soldiers have come to know and love about most Army bathrooms — the familiar washed-out glow of flickering fluorescent lights; rusty, broken hand soap dispensers; suspicious puddles; and stained ceiling tiles that inspire questions that you don’t want answers to.
Instead, it’s exactly what a wet, spiteful, freezing-cold infantryman stuck in the field at Yakima Training Area imagines those damn pilots have: a mood-lit “Alaskan lodge” lounge, with paintings on the wall, assorted hand soaps and air fresheners. There’s a putt-putt green, a taupe backsplash and classic rock emanating from a CD clock radio.
Army Times tracked down and caught up with the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade chief warrant officer 2 who masterminded the operation. The soldier is a former infantry NCO who once worked for an international luxury hotel chain — “if it’s not the Four Seasons, it’s this other company.”
“I used to regularly use a granite countertop bathroom with an individual stall that had linen towels and running water, you know, all those types of things that you take for granted working in a place like that,” he said. “And then I joined the [infantry].”
The now-warrant officer, a Black Hawk pilot, asked during his phone interview that Army Times withhold his name so that a news article about his unit’s bougie bathrooms wouldn’t be the top Google result for his name. We reluctantly agreed.
“I don’t want to be known as the bathroom guy for the rest of my career,” he confessed. “But this whole idea of trying to make this place a little bit nicer each day — and maybe the next guys get to enjoy it after my group phases out of here — it’s actually been a really cool thing.”
He also noted that this wouldn’t have been possible at his old infantry unit.
“If you were to do this in an infantry company, somebody would find a way to break everything in there,” he explained.
The brigade public affairs officer, Capt. Kyle Abraham, gets no such anonymity, though, and will have to deal with this coming up in his Google history forever. He described the latrine as what can happen “when soldiers have pride in the unit and pride in where they work.”
Seriously, how did this even happen?
The project began last fall when the battalion’s pilot mafia realized they’d been spoiled by occasional visits to high-class facilities at other airports in the region.
“They’ve got people flying in and out of there with private jets,” explained the warrant officer. “And then you got all these grubby Army guys coming in and out, drinking all their coffee and eating their snack stuff.”
A realization and two rules set the project in motion, he said: “We should have nice things, too...[but] everything that goes in the bathroom — it has to be free.”
The second rule? “It has to be classy,” said the pilot. He said he vetoed a few items that didn’t “fit that ambiance that we were trying to create.”
“Somebody wanted to put a wicker chair in there, and that was absolutely a no-go,” he explained. “It looked like cheap patio furniture, and we weren’t going to have that in there.”
Over time, giveaways on Facebook Marketplace and other sites coalesced into a coherent theme — “Alaskan hunting lodge,” as the warrant officer described it.
The only enemy of the project? The brigade’s former command sergeant major, according to the warrant officer.
“He did exactly what you think a brigade sergeant major would do,” explained the pilot. “He turned the [fluorescent] lights back on, and immediately within minutes, the next guy that walks in would automatically turn the lights off.”
That battle continued for about a month, he said. But every time he’s entered “in the last three or fours months...everything is just the way it’s supposed to be — music on, lights off, lamps glowing and everything peaceful,” he added.
Meanwhile, the battalion formally appointed one of its standardization pilots as the facility’s “janitorial executive,” responsible for establishing the cleaning duty roster — which is dominated by the unit’s warrant officers.
Does anyone actually use it? (and can visitors?)
Both the warrant officer and Abraham swore that soldiers actually use this bathroom on a regular basis.
The hangar where the latrine is located is one of the brigade’s newest facilities, Abraham explained, so it often plays host to standing meetings, special events and distinguished visitors.
The warrant officer stressed that “anybody from the newest private on post up to the [I Corps] commander can use the bathroom — it’s not a warrant officer-only lounge or anything like that.”
He added that some of the general officers on post have visited, and his brigade commander gives the facility “a rave review.”
Asked what the next target upgrade is, the pilot said that the unit is trying to build a collection of CDs for the clock radio and a small shelf to organize them.
“So anybody who’s willing to donate a CD — maybe like an old Kenny G CD or something like that — that would be appropriate,” he said. Army Times has not yet located a representative for Kenny G in order to facilitate the connection.
Asked if he had any moral confliction over sparking a possible bathroom arms race, the pilot noted he hasn’t “lost sleep over this.”
“There would be worse arms races out there,” he said. “If anything, it’s only going to have a positive effect on the...aviation community.”
Editor’s note: The author of this story, Davis Winkie, initially wanted to say “shit” in the headline. He was overruled by his editors, but he wants all of you to know that he accepted the new headline under protest.
Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists' 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.