Friday, 5 September 2008

More on hootchies

Thanks to the movie "Platoon", every man and his dog seems to know the term "hootch" or "hootchie" - although in the movie, it referred to the original meaning of house or village, as in "Burn down all the hootches".

Armies love adopting words from foreign campaigns. Dixie, which I think comes from India, and presumably means "pot". Gook, from Korea, which is a bastardisation of the word for person. There is a whole vocabulary that the military uses which would be completely foreign to anyone that has not been inducted into it. Anyway, hootchie is one of those terms.

Unlike a grass hut, the military hootchie is not much good at keeping the rain out. A hootchie is made up of two "shelter-halves" that are put together with press studs along one edge. Every soldier is issued with a single shelter-half, and they then buddy up with someone else and together they build a hootchie.

You start by finding a spot between two trees, assuming you are not digging in at a spot without trees. With luck, one of you will have managed to snavel some comms cord from somewhere - that is essentially army issue green string that is very strong. It had 1000 uses, but is always in short supply. You use a few lengths of that to attach the hootchie to the trees.

You then either bang in the plastic tent pegs (that you bought yourself in a camping store), or you hunt for some sticks that can be used as tent pegs - the army would never do something as sensible as issue tent pegs to go with a "tent".

A hootchie however is not a tent. A tent is a wonderful piece of kit that has an integrated floor and walls, a door that zips up to keep out the weather and the bugs and a window and vents to let the farts out. It's usually quite warm and dry, and if put up properly, rarely blows over.

A hootchie on the other hand is just two bits of plastic stuck together and erected any old how without benefit of poles. Rain leaks through the seam at the top. There is no floor. There are no walls. There is no door. Wind blows in from four directions, bringing rain if that happens to be falling. If you are on a slight slope, you might find that a stream of water is soon running underneath your sleeping place. Bugs use it as a place of shelter and food.

You often don't get to spend much time sleeping under it anyway (night patrols, radio duty and guard duty take care of that), so it can be much easier to forget about erecting a hootch and to simply wrap yourself up in the shelter-half like a coccoon. Living under one is a miserable experience. Once it starts raining, the only way to avoid utter misery is to huddle in the middle of the hootchie with the mate that you are sharing it with.

If you are cold and wet and shivering and wearing every stitch of clothing that you own (that is, one pair of trousers over the top of the other, one shirt over another), then you huddle together to keep warm. Call it cuddling if you like - I call it surviving. The best hootchie mate I had later came out of the closet - at least he wasn't worried about being close to another bloke in order to share warmth. It's why I am totally unfussed about gays in the military. So long as he didn't want anything more than a cuddle, I was happy.

The big advantage of the shelter half of course is that it weighs close to nothing and folds up into a mess of plastic the size of your fist. You can carry it in your pocket if need be, which guarantees that soldiers will carry it. If someone issued me with a tent, it would be the first thing to be dumped, which would mean no shelter at all. The hootchie, whilst providing crap shelter, provides some shelter rather than none at all.


bruce said...

Fascinating. I lived in India but did not know the 'dixie - pot' term, but web-dictionaries agree. It's possibly from the word 'diksha' meaning 'transformation', hence 'cook, cooker'.

'If someone issued me with a tent, it would be the first thing to be dumped, which would mean no shelter at all.' - This type of pragmatic reasoning (which underpins all technological progress) is becoming so rare these days, with 'Marie-Antoinette' thinking instead increasingly the norm. eg 'Canada's schoolteachers are paid X, so Australia's should be too'.

kae said...

You're not gay, but you slept with one once!
Tee hee.

I remember weekend bivouac at Green Hills (Sydney), way back when, and my mates buddied up, I was left with one of the older blokes, a Vietnam vet. Like a brother! I was only 17 at the time and those fellers were great mates.

Most times we didn't bother with hootchies.

The blow up mattresses were a waste of space, they never deflated enough to get back into the pack, however, at night they deflated to the point that you might as well be sleeping on the ground, which is what I did anyway.

My first bivouac we walked two miles into Green Hills (I think that's what it was called). It was west of Sydney I think. I had to carry a sleeping bag, pack (neither army issue, I hadn't got my kit yet), helmet, SLR, bumbag etc. The only thing that kept me going was that I didn't want to let my fellow C Coy members down by having to get a lift. I was the only female of three who made the walk, and carried all my stuff, too. I think I was respected for that.

kae said...

Oh, and to top it off, the helmet had no inner lining.

Haw, word verification: topub


bruce said...

Yeah Kae, Green Hills is near Liverpool (sou-sou) west of Sydney: