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This Iraq War Vet’s New Novel Is As Tragic And Darkly Funny As It Is Honest
In “Youngblood,” the debut novel by Matt Gallagher, a young Army officer finds himself caught in a power struggle with his platoon sergeant, and engrossed in a mystery involving a love affair between an Iraqi woman and an American soldier.
Gallagher is a former U.S. Army captain and the author of “Kaboom,” an Iraq War memoir based on the blog he kept while deployed. Set against the backdrop of rising sectarian violence as the U.S. prepares to withdraw, Gallagher’s new novel is biting and relatable; simultaneously moving and funny.
Just as Lt. Jack Porter has come to accept that he missed the war, Staff Sgt. Daniel Chambers arrives in Ashuriyah, Iraq, as his new platoon sergeant, bringing the war with him.
A power struggle ensues between Porter and Chambers, a hard-bitten combat veteran with no patience for the new counterinsurgency doctrine that defines the battlefield of post-surge Iraq. In an effort to maintain control of his platoon, Porter begins looking into rumors that Chambers was involved in the murder of civilians during a previous tour in Ashuriyah and uncovers the Shakespearean love affair.
At times “Youngblood” feels more like pulp noir than war novel, with Porter playing the sleuthing detective, rising from bed disheveled, bags under his eyes, caused not by too much booze and back-alley dealings, but by searing desert winds, blistering heat, and endless stress.
Then, in brief but impactful snippets, Gallagher includes details that only a veteran is likely to pick up on.
“There was a ritual of donning armor, deliberate and purposeful like the warriors of old dressing for battle, but taking it off always seemed an exercise in frenzy,” writes Gallagher, as he describes in detail the numerous items that make up a soldier’s kit.
While the story is deeply engrossing, one of its greatest attributes is how Gallagher describes the incredible pressure facing soldiers to live up to their larger-than-life forebears.
“Our grandfathers had pushed back the onslaught of fascism,” Porter says to himself, a returning thought between making condolence payments to the families of dead civilians and pumping information from the town drunk. “Just what the fuck were we doing?”
Porter’s war is one where armored assaults have been replaced by ceaseless checkpoints and raids have become house calls to check on who has power — no one ever does. He sips chai and breaks bread with men who have both American and Iraqi blood on their hands, and leads a platoon of trained fighters who are expected to toe the line between diplomacy and violence.
Struggling to reconcile his expectations of war with reality, Porter can’t shake the feeling that he’s supposed to return home with stories of valor, honor, and glory, even as he wages a losing battle for control of his platoon.
“And leave my men in the charge of a fucking psychopath? Fuck that,” Porter thinks to himself, after entertaining the notion of getting transferred to a different unit. “Or leave Iraq without a Combat Infantryman Badge? Fuck that.”
In an insurgency with no front lines and no end in sight, it’s not long before combat finds him.
During an ambush, Porter and his men find themselves in a mad scramble for cover. Struggling to come up with a plan and unable to recall what the Army’s tactical manuals had to say about being sandwiched between incoming mortars and sniper fire, Porter turns to pop culture. Imitating a scene from “Band of Brothers,” he instructs his men to fall in behind an Iraqi tank, and they use it as a shield to cross the deserted street-turned no man’s land.
“Life imitating art imitating life, I thought. I’m a fucking postmodern boss,” quips Porter’s inner monologue.
Gallagher’s novel toys with the boundaries between pop culture depictions of war and the reality of combat, but it also speaks to a rarely analyzed aspect of military service. Much of what we do, how we act in war, our mannerisms, and maybe even our decisions under fire are informed by, if not based on what we’ve seen on television, read in books, or watched on movie screens.
This scene, like so much of the novel, is ironic, darkly funny, and also sadly true.
Every once in a while, we run across a photo in The Times-Picayune archives that's so striking that it begs a simple question: "What in the name of Momus Alexander Morgus is going on in this New Orleans photograph?" When we do, we've decided, we're going to share it — and to attempt to answer that question.
MUSCAT (Reuters) - The United States should keep arming and aiding the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) following the planned U.S. withdrawal from Syria, provided the group keeps up the pressure on Islamic State, a senior U.S. general told Reuters on Friday.
Trump: $6.1 billion in DoD money going to border wall wasn’t for anything that seemed ‘too important to me’
President Donald Trump claims the $6.1 billion from the Defense Department's budget that he will now spend on his border wall was not going to be used for anything "important."
Trump announced on Friday that he was declaring a national emergency, allowing him to tap into military funding to help pay for barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Long before Tony Stark took a load of shrapnel to the chest in a distant war zone, science fiction legend Robert Heinlein gave America the most visceral description of powered armor for the warfighter of the future. Forget the spines of extra-lethal weaponry, the heads-up display, and even the augmented strength of an Iron Man suit — the real genius, Heinlein wrote in Starship Troopers, "is that you don't have to control the suit; you just wear it, like your clothes, like skin."
"Any sort of ship you have to learn to pilot; it takes a long time, a new full set of reflexes, a different and artificial way of thinking," explains Johnny Rico. "Spaceships are for acrobats who are also mathematicians. But a suit, you just wear."
First introduced in 2013, U.S. Special Operations Command's Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) purported to offer this capability as America's first stab at militarized powered armor. And while SOCOM initially promised a veritable Iron Man-style tactical armor by 2018, a Navy spokesman told Task & Purpose the much-hyped exoskeleton will likely never get off the launch pad.
"The prototype itself is not currently suitable for operation in a close combat environment," SOCOM spokesman Navy Lt. Phillip Chitty told Task & Purpose, adding that JATF-TALOS has no plans for an external demonstration this year. "There is still no intent to field the TALOS Mk 5 combat suit prototype."
D-Day veteran James McCue died a hero. About 500 strangers made sure of it.
"It's beautiful," Army Sgt. Pete Rooney said of the crowd that gathered in the cold and stood on the snow Thursday during McCue's burial. "I wish it happened for every veteran's funeral."