Excerpt from Youngblood by Matt Gallagher, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Matt Gallagher

Youngblood by Matt Gallagher X
Youngblood by Matt Gallagher
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2016, 352 pages

    Sep 2016, 352 pages


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Rory L. Aronsky
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Print Excerpt


The alarm sounded through the still of the outpost. If I'd been dreaming, I'd already forgotten what about. I turned off the alarm and hopped down from the top bunk. It was another day. We'd been in-country five months, and hadn't even been shot at yet.

"Yo," I said. "The Suck awaits." The only response came from an industrial fan whirring in a dark corner. None of the bodies in the other beds bothered to move. As deceitful as time could be in a room without windows, my sergeants always seemed to know when they had another twenty minutes.

I shook out my boots to make sure a scorpion hadn't crept into them during the night. It hadn't happened to anyone yet, but still, there were stories. After knotting the laces and pulling on my fleece top, I walked through the dim and opened the door to the hallway. The platoon's interpreter was waiting there under a yellow ceiling panel, holding two cups of coffee. He was just a blurry shadow for a few seconds, until my vision adjusted.

"Hey, Snoop," I said.

"Lieutenant Jack," he said, handing me one of the cups. "We giving out moneys today? Sources been asking."

Wiry and excitable, even with sleep still on his face, Snoop had learned English from British missionaries and refined it with gangsta rap. His real name was Qasim, but no one called him that, not even the other terps.

"Maybe," I said. "Depends what the commander has planned."

Three long hallways shaped like a U formed the outpost's second floor. We walked down one of the U's legs and turned right, passing rooms that stank of ball sweat and feet. The mansion had been built as a retirement gift for one of Saddam's generals, but nearly a decade after the Invasion, that felt like prehistory to us. Just something to bullshit about with locals. It was home to Bravo Company now.

Outside their room, a group of soldiers were cleaning rifles piecemeal. Oils and solvents cut through the sour air, and tiny metal parts glinted in their rags like diamonds. As Snoop and I neared, they stood, almost in unison.

"Shit, sir," a soldier said. "Didn't see you coming."

I unleashed a MacArthur impression, complete with a foppish salute. "You're making your country proud today, men," I said. It was important to carry on the junior officer tradition of disdain for ceremony. "Kill that grime. Kill it good."

They laughed, then returned to their seats and weapons.

We turned up the U's other leg and walked into the command post. The night shift hadn't been relieved yet, and sat around the room in lawn chairs. Tracked-in sand covered everything, from the radios to the tabletops to the portable television in the corner roaring with musket fire from a Revolutionary War film.

"You all sacrifice a yak?" I asked. "Smells terrible in here."

"Least we're going to bed soon," a private said. "Enjoy the day, sir." He pointed to the whiteboard, where, under second platoon, ELECTRICITY RECON had been scrawled in loose, dreary letters. There was no mistaking the commander's handwriting.

"Christ," I said, already feeling the sweat-starched uniform and hefty body armor that awaited. "Not again."

"Electricity recon" was army language for walking around a neighborhood asking people how many hours a day they had power. Iraqis responded to the door-to-door interruptions the same way people back home dealt with Mormons with pamphlets. More than one local, usually an old woman, had told us to come back when we could provide power rather than ask about it.

I walked back to our room to get my grooming kit. My teeth needed brushing, my armpits needed deodorant, and after three days, my face finally needed a shave. Sergeant First Class Sipe sat upright in his bed picking eye goop from his lashes.

Excerpted from Youngblood by Matt Gallagher. Copyright © 2016 by Matt Gallagher. Excerpted by permission of Atria Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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