“Youngblood” by Matt Gallagher shows the daily life of a soldier fighting in Iraq just before the troop withdrawal in 2011. It is a fictional journal that depicts the complexities of war with very vivid descriptions. Gallagher follows up on his successful first book, the memoir Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War (2010), with this Iraq War novel that speaks to the perspective of a US soldier and the Iraqi people.
The narrator of the book is Lieutenant Jack Porter, who is leading a platoon of men in the last stages of the war. America is nearing the end of its involvement in Iraq with the new Iraqi Army being trained to takeover. Porter’s war deals with the internal power struggles of the town surrounding his outpost, paying off local men and appeasing those whose lives have been affected by the ongoing violence in their country. It is his job to keep a lid on the fragile peace that has been etched out by those who have come before him, including his older brother. He is assisted by Sergeant Dan Chambers who is determined to get all his men home. Porter also has become obsessed with a Romeo and Juliet type of love affair between an American soldier and a local sheikh’s daughter, Rana.
Gallagher commented to blackfive.net, “In many ways Jack and I are quite different. When in Iraq I was hot tempered and thought in the moment. Jack takes his time in making decisions. Chambers is the one who gets things done, an attribute I admire in people. He focuses on the task of accomplishing the mission, almost Machiavellian. I think I put pieces of myself in all my characters.”
Porter is portrayed as a newly minted lieutenant struggling to accept the brutality around him while at the same time attempting to be sensitive to the Iraqi culture. Assigned to his company is Chambers, an aggressive soldier who wants to make sure the rules of engagement do not cost any of his men their lives. The scene involving the fight between a scorpion and a camel spider can best explain their attitudes. As the spider gnawed on the scorpion’s head the scorpion rammed its stinger right into the spider’s eye. As Chambers comments to the men, “That’s what happens when you hesitate… Don’t be that camel spider. Be the scorpion.”
The author stated he wrote this scene to emphasize how Chambers had a “noble purpose to get his men home. They needed to stay aggressive and stop being lackadaisical. The stage is set for the rest of the novel where the attitude was to do what is necessary to stay alive within the moral code.”
“Youngblood” allows the reader to feel they are in Iraq with the soldiers. They experience the deployment, the camaraderie, fear, exhaustion, and boredom. This is a story of men and women trying to do their jobs, survive, and to return home in one piece.