Matt was recruited as a US Marine for the Iraq war. The marines pictured are from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, giving an Iraqi soldier a drink of water following his surrender in 2003.
Matt was recruited as a US Marine for the Iraq war. The marines pictured are from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, giving an Iraqi soldier a drink of water following his surrender in 2003.

My years of hell after drunk night

WARNING: Graphic content

MATT Young made a stupid mistake one night and the next day found himself signing up for the US Marines.

His service included three deployments to Iraq. Below is an extract from his new memoir Eat The Apple.

******

YOU'VE chosen the United States Marine Corps infantry based on one thing: You got drunk last night and crashed your car into a fire hydrant sometime in the early morning and think - because your idea of masculinity is severely twisted and damaged by the male figures in your life and the media with which you surround yourself - that the only way to change is the self-flagellation achieved by signing up for war.

You will ship out for recruit training to San Diego, California, in April 2005. Your family - broken and distant - will remain silent as to your decision. Only an ex-girlfriend, with whom you're still in contact, will beg you not to go with words of oil and death and futility. You'll wish you'd listened.

Your experience will not be what you think. You wear glasses. Heroes don't wear glasses. Clark Kent wears glasses - he's an alter ego, an alien's perception of the weakness, ineffectuality, and cowardice of the human race. All the men who wear glasses in movies are expendable: They don't get the girl; they don't redeem themselves. They are the loners or villains.

You will become the villain.

When a drill instructor steps on your glasses you will be able to do nothing except look through broken portholes for weeks. When the brainstrap holding the glasses to your face rubs the skin behind your ears raw, you will not be able to remove them - without them you would be blind. Because you didn't think about the need to wear glasses they will come to stand for everything you do not know, and for that you will hate them. You will replace them with contacts, hiding the problem, faking your way through it. No one will see them, but they will be there.

You will be exploded and shot at and made a fool of and hated and feared and loved and fellated and f***ed and lonely and tired and suicidal.

Because you feel abandoned by your father you will look for a father figure in a sea of similarly uniformed men and you will find many. These men will berate you and beat you and break you, but they won't leave you. Years from meeting them you will not be able to sleep at night as you replay the ways in which you let them down, or might have let them down, in your head. You will lie in bed and your face will grow hot and your heart will thud in your chest and your skin will crawl and you will feel ashamed. Because you are a son to those men and shame is what sons feel in the presence of their fathers, and those fathers will be with you always.

You will be a father to other men like you. They will suffer the same fate.

You will estrange yourself from your mother. You will blame her for your choices. Your knees will ache and nerves in your neck will misfire. You will break knuckles in drunken brawls and suffer crippling bouts of depression. You will deploy to Iraq and redeploy to Iraq and then volunteer to deploy to Iraq a third time to keep from facing your family, your fiancee, and reality. You will end your three-year engagement in a call centre at Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq. You will sit in a chair at a cubby that reminds you of middle school. A black pay phone hangs on the back wall, and when the line goes dead you will feel as though your entire body is at a loss for feeling.

It will be a long time before sensation returns.

Matt was recruited to the US Marines in 2005 and was shipped out to Iraq not long after. Picture: USA Armed Forces
Matt was recruited to the US Marines in 2005 and was shipped out to Iraq not long after. Picture: USA Armed Forces

THIS recruit is not special. He is like all other recruits.

He addresses all recruits as Recruit [insert last name]. He addresses all drill instructors as Drill Instructor [insert rank and last name]. If a drill instructor is not available and this recruit needs to speak with one, he stands at arm's length from the hatch to the senior drill instructor's office; he slaps the two-inch-thick piece of raw pine nailed next to the door as hard as the nerve endings in his palm will allow, and he announces, in a loud, boisterous manner, Recruit [insert last name] requests permission to speak with Drill Instructor [insert rank and last name]. He then waits at the position of attention until the drill instructor presents himself. This recruit eats at the same time the other recruits eat, pisses when they piss, shits when they shit, runs when they run, sweats when they sweat, showers when they shower He lies awake in his rack at night in the position of attention, as he's been trained. He stares out the squad bay window with the other recruits and watches the lights from San Diego International Airport. He sees planes take off and land and thinks, like all the other recruits, that it would be easy to leave the squad bay late at night, sneak across the Recruit Depot, and somehow make it to the airport, where some valiant citizen might pay for a plane ticket to Canada. He thinks these thoughts until Drill Instructor [insert rank and last name] enters the squad bay and insults the recruit on duty's mother, tells the recruit on duty that Jodie - a fictional bull stud - back home is having his way with the duty recruit's girl, whom Drill Instructor [insert rank and last name] refers to as Susie Rottencrotch, and then tells him to shut off the lights.

One hundred eyelids close in unison.

When he wakes at night, his bladder straining against his receding waistline, this recruit must remember to do a set of no less than five pull-ups at the bars next to the entry of the head both before and after his business. This recruit's actions are monitored by the recruit on duty that hour and recorded in a logbook.

This recruit can still make decisions of his own. For instance, he might decide to multitask and use the shitters instead of just the urinal. The shitters do not have doors, but they have partitions, unlike most other places on the Depot. The squad bay shitters are only to be used at night; if this recruit or any other recruit is caught defecating in the shitters during daylight hours, the punishment is the quarterdeck.

Matt was sent to Iraq three times. Pictured here are US Marines on railway line outside Fallujah in Iraq in 2004 after insurgents and rebellious Shiites mounted a string of attacks on against US soldiers. Picture: USA Armed Forces
Matt was sent to Iraq three times. Pictured here are US Marines on railway line outside Fallujah in Iraq in 2004 after insurgents and rebellious Shiites mounted a string of attacks on against US soldiers. Picture: USA Armed Forces

No recruits know what happens if a recruit is caught masturbating in the shitters. Neither this recruit, nor any other recruit, has been able to get a hard-on since coming to the Depot. The imagined quarterdeck punishment makes these recruits ill.

This recruit tries to avoid the quarterdeck; he refuses to stare at the ten-by-twenty square of dark green linoleum. The linoleum covering the remainder of the squad bay is black. This recruit believes that the discolouration of the linoleum is not intentional. He believes the discolouration to be caused by the countless gallons of sweat, blood, vomit, tears, snot, and bile absorbed from the bodies of past recruits. This recruit wonders if dark green is the colour of a soul.

On the quarterdeck Drill Instructor [insert rank and last name] commands, Push-ups, right now; side straddle hops, right now; faster, right now; mountain climbers, right now; no, push-ups, right goddamned now; steam engines, right now; faster, right now; flutter kicks, right now; side straddle hops, right goddamned now.

These recruits hear rumours. Drill instructors are not to use the quarterdeck for more than five minutes at a time. The drill instructors ignore this mandate. That, or quarterdeck time is slower than real time Later, in a desert, digging a fighting hole into the side of a hill overlooking a main supply route in one-hundred-twenty-degree heat, this recruit will come to dream of those times on the quarterdeck. He will long for them. He'll think back, and he'll wish he were there as Drill Instructor [insert rank and last name] spits wintergreen-flavoured chewing tobacco into this recruit's face screaming, Faster. Faster, right now. Faster, right goddamned now.

Eat the Apple is a searing and honest look at the Iraq war.
Eat the Apple is a searing and honest look at the Iraq war.

 

Eat the Apple by Matt Young is published by Bloomsbury ($24.99). Out on the 1st of April.



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