Then I finally lost my virginity. She was a young twenty-something from Essex who “never, ever wanted to go out with a squaddie.” A “squaddie” is a young soldier who’s just joined the military. She had her reasons. Squaddies get drunk, sleep around, go off to war, and die—but it was mainly the sleeping-around thing. She knew some local girls had become fixtures at the camp. The lads would pick up girls in squaddie bars. This was their hunting ground, but there wasn’t much of a chase. The girls knew going to the squaddie bar meant they’d end up on camp. They’d then spend the night trying to enjoy sex in a four-man room where the other three soldiers would either be so drunk they wouldn’t know what was happening or so drunk they thought they could join in.
It was the best two minutes of my life; she told me it was thirty seconds and that she was being generous. Word spread until it became part of the regiment’s history. Sounds magical, doesn’t it? But life is rarely a fairy tale.
Things turned ugly when friends told me soldiers had talked about trying to sleep with my girlfriend. This was one of the rules—you could sleep with anyone except a soldier’s girlfriend. You could definitely sleep with the colonel’s daughter, but never another soldier’s girlfriend. Most soldiers kept to this code of honor, but others enjoyed smashing taboos. The reason was a love of danger interwoven with a culture of drinking and sleeping around. After my first, I never had another girlfriend in the Army. I trusted these men with my life but not with my lover.
I’d see young soldiers “on duty” crashed-out drunk in bed with local girls, missed calls from worried girlfriends displayed on their phones. The tables turned when we went on tour. Then they’d be the ones worrying about their partners, about how many times their girlfriends were going out on the town. It was one of the worst things that could play on your mind when you’re thousands of miles away. Then someone would make a joke about the milkman or “Leroy,” which was a generic name they’d use to taunt them. Soldiers would try and get through to their partners on their weekly satellite phone call. When she didn’t pick up immediately, other soldiers would laugh and tell them she was busy with Leroy. And sometimes they were right.
This would drive some mad. Some would not get enough satisfaction from the dog-eared porn that got passed around. Some would chat up the female soldiers. There was a beautiful medic working with us in Iraq. Everybody chatted to her in the dinner queue. The only chance I got to talk to her was when I had D&V (diarrhea and vomiting), so it was curtains for me, but some soldiers got lucky. There are other girls, too: journalists, government staff, and female officers. But for some it was torture until they came home on R&R. Then they’d have a release. Some came home and killed their partners after seeing Facebook profiles saying they were sleeping around. Some would die and then their partners would carry on living their lives and break the golden rule themselves.
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