Sex and soldiers are the forces of life and death crashing into one another. It gets animalistic. It gets filmed.
Luckily for me, the Ministry of Defence had decided to treat the British Army to single-man rooms by the time I’d enlisted. It was still animalistic, but at least now there were walls—walls thumped by headboards through which you could hear screaming and laughing. If you’re a parent and live near an Army base, ask yourself: Is she really hanging out with her friends all night, or is she becoming the star of a mobile-phone movie on camp?
I’d been a soldier for five years. I’d done bomb-disposal training. I’d been to Cyprus to help clear the Akamas peninsula of unexploded ordnance. I’d just come back from the war in Iraq. I’d done all this but was still a little uncomfortable with sex on an Army camp.
Here’s one reason why: My mate Chris had just come back from a night out. Light cracked out of his open door. The Foo Fighters screamed from his stereo that it was at “times like these you learn to live again” when I popped in for a chat. Chris was having sex with a local girl who was wearing his gas mask. The British Army issues all soldiers a respirator to be used in times of nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) warfare. This was not one of those times. The respirator—nicknamed “Ressie”—will allow the soldier to breathe and carry on fighting until the dirty bomb in his or her environment eats through his NBC suit. If they can find cover, they can change into another suit; if not, they’ll break-dance on the floor until they die. Here was Chris demonstrating the improvisation skills for which the British Army was famous. He saw me and laughed. I’m not sure if she saw me; the respirator’s eyepieces were a little clouded. I signaled I’d pop back later.
Here’s another reason I was uncomfortable with sex: I was a virgin. The lads knew this and helped me get over this hurdle. There were some lovely moments where hardened soldiers sat around dinner tables asking me about my first date and my first kiss. They’d hug me and smile. They’d help me decide what to wear. They’d drive me to dates.
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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