I'm Matt Gallagher, a former U.S. Army captain, Iraq war veteran, and author of the debut novel Youngblood out this week from Atria/Simon & Schuster.

I spent fifteen months in Iraq in 2007 and 2008, during the Surge, and kept a blog over there called 'Kaboom' that got shut down by my chain-of-command. I have written about a variety of topics, from contemporary warfare to the military-civilian divide in America to participating in the Big Buck Hunter World Championships. I'm also a diehard Cleveland Browns fan and named my goofy, ridiculous dog after Hemingway. Ask me anything!

Proof via the Twitter machine

ETA: Hey all, this has been a lot of fun, thanks for the thoughtful questions. Gotta run now but I'll check in later and answer some more. For you New Yorkers out there, the launch for Youngblood is tonight at Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn. I'll be in conversation with Phil Klay, author of Redeployment. Starts at 7pm. Hope some of you can make it

Comments: 715 • Responses: 24  • Date: 

collk22335 karma

There have been a number of articles about the supposed 'brain-drain' of young officers leaving the service early, as well as an equal number of articles indicating this problem is overstated.

Do you think today's Army is at risk of having a talent gap? If yes, how should this be addressed?

RealMattGallagher527 karma

I've seen those articles - the one in The Atlantic was particularly damning. That said, some of the best officers I served with decided to stay in and make it a career. As a citizen, I'm eased by that. Others, though - ones I thought would pin on general stars someday - have said "Enough is enough." And who can blame them? Four, five tours to combat zones will do that to anyone, no matter how tough and committed.

I think we won't really know the effects of the potential 'brain drain' for 15, 20 years, when the young lieutenants and captains of Iraq and Afghanistan are generals making top-level strategic decisions. I'll admit to being a bit pessimistic about the whole thing, though. The military is a bureaucracy that feigns at meritocracy more than it really conducts itself as one.

Mordredbas43 karma

Not a fan of officers but it's obvious you were a young low level officer. You still have a working imagination and brain. In your opinion, why does the US keep winning battles and losing the wars?

RealMattGallagher334 karma

I hear you. The rumor was the officer lobotomy happens at Major school. As for the winning battles/losing wars question - I think it's because we keep trying to "solve" geopolitical issues with just armed force instead of using armed force as part of the equation. We can't "win" in Afghanistan, not in the traditional force-on-force way.

If we were serious about combatting militant Islamic extremism we'd have a giant-ass State Department with DOD-level funding. But that's all hippie shit, and it's easier to just bomb things. Just my two cents.

jonny580320 karma

I'm a little uncertain of what you mean by "giant-ass State Department with DOD-level funding." Are you saying that increasing DOD funding in America would help combat the issue or are you saying that a giant state department should be implemented somewhere in the middle east? Please elaborate.

Thank you for your service!

RealMattGallagher173 karma

Yeah, sorry, that wasn't very clear. I'd like to see the State Department receive more funding (perhaps even at the expense of the DOD's budget) and more of our efforts in the Middle East be led by the State Dept rather than the military. "Kill people and break things" is both a common term in the Army and sort of their purpose. And it's an important purpose. It's also something to be utilized with great care and restraint.

A good example of this are the various refugee camps in Europe and the Middle East right now. Places like that, with conditions like that, are where the next generation of extremism can fester if allowed to. The State Department is working with those camps some, but they have a limited reach and limited resources. Meanwhile, something like a billion American dollars disappeared with the "Free Syrian Army." Just gone.

SayerApp108 karma

Hi Matt! Thanks for your service. Why exactly did your blog get shut down? Did that ultimately fuel you to tell your story even more?

RealMattGallagher341 karma

My unit (2-14 Cavalry, 2nd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division) deployed to Iraq in late 2007. I was a young lieutenant in charge of a scout platoon of 30 or so soldiers, stationed at a small combat outpost northwest of Baghdad. Our mission was to conduct counterinsurgency operations in the rural town of Saba al-Bor. With my command's blessing, I decided to keep a blog, mostly as a way to keep in touch with family and friends.

For six months, I blogged twice a week or so, about our lives and our missions - the mundane days spent at checkpoints, the Iraqi orphan who sold us energy drinks, the firefight we rolled into in the middle of a neighborhood. That sort of stuff. My command was supportive. UNTIL ...

In June, my battalion commander called me into his office and said he wanted to make me an executive officer (XO.) A pseudo-promotion! But it'd have taken me off the line and away from my soldiers. Not thinking about anything but that, I told him (truthfully) that I wasn't going to make the Army a career, and maybe the position should go to someone who was going to? He lost his shit, and we had a one-way conversation, the type that can only occur in the military. He got personal and nasty. My Irish temper stoked, I went back to my hooch and did the same thing I'd been doing for six months when confronted with complex situations - I wrote about it, and I posted it.

Naively, I didn't think the post would do anything. I was just venting. But the Internet is the Internet, and it felt like every commander from Iraq to the Pentagon read it in the next three hours. The battalion commander ordered me to stop blogging, and I followed that order. But there was a lot of pushback - some readers felt he'd gone too far, considering I hadn't violated any OPSEC (operational security) regulations or anything. There were a few congressional inquiries into the matter.

It was kind of silly and surreal compared to the realities of our day-to-day lives at the point. I got yelled at a whole bunch and then back on a counter-IED patrol that night. But yeah, getting shut down like that definitely fueled me to tell my story more - not just my story, but the story of my soldiers and the Iraqis we interacted with every day.

tl; dr - I made fun of my boss on the Internet

SayerApp67 karma

Ahh yes, glad you made the most of this! Did you archive the blog at all, or is it gone?

RealMattGallagher227 karma

A friend of mine made a mirror site - http://kaboomwarjournalarchive.blogspot.com/

Trying to explain to senior officers what a mirror site was, and why they couldn't get rid of it was a fun conversation!

Jumbro-26 karma

Wait- so do you think military commands outrank first amendment rights?

RealMattGallagher22 karma

I think that when I joined the military, it was in part to protect those first amendment rights. Whether I got to abide by them while in uniform is an interesting question. A couple years ago, yeah, I was all fire and brimstone about the blog getting shut down. Now - maybe it's time, age, or I'm just over it all - I'm not as certain.

Regardless, it was a deeply stupid decision to shut the blog down. Made it a much bigger deal than it would've been otherwise. Blog back at me, call me a punk, idiot lieutenant! We all would've laughed and gone back to the mission.

collk2274 karma

You've written about the military-civilian divide in the past - with the reduction in troops overseas, slowing optempo (for now) - what is your take on the military-civilian divide in 2016?

RealMattGallagher133 karma

In the center of the storm - like at the writing workshops for Words After War, a great nonprofit I teach at that's open to veterans and civilians alike - it feels like we're improving incrementally. Getting more Americans to engage with its military and our collective wars is important, vital even. We're a republic, that's how this is supposed to work.

Then I go home upbeat from that writing workshop and see polls like the recent one saying a majority of Millennials support a ground invasion of Syria, as long as they themselves don't have to join up. Maybe we're all just pissing into the wind, to use that beautifully poetic Irish phrase. The alternative though is to give up, and that's something I haven't been willing to do yet.

ProblemPie57 karma

I can't believe that's true. We're a generation of Americans that lost fathers in Kuwait and Iraq and Afghanistan. How could a majority of us support a ground invasion of Syria?

I dunno. Maybe it's true. I, for one, support no such thing. I do feel that, as humans, we have an obligation to help those in need, but anybody that thinks marching American soldiers into Al-Raqqah is going to help anybody is insane.

RealMattGallagher54 karma

I hear you. Here's the poll I mentioned: http://www.npr.org/2015/12/10/459111960/millennials-want-to-send-troops-to-fight-isis-but-not-serve

Spoiler alert: it's depressing

Kernal_Campbell41 karma

1) In addition to not being infantry, I believe you are also a leg. Other than those two incredibly obvious problems, what is your biggest regret about your time in the service? -I really wish I had made NCO a few months faster. If I had tried out for jumpmaster school they would have rewarded me with a CPL stripes and a fire team. I didn't have much time with the team and wish I'd been able to wrap my head around that role a little more before everyone shipped out.

2) Conversely, what would you consider to be your greatest impact or accomplishment?

  • There are several times I avoided pulling a trigger when, by training, I should have, and could have "gotten away" with it, but it would have done a lot of harm and I'm glad I didn't.

3) Of the people you served with, which one took the least expected path after discharge? - We had a guy we were all sure would end up in prison who now works for the CIA.

4) What is the most bonkers thing you saw overseas? - I was once kicked out of a shower trailer in Mosul for being too dirty.

5) If you have any experience with the VA, how was it? -Mine has been mediocre, but they pay me.

RealMattGallagher53 karma

1) Haha, yep! To quote my old platoon sergeant, "Why jump out of a perfectly good airplane?" Scouts Out and such.

Biggest regret? Not nabbing a Jaish al-Mahdi insurgent in Hussaniyah we'd wanted for months. Always five minutes late, a room away, etc.

Greatest accomplishment: bringing all my men home, though I know that had a lot to do with luck and circumstances. But still.

Least expected path for a fellow servicemember? That's a good question. Probably the hard-charging West Pointer who thought he'd be a general and then said fuck it, and became a bartender on the beach in Central America. Living the dream.

Most bonkers thing? Oh god, so many choices ... probably the time a Major asked for "atmospherics" on an Arabic article about dinosaurs evolving from birds.

VA experience has been pretty good, but that's totally anecdotal and I know it's not the norm across the country.

madmaxpower931 karma

who is the Best politician for the military?

RealMattGallagher173 karma

I'm still figuring that out myself. Definitely not Ted Cruz, though. "Carpet bombing," man? Really?

greatbrokenpromise24 karma

What do you think of your contemporary Iraq veteran authors? I read Kevin Powers' "The Yellow Birds" a few years ago and found it absolutely mesmerizing. Growing up in the midst of all this, I was pretty unaware as to the realities, so I've been trying to learn more and more about the Bush war years. Your book's been on my list since I saw it in a magazine a few weeks ago - cheers!

RealMattGallagher44 karma

Thanks, appreciate that. And yeah, we're really starting to see a great crop of literature on our post-9/11 terror wars. "The Yellow Birds" and "You Know When the Men Are Gone" and "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" broke through a couple years ago, and everyone in the war writing community or whatever we are owes those authors a great deal. (Kevin Powers, Siobhan Fallon, and Ben Fountain.)

He's a friend of mine so I'm biased, but Phil Klay's "Redeployment" is great. Believe the hype. Eric Fair's "Consequence" comes out in April and it's outstanding. I've also been encouraged to see more writers with civilian backgrounds (as opposed to being vets) writing about the topic - it's vital. Lea Carpenter, Katey Schultz, Roxana Robinson, Helen Benedict, Whitney Terrell all come to mind ... I know I'm missing a ton.

The next thing that needs to happen is a novel or fictional short story collection from a woman veteran. The writers and works are out there. It's high time an editor and publishing house does the right thing.

mrewheels19 karma

Your novel has been described as tragic - why do you tend to end your stories so darkly?

RealMattGallagher39 karma

That's a tough one. One of my goals with 'Youngblood' was to write a novel with some breadth, some fullness. If not the totality of the Iraq war at least a larger swath of it than just one soldier's micro-experience. So with that in mind ... it'd have been impossible to end the book on a happy, light note. That's just not how the Iraq War played out. There's still some hope there, I think. But it's a survivor's hope, something the characters had to earn.

Mansell113 karma

Do you think mustard and mayonnaise go together? If so what place do they hold in the culinary world? If not what other sauce combination would you praise?

RealMattGallagher25 karma

A culinary kindred spirit! If it's honey mustard, yeah, I'll rock that combo w/ mayo on my deli sandwiches every time. Anything spicy, not so much. As for other sauce combos ... just had some blueberry cream spread last night with syrup on chicken & waffles. Just now came out of the food coma.

glorious_cheese13 karma

Do you have a role model officer?

RealMattGallagher29 karma

The writings of David Hackworth meant a lot to me when I was in uniform. Still do, actually.

FrakkinPhoenix10 karma

We demand cute dog pics!

Also, what is your favorite sandwich?

RealMattGallagher39 karma

This is Ernie. He's tired after raging at the dog park with his bros http://imgur.com/1ib228M

Favorite sandwich: nothing more delicious or decadent than a slightly burnt grilled cheese overloaded with too much bacon (if such a thing can exist)

collk2210 karma

Your deployment experience presumably shapes the characters, situations, and settings in 'Youngblood,' but what was your story-making process like for this novel? What drove you to the themes/plot & sub-plots in the book?

RealMattGallagher19 karma

Yeah, there's definitely parts of my time in Iraq in 'Youngblood,' but just parts. I'd already written from the perspective of Matt Gallagher, and I knew this story needed to be bigger than one man's experiences, and I knew it needed to have a more engaging narrator than I am - Jack Porter is way more conflicted and takes things to heart much deeper than I do. I'd be worried if he was my friend or son, but he made for a hell of a narrator!

'Youngblood' is also set a few years after I was in Iraq, so I had to read a ton of journalism and nonfiction books from the withdrawal era to get a fuller sense of what the country was like then, how the war had changed. I also read a variety of oral history projects about Iraqis to get a deeper sense of the war's cumulative effects on them - don't get me wrong, 15 months was a long tour, but it's nothing compared to the decade (and counting) of war and armed conflict the Iraqi people have been dealing with.

madmaxpower99 karma

do iraqis drink coffee?

RealMattGallagher36 karma

Chai. So. Much. Chai.

Mcfooce6 karma

Why didn't they shut your blog down sooner? Surely there is something in OPSEC that says its probably not a good idea?

RealMattGallagher25 karma

They were pretty supportive until the "bad" post, actually. They viewed as something to humanize the American soldier to everyday American citizens, I think. This was at the time when we'd shifted to counterinsurgency (COIN) and the powers-that-be were having a lot of trouble explaining to the American people what that meant, and why we needed to do it.

collk224 karma

How's the 2016 Big Buck Hunter season looking for you?

RealMattGallagher8 karma

Poor, so far. All this book peddling has put a real damper on my Buck game. I'll be back, though!

collk224 karma

Danny Manning - band aid or key to Wake's return to relevance?

RealMattGallagher12 karma

I'm a big Wake Forest basketball fan. Was there during the Chris Paul years. We were f'ing good.

As for Manning, I'm still a believer. He needs time. That clown Bzdelik left a mess.

ZepiiHD3 karma

What do you think about the VA hospitals and their mistreatment of our heros?

RealMattGallagher12 karma

You know, my personal experiences at the VA have been pretty good, though I know that's anecdotal and certainly because I go to the Brooklyn facility that receives a lot of funding/media attention and is co-located with Fort Hamilton.

But it's clear we have a national problem and one that's not going away. The mistreatment seems systemic. The best way to help vets, of course, is to ensure they aren't sent off to wars that don't have clear purposes and end goals, but that's a rant for another day.

madmaxpower93 karma

who do you have winning the super bowl? and score?

RealMattGallagher69 karma

My heart says Broncos 23, Panthers 20.

My head says Panthers 77, Broncos 3.

Ptr45702 karma

What hobbies are you currently interested in or pursuing? Thanks for your service sir.

RealMattGallagher9 karma

I'm a big basketball nut, both playing and watching. I take fantasy sports perhaps a bit too seriously ... and in my "off" reading time, I dig a good fantasy book. The "Wheel of Time" series is still on my top shelf, next to Hemingway and Don Quixote.