You’re a cherry fucking bitch. That’s the label you get when you arrive at your first unit. You haven’t yet been deployed to the mountains of Afghanistan or the streets of Iraq to prove yourself. Your superiors have several deployments under their belts. Some of the more senior noncommissioned officers (NCO) are men who were in before 9/11 and were among the first into Afghanistan and then Iraq. Your role as a cherry private is to be a sponge for all the knowledge they’re going to bequeath upon you. They’re there to mentor and mold you into a capable soldier who will aggressively and effectively put two bullets into the chest and one into the head of Haji.
As a cherry private, you live in constant fear—not of the enemy, but of your Team Leader and Squad Leader. You fear making a mistake, however small, that will bring their wrath upon your poor soul. And you will make many fucking mistakes.
You have a brain fart and forget the fourth stanza of the Ranger Creed because you’re so nervous. “Do fucking pushups, motherfucker!”
You miss a spot when you shaved that morning. “Hit the fucking ropes!”
You’re two minutes late to being five minutes early to formation. “I’m going to fucking crush your balls after formation.”
You didn’t properly tie down your night-vision goggles. “Start fucking low-crawling, you fucking retard.” Other times you will get smoked merely for being a cherry private.
Little by little, you start to learn how to do things the right way. You’re always on high alert, making sure your uniform is on properly, your equipment is accounted for and is serviceable, and that you’re not fucking up somehow. Yet you always feel like you are. The mere sight of an NCO in the distance causes your heart to race. You’ll spot-check yourself and your buddies again. If he calls you over, you run quickly to him, hoping you didn’t do something that will ensure a soul-fucking.
You shoot thousands of rounds at the range, getting your shot groups tighter and more consistent. You conduct close-quarter combat exercises, live-fire exercises, jump out of airplanes, drive Humvees and Strykers, and fast-rope out of helicopters. You’ll do first-responder training and land navigation. You will work out every morning. You also do countless shitty details and spend lots of time hurrying up and waiting.
You’re eager to deploy. You’re tired of being a cherry bitch and want to get that deployment patch on your right shoulder. You want to stop hearing about what it’s like over there; you want to see it firsthand. You want to join the legions of men who came and fought before you. You want to do your part in fighting for your country and destroying those Haji fucks. This is your war.
It seems that every generation of young men must relearn how grim war is. We watch documentaries and war movies. We read books about the inexplicable horror and terrible waste of it all, yet with each generation, there are a handful who are eager to go on this grand journey. With each generation, there are old men who have lived their lives willing to send young men to fight and die when their young life has only begun. Sometimes it’s for a noble purpose; other times, it’s for profit.
Your deployment date approaches after months and months of training. You go home on leave one last time. Your mother is terrified and tells you to call her often. Your friends are proud of you and tell you to make it back alive, or they’ll kill you. Your fellow cherry privates are as excited as you are to get drunk as often as possible. You report back and find out some of them are idiots and got DUIs, beat their wives, or pissed hot for drugs. Looks like they ain’t going.
Your leadership makes sure you and your equipment are squared away. You’re given a packing list and are visually inspected to make sure you have all that’s required of you. You palletize your duffel bags, rucksacks, and other special equipment. You fill out your last will and square away your finances. You get medically evaluated and vaccinated. There are only a few days left and you serve half-days until you deploy.
The day is here. You sign out your M4, night-vision goggles, and carry your assault pack on your back. In there you have your laptop, a book, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. Final manifest is called and you load onto the bus. The bus takes you to the Air Force base. There, you wait until the bird is ready. Once you’re told to load on the bird you follow the line of men in front of you. You step on the bird, take your seat, and wait for takeoff. You know that when you come back, you won’t be a cherry fucking bitch anymore.
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