July 08, 2010
Name: Charlie Sherpa
Posting date: 7/8/10
Deploying to: Afghanistan
Hometown: Boone, Iowa
Milblog: Red Bull Rising
Email: Sherpa at RedBullRising.com
My fellow Red Bull TOC-rats and I pulled a working lunch earlier this week.
As we started pulling apart our tactical compugter systems in preparation for loading them on a truck, we previewed a soon-to-be-released (and award-winning) documentary called Restrepo, which unblinkingly depicts the hardships endured by U.S. troops fighting in Eastern Afghanistan's Kunar Province.
From June 2007 to July 2008, documentary co-producers Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger repeatedly embedded in the Korengal Valley with the second platoon of Battle Company, 503rd Infantry Battalion (2/B/503 Infantry). In 2007, nearly one-fifth of the combat in Afghanistan occurred in this valley, which is only six miles long. The unit is part of the U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team (A.B.C.T.), headquartered in Vincenza, Italy.
Our unit's public affairs officer wanted a couple of Joes' reactions to the film, to see whether they thought it a potentially useful pre-deployment learning tool for our Red Bull soldiers. We've got a good mix of experiences and specialties in the TOC, he knew, and certainly no shortage of opinions.
About 90 minutes later, even the combat veterans among us called the film "eye-opening."
Said one staff sergeant: "I wish I'd had something like that to show my soldiers before we left for Iraq." An Afghan-theater veteran observed how well the documentary depicted the mountainous terrain as an ever-present enemy. Another commented: "It's a good reminder that this uniform gets dirty ... and sometimes bloody."
It remains to be seen, of course, whether elements of our unit ever face conditions as brutal and gut-wrenching as the 15 soldiers who established and maintained Observation Post Restrepo in 2007. Because Restrepo is a doggedly neutral work of non-fiction -- there is no spin-and-polish offered here, only situation and circumstance -- it rewards non-judgmental and soldierly contemplations such as:
-- How would I react to the death of a friend?
-- How will I react to enemy contact?
-- How would my body hold up to the demands of altitude and terrain?
-- How would I seek to win friends while also holding a rifle?
The Korengal Valley was thought to be a conduit through which Taliban and foreign fighters were infiltrating from Pakistan into Afghanistan. The area has variously been described as "the valley of death," "the most dangerous place in the world," and "the tip of the spear." More than 40 U.S. military personnel have been killed in the area since 2006. U.S. Army Pfc. Juan "Doc" Restrepo was one such soldier.
By placing the compay in the Korengal in 2007, U.S. Military leadrs had sought to stop the flow of fighters, while winning over the hearts and minds of the indigenous Korengali people -- an ethnically distinct population.
In April 2010, however, U.S. forces withdrew from the Korengal after determining that their presence was doing more to create anti-U.S. sympathies and Taliban influence than to diminish them.
Hetherington is a photographer and filmmaker who has covered was in Liberia and Afghanistan. Junger, author of The Perfect Storm, has also recently published War, a book-length account of the troops who fought in the Korengal.
After a theatrical release in June and July, plans call for Restropo to air on the National Geographic Channel later in 2010. Here's a trailer: