The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.


July 08, 2010

Name: Charlie Sherpa
Posting date: 7/8/10
Deploying to: Afghanistan
Hometown: Boone, Iowa
MilblogRed Bull Rising
Email: Sherpa at 

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:


After this was written, we were even able to screen the film Restrepo for even more Red Bull soldiers. Their bottom line: This movie is a unique opportunity for all of us--soldiers, citizens, veterans--to talk about what we're asking today of our fighting men and women! Call your area or on-post theater to request it locally!

After viewing all the YouTube previews for Restrepo, wiped away just a few tears and got on the wire to local theaters, our citizens must see this. Running the silly gauntlet of phone trees to get a live human being, I will persevere. Fie on those fleas, and as winter comes on even further, take care of your all-important feet. If socks are needed, say the word, and care packages will be one their way. Stay safe and be well, Red Bulls.

OUT-STANDING, GalPal! Thanks for phone-jousting on behalf of this a great work of journalism.

(And, on a personal note, thanks for the offer of socks! You rock!)

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