Restrepo the movie
Restrepo is the brain child of Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington. Both are amazing war correspondence who had one driving question "What are the solders going through on the ground?" They were not interested in the 'why' we were in Afghanistan, the generals view of how the war was going, or the political discussion on how the war was going.
This is a question that until Sebastian and Tim was very rarely asked. Everyone knew "war is hell", but what happens over 15 months when you place a platoon of 18-26 year old kids in the "valley of death" for over a year.
In my humble opinion, Sebastian and Tim nailed it. They embedded with Battle company, when the soldiers got shot at, they got shot at. Battle company shot back at the enemy, Tim shot the amazing footage that allows the soldiers to give their loved ones a hint of what happened.
Down in the dirt
That is the key to why this movie hits home. If you have no connection to the military, have no loved ones that have served, never served yourself, that is great! Supporting the U.S. economy and boosting the GDP is the single greatest factor on why we are still a super power. You have my sincere thanks, but this review is not aimed towards you. You most likely aren't going to understand the heartache of being (or having a loved one) deployed in an area where you face life threatening situations every day for 450 days straight.
SSG Larry Rougle
Pictured above is one of my personal heroes. He is a former Ranger and sacrificed more time away from his family than anyone has the right to ask. Restrepo captures in graphic detail when he was shot to death by the enemy on the 23rd of October trying to save the lives of a M240 gun team.
This is just one of the scenes they managed to capture. Along with the lead, death, tears, and courage, Tim managed to capture the everyday games and life on the KOP (and all of the FOBs around.)
So, Sebastian and Tim embedded with Battle company for their 15 month deployment. Brave, but without their innate talent, this movie would not be the hit it is today. Tim had a knack of knowing when to run the camera and where to point it to capture the spirit of the action. Ask any soldier their opinion on reporters, and you will likely get an earful. Not so with Tim and Sebastian. Any of the soldiers have the highest respect for both of them. We all took it personally whenever Tim was killed by a mortar in Libya (see bottom).
Sebastians personality, his ability to ask the questions that need to be asked, and stay silent until you are comfortable enough to speak is unique. After a while, soldiers wanted to talk to him, tell him their experience and feelings. They would talk to Sebastian when they wouldn't talk to their buddies or their loved ones back home. And Sebastian captured it in a way to show those loved ones why their husband has changed over the past year.
Whenever I met my (now) wife, she knew I was a veteran, but didn't know much about the military or deployments. I do not talk about it much, and she never pushed to ask questions. This is not a hollywood representation of war. This isn't even like Lone Survivor where Hollywood took a SEAL that lived through the event to guide the events.. This IS war. This is footage of soldiers getting shot at, getting killed, killing, and being so bored they literally throw rocks at each other for fun. This is by far the closest you can get to war without being in it.
If you are interested in what thousands of soldiers have went through in Afghanistan, rent and watch it. If your veteran is having issues that you cannot understand, please I urge you to rent or buy this movie to get an hour idea of a 15 month deployment.
There are SO many veterans that come back, fight depression, lose touch with their battle buddies, can't sleep because they wake up in sweat and tears, fight the VA who throws pills at them, and feel they have nowhere to turn.
If you are trying to understand the way from a grunt view, this is the place to start.
Sequels: Korengal, The Last Patrol & War
If Restrepo shows you what war is like, Korengal shows what it is like to live after war. I was fortunate to do a Q&A on the opening screening of Korengal near where I live. I enjoy talking to civilians who struggle to understand the unique situations veterans face after returning from heavy combat. It is flattering that anyone cares enough about a stranger who joined the army at 17 and was put in a situation most people will never hear about, and go out of their way to support you after coming back.
Sebastian interviewed the same soldiers from Restrepo after we returned to Vicenza Italy. The insight they provided is touching. To hear soldiers that spent 15 months watching buddies get shot and killed, tirelessly going after and killing the enemy while avoiding civilian casualties, come back and admit they don't know what is next is disheartening.
Sebastian also released a book about our deployment. It contains much of the same scenes and information as Restrepo, but Sebastian breaks down War into several themes. Fear, Killing, and Love. Throughout the book Sebastian turns theologist digging more into the why soldiers feel what they do and how war effects them than just reporting what happens and allowing the soldier to talk.
I have read sections of this book over the past 4 years, but it is a very hard hitting book. The prose (I think is the proper writer term) that Sebastian writes with, it really brings you back to when it happened.
I have not seen The Last Patrol as it has just been released, but will update it once I have!
In my own life I know I have been passed over for jobs, missed out on an amazing scholarship program because of my service in Afghanistan. I've been told "I don't know that I want someone with your background in my office." "I don't understand how you can fight there for a year and still volunteer at the ASPCA." (Questioning my volunteer hours on a scholarship application.)
Tim gave his life trying to dispel some of these assumptions about servicemen (and women) returning from combat. It is a sacrifice I will never forget and can never be repaid.
Sebastian Junger Interview
List of acronyms
KOP = Korengal Out Post. The base Battle company operated out of in the Korengal valley
FOB= Forward Operating Base. Any number of the small bases US troops operate out of.
M240= A large mobile machine gun that fires 900 .308 caliber rounds a minute.
Rangers= The special operations infantry element. (There is a difference in Ranger school and Ranger Battalion!)
RIP SSG Larry Rougle
I wanted to throw in a quick personal story here at the end about SSG Rougle pictured above. So often whenever a soldier is KIA, we remember their combat actions, but often it is the everyday advice and motivating attitude that makes them the hero they are.
My fondest memory of SSG Rougle is while training in Germany. I was a sniper and he was a scout team leader. So my team was attached to provide long range support for his team as they infilled into the village. So i was moving forward with Rougle, it was snowing, we were trying to be sneaky and quiet, he runs up to a large bush for me to set up the hide. So he motions for me to come up, i come up quick and quiet and right at the end slid on the snow and almost go right into the bush..
Rougle doesn't laugh, get upset, looks over, gives me a quick lecture that I won't repeat here, but will also never forget.
Whenever you think about service to the country, you generally do not think about reporters. However, both Sebastian and Tim have opened my eyes to the impact reporters can have. If they can help open the eyes to the American public, show what war is like to those who have never experienced it, and help build the supportive communities required to ensure veterans know where to turn when they come home, their impact is much larger than anything I could give.
Please check out Sebastian's non-profit RISC. Tim was killed by a mortar blast in Libya. Soon after Sebastian started RISC (Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues) to help save lives. Thank you for any and all support you give to any charity aimed at improving our great country.