July 8th, 2010
02:19 PM ET

New documentary shows raw side of life at war

In the middle of the night, a platoon of U.S. soldiers is building an outpost on a remote hillside in Afghanistan. Taliban sympathizers are watching. This is the Korengal Valley in Kunar Province, one of Afghanistan’s most inhospitable areas. The soldiers assigned to this place know it as “The Valley of Death.” It’s perhaps the most dangerous place in Afghanistan for any soldier to serve. The occupants will see more than 500 gunfights during their stay, and not every soldier will make it home. With attacks at close range, no running water, and the enemy on the other side of the sandbags, this is Restrepo.

Named in honor of a medic killed in combat, Restrepo was more than just a base to the platoon followed in a new documentary of the same name. The men stationed here literally left blood, sweat, and tears behind; the isolation and near-constant threat of death also took a heavy psychological toll.

Two filmmakers tell the story of the Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade - capturing the highs and lows of a 15-month deployment here. Shooting more than 150 hours of video, Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger bring us a film of raw intensity: the sounds, the silence, the constant anxiety of an attack, the look on a soldier’s face as he sees his friend killed just ten feet away by a Taliban bullet.

Appearing on CNN’s "Campbell Brown" last week, Junger explained the isolation of Restrepo. “They couldn't communicate with home for a month at a time. It was, basically, they were on Mars. They had a rudimentary outpost.”

Junger said the elements and lack of utilities at the camp made for harsh living conditions. “They didn't bathe for a month at a time. No internet, no phone, no electricity at first, no cooked food, hellishly hot in the summer, swarming with flies.”

The platoon was alone in the middle of Taliban country. Part of the soldiers' duty was to patrol nearby settlements. Attempting to make their presence accepted, soldiers would go door to door promising to help the region while trying to get tips on who was connected to the fighters. By and large, the locals were distrustful, some hostile. A house search might turn up a handful of rocket launchers. Just another day on patrol.

The film also brings the culture of this isolated and fiercely independent part of Afghanistan into focus. The platoon held weekly meetings with elders where it became apparent that language was not the only barrier to better relations. Questions came from elders over the detention of locals whom the U.S. military felt were working with the Taliban. There was also a lack of trust: The elders felt they’d been betrayed by previous commanders in the area. There was also a confrontation between the soldiers and locals over compensation for a cow the soldiers had killed when it became entangled in a fence.

The soldiers were in a situation where victory or even progress was difficult to imagine. What the film conveys is how they coped with their deployment by relying on each other. There were no additional forces close at hand, no extra security forces brought in. “What was going on up there was brotherhood,” says Junger. “Very different from friendship. Brotherhood, you don't even have to like the guy, but if he's your brother you'll protect him, you'll die for him. They all felt that way about each other. And for a 19-year-old, a 20-year-old, that arrangement is a very, very secure place to be emotionally or psychologically.”

Another fear the platoon confronted was the fear their sacrifices were overlooked by their countrymen. Junger recounted that struggle to Brown. “One very cold winter night out there at Restrepo, at this remote outpost, one of the guys said to me, 'Hey, Sebastian, let me ask you a question. Does anyone even know we're out here?' And I said ... 'Yes, they know you're in Afghanistan, of course. But do they know you're at a 15-man outpost on a hilltop in zero-degree weather getting attacked five times a day? You haven't had a shower in a month? No. They don't know that.' They're fighting incredibly hard out there. And that reality, Americans do not quite understand what that reality means.”

Junger told Brown a soldier’s transition back into everyday life is extremely difficult. “They come back to society and all of a sudden they're just 19-year-old kids again, bottom of the food chain. They don't know what role they're supposed to play in society. They really don't know who they are. That is actually more insecure, more threatening than a place like Restrepo.”

In the film, a soldier talks about the rush of being in a war zone. “You can skydive or bungee jump or kayak, but once you have been shot at, you really can’t come down. There’s nothing … you can’t top that.” “How are you going back in the civilian world then?” Junger asks him. He simply replies, “I have no idea.”

Junger says that despite everything they had to endure, after only a few weeks away from the post at Restrepo, most of the soldiers wanted to go back.

CNN's Emma Lacey-Bordeaux contributed to this report.

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Filed under: Afghanistan • Military • Security Brief
soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. Poppy

    We really shouldnt let these soldiers back into the country. They are damaged beyond repair.

    July 8, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • charles tademy

      Poppy you are probably an ignorant spoiled brat that let someone do your fighting for you. Are you gutless join up. Fight for your freeedom. All mpraises due to all soldiers. You could not shine their boots...............................God Bless all the soldiers......................................

      July 8, 2010 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • MrsRoth5985

      Are you willing to take the place of these men and women that fight for your freedom? Are you willing to go through what they have gone through? Are you willing to be on call 24/7/365 and get paid less than minimum wage, probably not but these soldiers have given up their lives in every way to keep another Sept 11th from happening here in the US. Some are fresh out of school yes that is true but, some have given up very good paying jobs, scholarships, careers, etc.

      Listen to the song "AMERICAN SOLDIER" it paints a pretty good picture of a soldiers life and so does the video. They really do not do it for the glory or the pay. So isn't it our job to take care of those who take care of us, fight and give their lives for us to have the freedoms we enjoy? Just because a soldier comes home alive does not mean they don't need our help, after they come home they need the help even more.

      How many of you would pack up your family and move away from everyone you know and love because your job tells you to, you aren't asked if you want to move 1,760 miles from family and friends... you are told to. Then leave your spouse, children, parents, friends and family behind to go to a country that is very hostile and doesn't want you there but you know you have a job to do and you have trained for it so you do it. You stay there for 12 months (minus the two weeks you get for R&R), hope your unit is not one chosen to stay an extra 3 months. You come home and you are supposed to forget everything you saw or had to do, you are looked down upon for being human and having feelings... you must suppress your emotions, if you want to make any kind of rank in the military.

      And how about the family that is left behind... the wife, the children, the parents, grandparents, etc. Do you really think this is the job any of really want for our children... NO... but it is what they have chosen to do to protect the rights we all enjoy having.

      Rather than looking at all that they do for each of us, you would rather just have them what?? put them away somewhere and pretend they don't exist? even if you don't agree with this war we are in it and we should support our troops and treat them with the love, care and respect they deserve.

      July 8, 2010 at 9:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Finn

      Poppy, you are Unbelievably thoughtless and selfish. Our country sends these men in harms way, and you want to discard them when they come back as if they are now used goods. We need to help them readjust to civilian life once they leave the service, and to thank them for their service defendiong our freedoms.

      July 9, 2010 at 8:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Poppy

      Im just saying these soldiers are a tragedy waiting to happen. Its unfortunate that they are scarred from their deployment but we need to look at the big picture here. This is why we should think long and hard before ever using military power to achieve our goals. We have ruined these men for nothing. Btw I served in the military

      July 9, 2010 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
    • TexVet

      Poppy, you should be deported from the country because you are obviously damaged! I find it hard to believe you served in the military after a comment like that. I think you are a lying wus that just wishes he had the guts to do what these guys do. I am a vet and totally support our guys.

      July 9, 2010 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Poppy

      Bully for you guys, Im glad you support the vets. What exactly does that mean? Everyone goes around supporting the troop and its just feel good bs. what have any of you actually done? Im talking about a real problem. Do you really think that someone that wants to go back to a situation like that is not damnaged? Its going to take years for these poor guys to get back to normal...if they ever do. These guys will come back with so many problems its not even funny. What freedom exactly are they fighting for? Its all just a terrible waste.

      July 9, 2010 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • TexVet

      One way of supporting them is to call out Wuzzes like you on these blogs. Don't be calling these soldiers damaged because they are brave and doing what our country asks of them. Just because you are missing body parts below the belt doesn't mean they are.

      July 9, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • A VET

      Poppy, you stated you served in the military, what military, because the one I served for 23 years isn't the same one you served. You need to crawl back under the rock you came from, these men are serving your country/our country and fighting for your freedom. Do us all a favor, and deport yourself.

      July 14, 2010 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
  2. Lisa

    Are these soldiers still there? I read that it is very remote. Can care packages be sent? If so how? I can't do much but it would be nice to let them know I appreciate what they are doing. If anyone from there unit reads this please let them know that I say Thank You for all you do. God bless you and keep you safe.

    July 8, 2010 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • CK

      As the wife of a marine deployed to Afghanistan, I am ashamed of you Poppy...so incredibly ashamed.

      July 11, 2010 at 1:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Poppy

      Im sorry for you CK

      July 14, 2010 at 9:18 am | Report abuse |
    • bob

      Lisa- No, Outpost Restrepo was destroyed (by us) earlier this year... April 2010, I believe. Everyone needs to see this movie. I was lucky enough to see a pre-screening and a Q&A with one of the producers & two of the men from Battle Company!

      July 15, 2010 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
  3. Sauron & Soromon

    IRAN offering help to stop the oil leak. These guys have the real skills and expertise for this job.

    For more information Visit http://www.presstv.ir

    or simply search Google / Yahoo / Bing for more on this help offer from Iran.

    share this information with as many people as you may.

    Wake up Mr. President

    July 9, 2010 at 2:23 am | Report abuse |
  4. Frodo Baggins

    This is a Global Disaster. Stop being cynical about the Iranians and take their help. They are experts in this subject whether or not the US government agrees. Let political ego not compromise the interest of the ordinary Americans and the humanity at large.

    By refusing or rather not even acknowledging the help offered by Iran, the crisis is not going to be resolved anyways. It’s only worsening by the hour. The relief well and dispersents and etc etc are all lies. Neither US government nor BP knows wat to do about the leak. Eventually Mr. Prseident may decide to nuke the well. But that's even worse than the leak. The Gulf coast and its ecology would change for the next 10000 yrs if nuked. If the oil spill reached the northern parts of the Atlantic, it could disrupt the flow of ocean currents thereby adding to the global warming effects viz. El Nino, hurricanes etc.
    If the well is nuked, it will destry all ocean life in the gulf of mexico. So, the only logical way out is to take foreign help from nations that have the necessary skill, be it the enemy, for the greater good of humanity.

    The help offer by Iran is so strictly censored by the government that not even the so-called free press/media is talking about it.

    For more information Visit http://www.presstv.ir

    July 9, 2010 at 2:24 am | Report abuse |
  5. Gandalf

    IRAN most certainly has the skills required for this kind of operation. Truly, we are too obsessed with Israel, blinded and drugged, so as not to distinguish between friends and foes.

    Let the Heavens above and Earth below shower their blessings on us so that we may rid ourselves of Zionist thoughts and feelings.

    Go ahead Mr. Obama and take help from Mr. Ahmedinejad before the oil reaches the shores of Manhattan.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:24 am | Report abuse |
  6. Boromir

    Look up http://www.presstv.ir
    Iranians are offering to help. They claim to have expertise with regard to this crisis. What's the harm in taking their help since Bp and US government has failed to resolve this problem in two months now and there is no definite solution in sight yet. Give Iranians a chance to help. This is no longer a US problem. It is an environmental disaster threatening entire world now. look at the greater good and not petty politics.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:25 am | Report abuse |
  7. Legolas

    I really don't see no reason why US should not take help from IRAN.
    Both BP and US government are buying time in hope that the well would eventually run dry. The whole crap about drilling of relief well is a big lie. By the time it is dug, twice the amount of oil would have leaked into the gulf as compared to today.

    US does not have any know-how to stop this spill, so why not let those deal with this mess who really have the capacity and expertise to handle such catastrophe.

    Mr. President, if u're listening, pls wake up and ring up the Iranian President. Let their offer to help not go in vain.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:25 am | Report abuse |
  8. Bilbo Baggins

    US is so obsessed with Israel that it can see nothing beyond. Not even nations who want an opportunity to be friends of America.
    That be the case, Iran does not get any audience with the US government, media and planners.
    Otherwise, no wise government or nation would refuse Iranian help in containing this oil spill disaster.

    Iranians are willing to help. Are Americans willing to be friends?

    July 9, 2010 at 2:26 am | Report abuse |
  9. Eragon Arethron

    Why is no news channel talking about the IRANIAN offer to help stop the oil leak?

    Just because they are under sanctions for whatever reasons sponsored by the US goverment does not mean they are barred to even help on matters that are now beyond the capacity of US government or BP.

    This is a Global Disaster. Stop being cynical about the Iranians and take their help. They are experts in this subject whether or not the US government agrees. Let political ego not compromise the interest of the ordinary Americans and the humanity at large.

    By refusing or rather not even acknowledging the help offered by Iran, the crisis is not going to be resolved anyways. It’s only worsening by the hour.

    The help offer by Iran is so strictly censored by the government that not even the so-called free press/media is talking about it.

    For more information Visit http://www.presstv.ir

    or simply search Google/Yahoo/bing for more on this help offer from Iran.

    share this information with as many people as you may

    July 9, 2010 at 2:27 am | Report abuse |
  10. Greyhog

    Why do you think that "most of them them wanted to go back"? Hint! Compared to the majority of the population of our country, these "boys" are really doing something important and worthwhile with their lives and time.

    July 9, 2010 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Poppy

      They want to go back because they come home and realize they are nobodies. At least there they have each other and a sense of purpose. They probably are also addicted a bit to addrenaline and stress. Like the guy said in the video, there is nothing like someone shooting at you.

      July 9, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • TexVet

      Poppy, you'd have to change your diaper if someone shot at you. We are blessed to have these brave men and women.

      July 9, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • NRB

      A lot of the soldiers I talk to want to go back for the paycheck.

      July 13, 2010 at 5:05 am | Report abuse |
  11. TexVet

    Try telling vets from WWII and Vietnam how terrible it is not to have hot meals, showers and communication with the outside world. Get a grip, this is a WAR. Idiot media.

    July 9, 2010 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  12. Poppy

    Im glad you know so much about me tex. Im just stating the truth. Im not blaming them and Im sure they were decent people. I never saw any combat. Im not sure that it matters much what they are doing over there. I think things would be pretty much the same as they are now if we would not have invaded afghanistan or Iraq. We have managed to screw up these guys heads. Look at the statistics for ex servicemen. They have higher unemployment rates, higher rates for substance abuse, higher rates of suicide, higher rates of abuse. These guys are messed up and its our fault

    July 9, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • AirborneG37

      Poppy, I agree with that statement.... but earlier you said they shouldn't be brought back into the country??? I've been over 5 times and that kind of statement garners no respect. The soldiers that have been scarred mentally and physically should recieve the best medical care the US offers. They risked their minds and bodies for a war, some might not agree with the war but these soldiers signed up and served their country. It's easy to say outlandish dumb stuff behind a keyboard but until you've been out there you will never understand.

      SSG, USA

      July 15, 2010 at 8:51 am | Report abuse |
  13. Poppy

    so we should just let rabid dogs run free in the street?

    July 16, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  14. evan Mark

    Please people learn about how horribe rule was under the Taliban:
    You absolutely MUST see this.

    August 11, 2010 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |