Afghan War Documentary ‘Trauma’ Does Justice To The Difficult Job Of Combat Medic

Entertainment
Screenshot YouTube/The Colony Media

I’m beginning to suspect that constantly writing about war isn’t good for my psychological health. Since starting at Task & Purpose two years ago, I don’t think I’ve had a single dream that didn’t feature at least one firefight or an incoming mortar round. I’ve heard other veterans say that they find writing about their war experiences therapeutic, and, honestly, I thought that was going to be the case. But it hasn’t been at all. My first job as a writer was at Maxim. I liked those dreams a lot better.


This isn’t a resignation letter. It’s a review of Trauma, a documentary about a U.S. Army Black Hawk medevac crew that debuted Jan. 18 on iTunes and Amazon. The film’s title is just as much a reference to the physical wounds of war as it is its psychological aftershocks. Director Harry Sanna spent several weeks embedded with the crew in Afghanistan in 2011, which stands as the second deadliest year for coalition forces since the start of the war. The film, a study in contrasts, jumps back and forth between footage of the crew in the thick of the action and small-town U.S.A., where several years later we find our subjects still struggling to adapt back to civilian life. It’s hard to tell which is worse: Afghanistan or the suburbs after you’ve spent a year constantly flying in and out of shitstorms pulling wounded soldiers off the battlefield. Our subjects seem a lot more miserable in the latter.

I interviewed the film’s producer, Ryan Cunningham, in April 2016, right after his team had launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to complete the production. He told me that “the reason for making this film is to offer civilian audiences an unfiltered glimpse at what it’s like to be a medic at war.” He certainly made good on that promise. Like the film’s subjects, I served as a medic in Afghanistan during the surge. And while I wasn’t on a medevac crew — I was attached to an infantry platoon — watching Trauma was like watching a highlight reel of all the memories from my own deployment that I had suppressed long ago. To give you a sense of just how unfiltered the film is, it made me remember what it feels like to hold human brains.

Perhaps more unsettling is how the film captures the crew members’ lives after combat. Interwoven throughout these scenes are themes we’ve seen in plenty of other movies and documentaries about the War on Terror: anger, islamophobia, nightmares, flashbacks, alcoholism, antidepressants, failed relationships, suicidal ideation. But what sets Trauma apart is how much time Sanna let pass before he caught up with his subjects. The juxtaposition will resonate with any combat veteran who looks back at old deployment photos and hardly recognizes himself. In Afghanistan, these men were dirty, sleep-deprived, and neck-deep in death and human suffering. But it hardly mattered because they were hooked on the cause. One describes it as “highly addictive.” He’s right. There’s no better job in the world — that is, while you’re doing it. Then there’s the come down.

Medics are confronted with the tragedy of war more than most. Mutilated bodies, wounded children, the smell of cauterized flesh, the feeling of a young soldier’s pulse as it fades into oblivion: Like the subjects of Trauma, when I reflect on my time in Afghanistan, those memories overshadow everything else. It’s hard to have all that stuff in your head and also feel how you expect to feel when you come home from war — like a hero, or at the very least, someone who deserves to be thanked for their service. I imagine that the subjects of Sanna’s documentary feel the same way, and I applaud them for allowing a filmmaker to scrutinize their lives so closely. This isn’t an uplifting film, but it’s not a total buzzkill either. A few of the characters do, ultimately, find solace. And if there’s one overarching lesson to be gleaned from their stories, it’s that you won’t find the light at the end of the tunnel as long as you remain fixated on the past. That, of course, is easier said than done, especially when you used to save lives for a living.

After more than a decade and billions spent developing the consistently troubled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Air Force is eyeing a new variant of the F-15 — much to lawmakers' dismay.

Read More Show Less
Islamic state members walk in the last besieged neighborhood in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria February 18, 2019. (Reuters/Rodi Said)

NEAR BAGHOUZ, Syria (Reuters) - The Islamic State appeared closer to defeat in its last enclave in eastern Syria on Wednesday, as a civilian convoy left the besieged area where U.S.-backed forces estimate a few hundred jihadists are still holed up.

Read More Show Less
Russian President Vladimir Putin fires a fortress cannon. (Associated Press/Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin)

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Wednesday that Russia will target the U.S. with new weapons should Washington decide to deploy intermediate-range ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to Europe following the recent death of a Cold War-era arms control agreement, according to multiple reports.

He threatened to target not only the host countries where U.S. missiles might be stationed but also decision-making centers in the U.S.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the 317th Airlift Wing walk to waiting family members and friends after stepping off of a C-130J Super Hercules at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, Sept. 17, 2018 (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Mercedes Porter)

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

The U.S. Air Force has issued new guidelines for active-duty, reserve and National Guard airmen who are considered non-deployable, and officials will immediately begin flagging those who have been unable to deploy for 12 consecutive months for separation consideration.

Read More Show Less
Pictured left to right: Pedro Pascal ("Catfish"), Garrett Hedlund ("Ben"), Charlie Hunnam ("Ironhead"), and Ben Affleck ("Redfly") Photo Courtesy of Netflix

A new trailer for Netflix's Triple Frontier dropped last week, and it looks like a gritty mash-up of post-9/11 war dramas Zero Dark Thirty and Hurt Locker and crime thrillers Narcos and The Town.

Read More Show Less