Our Infantry Colonel Who Reviews Movies: Hey, 'The Long Road Home’ Actually Hits Home

The Long March

In 2007, news correspondent Martha Raddatz published The Long Road Home describing the events of April 4th, 2004 when 2-5 Cavalry assumed their mission in Sadr City, Iraq in the midst of a horrific ambush. Sadr City had been quiet for a year, the Shia population was waiting to see if the American occupation would work out on their behalf. The Shias had been much abused under Saddam Hussein’s regime and the city was a huge slum.

When the Coalition Provisional Authority, headed by Paul Bremer, made another brilliant decision to shutter the local newspaper for inciting violence against the coalition; the Shia population, under the direction of Moqtada al Sadr, decided to show the coalition what kind of violence they could incite.

A platoon escorting shit-sucking trucks was ambushed and LTC Volesky, the incoming unit commander, was faced with the alarming task of rescuing his surrounded soldiers. The battle raged, some dubious decisions were made, and eight U.S. soldiers died and somewhere between 65 and 70 were injured.

Related: The Soldier Who Led The Way In An Unarmored Humvee In The Battle Of Sadr City »

Raddatz tells a great story, and our own Tom Ricks blurbed both the front and back covers: “[The Long Road Home] shows how American troops sweat, bleed, and fight in the Iraq War. Read it.” I read it back in 2007 and it was one of many books that informed my decision-making when my unit deployed in 2008. One of the merits of the book is that presents the story of what happened to the soldiers and how it impacted their families back at Fort Hood, Texas.

When National Geographic Channel announced they would be hosting an eight-part mini-series adaptation of the book, I was intrigued but I had to save the show until I could give it the attention it deserved. I also re-read the book so I could measure one against the other.

The mini-series admirably adheres to the book and conveys the difficulties the soldiers and their families survived. Given a limited TV budget they did a, mostly, excellent job of building the Sadr City setting. They had substantial U.S. Army equipment support and most of the filming was done on post at Fort Hood. If you watch carefully, with a critical eye, there are moments that pull you out, but most are well done and casual viewers won’t notice. Contrast this with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk where the setting, uniforms, and equipment were extremely poorly implemented on a much larger big screen budget.

Indeed, only the combat vehicles in The Long Road Home often seem out of place, simply because they probably weren’t allowed to scuff them up too much. More CGI bullet holes, burn marks and body damage would have made up for things. Soldiers use generally decent tactics, though the bigger question of why anyone thought it was a good idea to go into the battle in open LMTVs and unarmored HMMWVs – in a city of 2.5 million possible adversaries –  goes beyond the TV show to reality itself. Guess you “go to war with the Army you have, not the one” you were forced to leave back at Fort Hood. (Only M1 tanks could finally break through to the surrounded platoon).

Related: 'The Long Road Home' Is Gritty, Authentic, And Army-Approved »

Each episode is named after one of the prime characters, and provides additional focus on each character, respectively. I found the episodes on interpreter Jassim and enlisted man Tomas Young to be the most moving. Neither story is prominently featured in the book. Jassim’s backstory may or may not be a reality, but Young’s is well known by other means so it’s mostly accurate. An unrealistic scene, where one LMTV and its complement of soldiers is lost and broken down, seems to be included for artistic license. It should have been left on the cutting room floor because it reminded me of the awful Hurt Locker movie.

Acting is merely serviceable throughout. There’s few familiar actors and fewer still reach a level much beyond soap opera quality. Lt. Aguero (E.J. Bonilla) and Sgt. Bourquin (Jon Beavers) acquitted themselves best. The real Bourquin was among the technical advisors for the film. The home front scenes also tend towards soapy material; but it’s treated with more care, far better than Army Wives.

Many of the episodes open with the gut-wrenching views of the overloaded aid station, and its piles of boots, helmets, and equipment. It’s stunning to think how this event is mostly forgotten now, at least by everyone who wasn’t there. The show is still available on On Demand and DVD. I highly recommend watching it.

‘HunterJaeger6’ is an Army Reserve infantry colonel. He’s been to Fort Hood and Iraq. His reviews have absolutely nothing to do with the Department of Defense.

(New Line Cinema)

The Marine Corps has tapped a new Silicon Valley defense firm to develop a "digital fortress" of networked surveillance systems in order to enhance the situational awareness of security forces at installations around the world.

Marine Corps Installations Command on July 15 announced a $13.5 million sole source contract award to Anduril Industries — the two-year-old defense technology company and Project Maven contractor founded by Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey and several former Palantir Technologies executives — for a new Autonomous Surveillance Counter Intrusion Capability (ASCIC) designed to help secure installations against "all manners of intrusion" without additional manpower.

This is no standard intrusion system. Through its AI-driven Lattice Platform network and 32-foot-tall autonomous Sentry Towers, Anduril purports to combine the virtual reality systems that Luckey pioneered at Oculus with Pentagon's most advanced sensors into a simple mobile platform, enhancing an installation's surveillance capabilities with what Wired recently dubbed "a web of all-seeing eyes, with intelligence to know what it sees."

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The Marine Corps' dune buggy drone jammer may have downed two Iranian drones in the Strait of Hormuz, U.S. military have officials announced.

The amphibious assault ship USS Boxer was transiting the Strait of Hormuz on July 18 when two Iranian drones came dangerously close, according to U.S. Central Command.

"This was a defensive action by the USS Boxer in response to aggressive interactions by two Iranian UAS [unmanned aerial systems] platforms in international waters," CENTCOM spokesman Army Lt. Col. Earl Brown said in a statement. "The Boxer took defensive action and engaged both of these platforms."

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On July 17, Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal briefly met with President Donald Trump at a rally in Greenville, North Carolina to discuss the eponymous legislation that would finally allow victims of military medical malpractice to sue the U.S. government.

A Green Beret with terminal lung cancer, Stayskal has spent the last year fighting to change the Feres Doctrine, a 1950 Supreme Court precedent that bars service members like him from suing the government for negligence or wrongdoing.

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The Pentagon is no longer topless. On Tuesday, the Senate voted to confirm Mark Esper as the United States' first permanent defense secretary in more than seven months.

Esper is expected to be sworn in as defense secretary later on Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters.

"We are grateful for the Senate leadership and the Senate Armed Services Committee's willingness to quickly move through this process," Hoffman said.

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(Paramount Pictures via YouTube)

The new trailer for Top Gun: Maverick that dropped last week was indisputably the white-knuckle thrill ride of the summer, a blur of aerial acrobatics and beach volleyball that made us wonder how we ever lost that lovin' feeling in the decades since we first met Pete "Maverick" Mitchell back in 1986.

But it also made us wonder something else: Why is Maverick still flying combat missions in an F/A-18 Super Hornet as a 57-year-old captain after more than 30 years of service?

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