A new video produced by the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment features never-before-seen images of the elite unit’s final days at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, along with interviews with Ranger leaders who spent most of their careers at war.
Command Sergeant Major Curt Donaldson, the regiment’s senior enlisted leader at the time, was on his 18th deployment to Afghanistan during the Bagram withdrawal. He reflects on the generations of Rangers that served in Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001.
“They’ve done so honorably, and they’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do,” Donaldson says. “You had 20 years of Rangers who have answered the nation’s call in Afghanistan. Looking back, I couldn’t have done it any better with better folks. I’ve had the opportunity to serve with some absolute great Americans over here.”
The video was made by Army Sgt. Landon Carter, a combat cameraman with the 75th Ranger Regiment, who deployed to Afghanistan for 30 days in 2021.
Carter was tasked with making a video that summed up the withdrawal from Bagram Air Field. At first, he was overwhelmed by the challenge, so he filmed everything he could and then tried to figure out how all the pieces would come together.
Completing the video became a two year process, Carter told Task & Purpose on Thursday. About three months ago, his first sergeant suggested that the video should end by focusing on the next generation of Rangers, requiring more filming.
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“This was the first project that I could really look back at and say: I gave everything I had into it,” Carter said. “I have put every ounce of effort that I have into it.”
The video not only highlights the hard work of the troops who served in Afghanistan, but it also meant to validate the service of all Global War on Terrorism veterans by showing that “what we did had meaning,” Carter said.
“It was intended for the GWOT [Global War on Terrorism] veterans of the 75th Ranger Regiment to let them know that the evolution of the regiment is undeniable; the response to 9/11 was not negotiable; their effort was valiant; and the legacy set a new standard of excellence that we try to achieve every day,” said Maj. Justin Wright, a spokesman for the 75th Ranger Regiment.
Released on Veterans Day, the video opens with scenes from the Sept. 11 attacks and the United States’ ensuing invasion of Afghanistan, and it also provides new footage of the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Bagram Airfield in July 2021 – little more than a month before Kabul fell.
By then, the 75th Ranger Regiment had been deployed to Afghanistan for roughly 7,200 days, according to the video. Army Col. Todd Brown, who led the regiment at the time, had deployed 14 times over the past two decades.
Brown notes in the video how Rangers have learned to use robots and drones over the past 20 years. He stressed that Rangers will continue to play a vital part in defending the nation going forward.
“The world is getting more complex. It’s not getting less complex,” Brown says. “There will be friction and there will be fights in the gray zone. There will be places where people will test our resolve. And the best thing to do is to send a Ranger battalion when you want to make a statement.”
The video chronicles the last day that U.S. troops spent at Bagram Airfield as they lowered and folded the American flag for the final time, rehearsed the withdrawal, and finally trudged aboard the last C-130 transport aircraft, which took off under cover of darkness.
These images may be both poignant and painful to veterans, who know all too well that the departure of U.S. troops from Bagram Airfield was a prelude to the horrors of the desperate, final evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
One condition that veterans from all conflicts may have to grapple with is moral injury, when they feel guilt, shame or remorse about their service, said Rita Nakashima Brock, senior vice president and director of the Shay Moral Injury Center in Alexandria, Virginia.
Like veterans of the Vietnam War, those who fought in the Global War on Terrorism may feel that they risked their lives and gave years of their lives to a cause that ended up not being worth it, Brock told Task & Purpose on Thursday.
“I think that’s an understandable feeling, but I think it’s also really important to acknowledge that since the draft was ended, everybody who’s enlisted in the military wanted to serve their country and wanted to have some life purpose that meant something beyond their own individual success,” Brock said. “I think that should be honored. I think it’s important to not lose touch with the person who wanted to do the right thing and wanted to serve their country.”
The video’s message to veterans of the Global War on Terrorism is that their accomplishments are worthwhile.
“To our GWOT Veterans—if you feel today like it was all for nothing, know this: Because of you, we have everything. Every opportunity, every chance to compete, and the same opportunity to arrive on the cutting edge of battle,” Army 1st Sergeant Tyler Fillion, of the 75th Ranger Regiment’s training and selection company, wrote for the video’s caption.
The video ends by showing the 75th Ranger Regiment’s Wall of Honor at Fort Moore, Georgia, which pays tribute to fallen Rangers. The camera pauses on a picture of Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher A. Celiz, a Ranger killed in Afghanistan who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in December 2021.
The next scene shows Ranger selection candidates holding pictures of Celiz, whom they study as part of their training.
“That shows the legacy that was shaped during GWOT is still impacting the youngest generation of Ranger every single day,” Wright said. “We don’t forget the sacrifices that were made. Also, they set a standard for us that we try to achieve every day.”
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