In October 2015, six U.S. military veterans descended on an abandoned college campus two hours east of Los Angeles for what would prove to be one of the most challenging missions of their lives. They were armed with a script, some experience shooting low-budget YouTube videos, $1.1 million raised for the production on Indiegogo, and not much else. In fact, none of them had ever made a movie before. They were t-shirt vendors from two competing military-themed apparel companies, Ranger Up and Article 15. The project was aptly dubbed ‘Range 15.’ Their goal: to produce and star in the most bizarre, disgusting, irreverent zombie apocalypse spoof in the history of the genre.
Live streaming footage of the offensive to retake the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul appears to confirm what military officials had predicted in the months leading up to the operation: It’s going to be a long, complex, and bloody fight. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, as the Iraqi coalition inches closer to the city, a small contingent of American soldiers are playing an increasingly critical role.
I still remember what was playing on my iPod as the helicopter lifted off the helipad of the Iraqi Old Ministry of Defense compound: Smile Empty Soul’s “Silhouettes.” It was the summer of 2007, and I was leaving the White Falcons and Blue Spaders behind and heading home after serving as a joint terminal attack controller with those units. The smells, the heat, the sounds of choppers, UAVs, and fast movers — all of it was too normal to me by that point. Baghdad had become home for a while.