Film

Movie Review: Warhorse

Gold Star Dad, Robert Stokely, sends this piece about his recent experience with Steven Spielberg's latest film:

My wife and I went to a movie tonight.  Stephen Spielberg's Warhorse.  It was a debate whether to go.  War is too personal and real to us.  It is a good movie, but I am not so sure whether it was a good decision for us to go.  We both left down.

Unlike most movies this day and time, Spielberg didn't show up close and personal graphic scenes of blood and gore.   By today's standards it was pretty tame.  For that, I am appreciative.  I got it just fine that soldiers died in battle without sensationalism of bullets tearing into their torsos, or brains / guts  spilling out. If one can say this about war, Spielberg did a tasteful recreation of the horrors of war, particularly the horrors of WW I trench warfare replete with soldiers charging across barbed wire laced open fields into raging machine gun fire.  But the one thing that can't be muted down are the explosions from artillery shells, even if the lethality of the explosions was not graphically displayed.  For me, a bomb or artillery shell exploding is too too close to home given Mike was killed by an IED - an artillery shell used as the explosive charge.  Even during the Star Spangled Banner when it comes to the words "...bombs bursting...." I struggle as I bow my head, eyes closed clutching Mike's dog tag.

Warhorse is a love story about a horse whose owner loses him when his debt stricken dad has to sell him to the English Army.  It is a story of a son going off to war to find his horse and along the way, losing friends and suffering violence himself.  And the back story is the son leaves a dad at home who can't escape the horrors of war he suffered as a lad.

Warhorse is also about the brutality war had on the horses and about how innocent civilians are caught up in the harshness in the midst of just trying to live day to day.  And I once again appreciate that Spielberg got the story across without sensationalized gore.  And in a low key way Spielberg's Warhorse shows how hard war is on the family back home.

But there is one facet of Warhorse that demonstrated a vulnerability I have and I don't think I will ever live beyond.  Warhorse has a good ending.  A son gone to war comes home and brings his beloved horse with him.  It is a quietly triumphant moment with quiet love of a mother and dad lovingly greeting their son at the front gate of their farm, hardly believing it is him, and hoping with every gaze he is whole and really alive.  It is at that moment, and thankfully it came at the end of the movie for if not I don't think I could have continued watching, that I choked back sobs.  It was too real for me.  It was a vivid reminder what I did not get.  It brought back my dreams of getting that moment even before Mike left for Iraq. It hurt.

Every parent, for that matter every family member, dreams and longs for their soldier to come home.  They yearn for that moment to look with long awaited anticipation and see a son, daughter, brother, sister, husband, wife, mom or dad come home from war.  They look with anticipation to see for themselves they are alive, they are "o.k."   And as I think about it now, and from time to time, I am grief stricken to the point of being sick on my stomach that we didn't get to run across the parade field and bear hug Mike and cry tears of joy.  Rather, we gently touched a Flag Draped Casket with tears of grief.    And when we did, we were soon to be saying a final goodbye as our life story physically connected to Mike ended as we laid him to rest.

As I choked back sobs tonight, I did so for another reason besides realizing again what I will never have.  I cried because I also got a visual image through Spielberg's art of a son who did come home from war, and was struck by what his parents were feeling - thankful and happy.  And I relish the opportunity to witness those whose sons and daughters came home.  Recently, thanks to Facebook, I saw one of Mike's battle buddies come home and through cyberspace, I gave him a hug.

Why put myself through that?  Why not just hide away and avoid it?  Because I owe it to Mike to be happy for his friends and to any family who gets their loved one home from war.  I owe it to them.  And I owe it to myself    It is not their fault Mike didn't come home.  And for those who have allowed me, I cherish the opportunity to share their joy, even selfishly live vicariously through their's.  And sometimes, I selfishly ask them to give their loved one an extra tight squeeze for me when they hug them....  It is so kind and unselfish of these families to welcome us when you could understand if they avoided us.  After all, we are not the face you want to see when it comes to how war turns out.   I admire them that they don't, for that is truly unselfish of them.  They do it without relinquishing their own joy, or feeling pity for us.  They make us feel like family. And I am reminded in that example of their unselfishness to share their joy with us that Mike left us a legacy bigger than treasure rooms could hold.  He left us battle buddies and their families to be our friends who would not turn their back on us.

As I reflect tonight as the Moon Over Yusufiyah shines through the briskly cold night, I offer this advice to parents out there, and the rest of their family as well.  If you ever find yourself feeling like you want to wring your child's neck, whether young, teen, or grown, think of how good it feels to hug it instead.  And then hug them, and give them an extra squeeze for me....

Robert Stokely
proud dad SGT Mike Stokely
KIA 16 AUG 05 near Yusufiyah
USA E 108 CAV 48th BCT GAARNG


Update: Act of Valor

Let me interject here on this film as I have seen it in its entirity.  My understanding of the evolution of this project is that NSW began working with Bandido Brothers on this as a brief recruiting video similar to this one that they did for the SWCC guys.  At some point, NSW determined that there was potential here for a full length feature film that would essentially provide a "Top Gun" type analogue for the Teams to really juice recruiting, but without all of the gay Tom Cruise histrionics.  I am not completely sure why the Navy let this happen, and my assumption is that there were strong personalities behind this that got it approved.  I am also not sure whether or not it should have been made.  The guys in the film would say the same thing as they all refused to do it for almost a year before the powers that be in NSW impressed upon them that they would be doing something important for the Teams.

It has already been alleged on movie buff blogs (that I started monitoring after watching this last February) that this is a straight up propaganda film made to glorify war, Jesus, and Halliburton (not necessarily in that order).  This meme is going to be more mainstream now that the trailer is out, and people can see just how awesome this film is going to be.  The case will be bolstered (falsely) by the fact that reviewers are going to quickly note that there is no second guessing by the operators about what they are doing and who they are doing it to.  There is no renegade douchebag (Charlie Sheen) character fighting his demons and endangering his comrades.  In fact, what this movie really does well aside from the amazing action scenes is to capture the general attitude and tenor of SEALs in their natural habitat as it were.  That is not to say that guys don't get in bar fights or DUI's or get divorced or whatever, just that this film is focused on a deployed platoon with plenty of work to do.

Let me also add that the cost of doing business in NSW is in no way hidden from view and that includes the cost to families as well.  These costs are shown in explicit detail enough to make a guy like me watching it tear up pretty good.  The SEAL lifestyle portrayed in the film is pretty accurate if not complete, and the considerable sacrifices made by SEALs with respect to their lives and family's lives is hammered home with authority. 

My best friend in the Navy is in this film and he invited me to join his family to screen it last Spring.  I don't think I have ever sat still bursting with pride for such a long time in my life.  I have personally served with three of the "stars" of this film and they are pretty much who they are in real life in the movie.  I don't see any Best Actor nominations in the offing, but my buddy's interrogation scene on the yacht is really quite outstanding.

Nearly all of the action sequences are performed with live ammunition delivered on target by real operators.  The impact of that combination raises the quality of those scenes by an order of magnitude.  You will notice the difference.  Bandido Brothers shot this thing with a lot of helmet cams and from angles and perspectives that I have never seen before.  Check that.  Never seen before in a movie.  I have lived those scenes and watching a movie that is so close to my own recollection of operating is pretty cool, but kind of strange.  Parts of it have a distinct first person shooter video game feel, and I'm sure that gamers are going to love this movie for that reason alone. 

The overall plot of the film is fictional, but the scenario is all too real as we have recent news of Iran using Mexican drug cartels as facilitators.  The individual hits that the platoon performs however incorporate real SEAL Team scenarios from the GWOT that close watchers of the Teams (and every SEAL) will notice.  The one scene in the film that I didn't like also made it into the trailer and I kind of hope it doesn't make it into the movie.  I call it the "Sea Monster" scene where the Platoon Chief catches the bad guy following a sniper shot and pulls him underwater.  That shit doesn't happen.  Aside from that, the TTPs are all very good representations with some things held back for OPSEC. 

While the guys in the film will not be compensated in any way from this film (which I think is bull$hit), there will be some portion of the proceeds donated to military charities certainly including the Navy SEAL Foundation.  Obviously, I am strongly biased to like this film, but the action alone is well worth the ride.  If you happen to identify with the guys and their mission along the way, all the better. 


Act of Valor

This will be one of the best movies you will ever see.  A few of us have screened it and we believe in it's message to the extent that we want to help promote it.  Check it out.

When the rescue of a kidnapped CIA operative leads to the discovery of a deadly terrorist plot against the U.S., a team of SEALs is dispatched on a worldwide manhunt. As the valiant men of Bandito Platoon race to stop a coordinated attack that could kill and wound thousands of American civilians, they must balance their commitment to country, team and their families back home.

'Act of Valor' uses active duty U.S. Navy Seals as actors. The characters they play are fictional, but the weapons and tactics used are real.

'Act of Valor' hits theaters February 17, 2012

More at Act of Valor.com.


'Restrepo' Soldier Leads in Afghanistan

Nofear A soldier assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, Task Force No Fear, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, TF Bronco, pulls guard while watching storm clouds roll in over Observation Post Coleman outside of Combat Outpost Monti in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar Province May 5. The soldiers stationed here at the mouth of the Pech River Valley and the Kunar River Valley, live in some of the most dangerous terrain in Afghanistan.

This is a great story form SFC Burrell about a PFC and his team leader...

'Restrepo' soldier returns to Afghanistan
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Mark Burrell

KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Less than six months ago, U.S. Army Pfc. William A. Swaray's drill sergeant at Fort Benning, Ga., gathered soon-to-be infantrymen in a small room.

Swaray
U.S. Army Pfc. William A. Swaray, an infantryman and native of Monrovia, Liberia, assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, Task Force No Fear, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, TF Bronco, scans for insurgent activity at Observation Post Coleman outside of Combat Outpost Monti in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar Province, May 5. Swaray joined the Army at 38 to fight for a country he has adopted as his own.

The drill sergeant wanted the young soldiers to watch the movie "Restrepo."

"He said, 'OK, this is what you guys have gotten in to, so watch it and see,'" said Swaray, now assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, Task Force No Fear, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, TF Bronco.

"When we watched the movie, some of us became afraid," Swaray said. "We started to see reality from that day on."

Now, Swaray, a native of Monrovia, Liberia, is living at an observation post outside of Combat Outpost Monti in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar Province. The reality is he is not far from where the documentary 'Restrepo' took place.

Not only is he a few miles from the Pech River Valley, but his team leader is U.S. Army Sgt. Misha Pemble-Belkin.

"Surprisingly, when I came to this unit, the very guy that was in the movie is in the same platoon and my team leader," Swaray said. "I remember him in the movie shooting the MK-19 (automatic grenade launcher), and I remember him when he was being interviewed by the reporter. He's like a hero, man."

Pemble-Belkin, a native of Hillsboro, Ore., laughs when people treat him different than other soldiers.

"It's just a movie, that's the way I look at it," said Pemble-Belkin. "It's no big deal to me, it's cool, but I've done cooler stuff than that, I feel like."

Pemble400819_q75 On his second tour, U.S. Army Sgt. Misha Pemble-Belkin, an infantry team leader from Hillsboro, Ore., assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, Task Force No Fear, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, TF Bronco, stands under camouflage netting at Observation Post Coleman outside of Combat Outpost Monti in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar Province May 5. Pemble-Belkin, who was in the documentary 'Restrepo,' during his first deployment to Afghanistan is focused on training and teaching his troops all he knows about Afghanistan.


Some of the “stuff” Pemble-Belkin is referring to is snow boarding, hiking and photography. In fact, he said he wanted to join the military as a combat cameraman.

He tried to join the Navy, but they told him it would be at least five years before he would be able to do photography in combat.

Then he went to an Army recruiter and was asked what his hobbies were.

"The recruiter said, 'Well, I know the perfect job for you - Airborne Ranger. Sit down and watch this movie,'" said Pemble-Belkin.

The recruiter showed him a video of soldiers jumping out of planes, blowing things up and firing weapons.

He left for Army basic training three weeks later.

Through all the attention the documentary recently attracted, the speaking engagements he attended and even attending the Oscar Awards ceremony, Pemble-Belkin remains amazingly humble. At heart, he said he is a genuine Soldier who loves his job.

After redeploying from Afghanistan in 2008, he married his childhood sweetheart, Amanda, and trained soldiers in Fort Polk, La., for war. Yet, he felt the need to deploy again.

"I had to come back here. I had to do one more tour. I had to at least lead a team," explained Pemble-Belkin, now a team leader in charge of a small observation post called OP Coleman.

"I felt like if I got out, then it's like I'm kind of failing cause I have the experience of being out here," said Pemble-Belkin. "You know, 15 months of walking these mountains."

Living at OP Coleman, the days are filled with guard duty and passing on his knowledge to new soldiers like Swaray.

As Pemble-Belkin methodically dissembled a .50 caliber machine gun, he pointed out every piece and explained what he is doing to the Soldiers gathered around him at the small bunker.

Most of the Soldiers are in their early 20s and on their first combat tour. They have been in Afghanistan for only about a month and it's been unusually quiet in their area. But the lull in combat at the observation post isn't a relief for Pemble-Belkin. Instead, he said it adds tension to their mission.

The soldiers are eager to hear about combat, but more eager to react and prove themselves. Pemble-Belkin doesn't blame them. He's lived through some of the worst fighting in Afghanistan and is back for more.

But if they see combat, “In a way it'll change them," said Pemble-Belkin. "I just tell them, don't get scared when you get shot at, just hunker down and shoot back."

His wife isn't too happy with the prospect, but understands it's his job. On the other hand, he said he believes he hasn't done enough compared to his peers.

"There's been guys that have been deployed five, six times now," said Pemble-Belkin. "I've only been on one 15-month tour. I (feel) I haven't even deployed yet. My grandpa did three years in World War II. Once I hit his mark, then I've been deployed. I still feel like I haven't done a full tour yet until I catch up to my grandpa."

Before deploying this time, he had mixed emotions and said he felt like there was still something he needed to accomplish over here.

"I came back here in that mindset - I need to go back ‘cause I have some unfinished business," said Pemble-Belkin. "But now I'm just here to protect and try to teach these guys something."

The mission of this unit is different from what Pemble-Belkin grew accustomed to. He said his company is really focusing on the counterinsurgency fight and trying to win the hearts and the minds of the locals.

"I hope what the (commander) is trying to do right now, push the COIN fight, I hope that works," explained Pemble-Belkin. "But I don't know, we're in Taliban country up here, so I don't know …. It'd be nice to see them laying down their weapons and turning them into the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army and going and farming their lands."

With 11 months left in Afghanistan, Pemble-Belkin and his soldiers have plenty of time to find out.


FIGHTVILLE

Some of you old timers around here will remember a documentary about the earlier days of OIF called "Gunner Palace".  It's director, Michael Tucker, has finished a new film about MMA that will premiere in Austin in March.  It is titled "FIGHTVILLE" and it looks to be amazing.

Here are the details:

We have a new film out that I think Blackfive readers who are MMA fans will love. It's called FIGHTVILLE and it premieres on 3/12 at the SXSW Film Festival Austin. Pic features UFC fighters Dustin Poirier and Tim Credeur (TUF Season 7). Dustin just came back from a UFC tout of bases in the Pacific and TIm is Navy Vet.

Info on the screening here: http://www.fightville.net

Here is the promo video:

  


Must See Video - SSG Sal Giunta and the Medal

We've posted up a few videos of Staff Sergeant Sal Giunta (and featured Mrs. Giunta as Someone You Should Know) and saw this today at the Burn Pit - it's a must watch (but probably best if you're alone):

 

The Sal Giunta Story from SebastianJunger/TimHetherington on Vimeo.

His response about finding out about his receiving the Medal says it all about his character.


A film so damaging, Iran won't even let Canadians watch it

Update 19 Jan, 2011 @ 14:19 - Canada's Heritage Minister has ordered the Library & Archives Canada to proceed with the screening.

I just finished screening the upcoming documentary Iranium. This excellent film exposes what politicians and the media are afraid to tell us: that Iran has apocalyptic intentions and a focus on destroying the United States and Israel. Historically, nations have always denied their development of a nuclear weapons program, but Iranium shows Iran's leaders proudly announcing to their people that they (1) are developing nuclear weapons, (2) nothing can stop them, and (3) they plan on using them. Iran tells American media an entirely different - and much more pleasant - story, and unless you stay on top of geopolitics or watch this video, you won't hear about the imminent threat Iran poses to the West - and Americans in particular.

Iranium has already generated controversy as a screening at the Canadian National Archives was shut down Monday following a cancellation request from the Iranian Embassy. On Tuesday, Canadian officials received threats of violence and protest, and a hazardous materials unit investigated two suspicious packages related to the incident.

Viewers will be able to watch Iranium free online on February 8, 2011. You can register at the website or buy the DVD.


Into The Light: Leslie Nielsen

He asked to play the heavies for years, as they had the more dramatic and challenging parts, but was finally recognized as the comic genius he had always been.  A prankster behind the camera, he always ran with the roles given -- and thankfully they finally went to being a prankster in front of the camera with the timing of comedic sniper. 

In part to escape an abusive home, he enlisted in the Canadian Air Force at 17 and trained as an aerial gunner despite being legally deaf.  While he never deployed in WWII, he served and apparently gave his best in that role while in it.

Leslie Nielsen has given a lot of entertainment (and good acting) to the world, and a huge amount of much needed laughter.  For it all, and especially for the laughter, my thanks.  You will be missed. 

LW


Blackfive National Geographic Exclusive - Restrepo footage of SSG Sal Giunta

Wanted you to know that the television premiere of Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington's acclaimed film, Restrepo, is on Monday, November 29 at 9pm ET/PT.

As you may know already, one of the prominently featured stories in Restrepo is that of Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta, who, on Tuesday, November 16, will be receiving the Medal of Honor for his heroism and valor during Combat Operation Rock Avalanche in Afghanistan. In honor of SSG Giunta, and of all veterans and those serving the country on this important day, the filmmakers have made available an exclusive, 14-minute video clip of SSG Giunta recounting the combat operation during which he dragged his critically wounded best friend, Josh Brennan, out of the hands of 2 insurgents who had captured him.

 

The Sal Giunta Story from Ryan Blaind on Vimeo.

For more information about the TV premiere of Restrepo, please visit www.natgeotv.com/restrepoFor additional information about the film, please visit www.restrepothemovie.com, and join them on Facebook and Twitter.



WAR

I was on vacation last week and I took along a copy of "War" by Sebastian Junger.  "War" is the book that is the (sort of) companion to the documentary "Restrepo" by Junger and Tim Hetherington.

War

As far as war books are concerned, I tend to not read them on vacation.  Also, as far as war books are concerned, I tend to find the ones written by embeds and journalists a bit wanting (a few exceptions, of course).

But, this was a book about paratroopers from 2nd Platoon, Battle Company, 2nd/503rd, 173rd AIRBORNE in the fight in the most dangerous place on this planet (20% of all combat in 2007-2008 occurred there).  And, Junger is a world class writer and had received accolades for one of his most famous efforts, "The Perfect Storm".  He embedded with 2nd Platoon - a unit well known for it's extreme combat effectiveness in war and *cough* in garrison - over their 15 month deployment, traveling in and out of Afghanistan five times.

A lot of the literary critics have called "War" breathlessly "exciting!" and "harrowing!".  It is that, I imagine, as Junger's descriptions of combat would hardly be called mundane except by combat vets.  And to some of us who have read the battle descriptions, mourned the Fallen, and knew the outcomes of the 2nd Platoon, "War" is a very valuable look into that tribe.

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of "War" is Junger's description of what combat is like, how the men cope with it in various ways (which may shock readers with more delicate sensibilities), what keeps the unit functioning in the most harshest combat environment in the world and why paratroopers actually enjoy it.  And many of you will understand Junger's analysis of why, when you are home safe and sound, walking around campus or at a company meeting, that you dearly miss that hellish mess that you were in...where every task you did mattered and that you could count on the man next to you.

The book touches upon PTSD and other affects of serving long term in highly stressful situations, but does so with a look that is different and much less jaded than other journalists.  A lot of research and personal experience plays into the analysis.

I'm not a literary critic - I'm usually a fan so take my criticism with a grain of salt, but "War" jumps around in time a bit and that may confuse some readers.  Also, I would have liked to know more about the platoon after their return to Vicenza, Italy.

Last, some of the "combat humor" had me laughing so hard I had to put the book down after reading one paratrooper's quip about his comrade's problem with stuttering.  My wonderful wife was concerned as she thought I was having a difficult time with the book but it was quite the opposite effect.

I highly recommend "War".  Buy it today.  It goes on the shelf next to "One Bullet Away" and "House to House" with other the books that my son will some day read when he's old enough.  For me, that's the highest praise possible that I can give...