As the world rages with sectarian conflict, civil war, and geo-political wrangling, it’s easy to lose sight of the men and women who are tasked to carry out the imperial wars of the world, not to mention the loss of innocent civilians who get caught in the cross hairs of patriarchal belligerence. And as a fractious cacophony of news media outlets more interested in furthering their own narrow interests as opposed to telling the truth bombard millions of bewildered and increasingly distrustful American citizens, regions descend into chaos while cultures, customs, and lives are needlessly and irrevocably destroyed.
Unfortunately, and the result of the mass civilian unrest begat by a once fearless news media bent on providing live coverage of the realities of the Vietnam war, footage of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was closely guarded and controlled by U.S. Central Command. At best, the American public was shown only the most meticulously screened excerpts of what was actually taking place, examples that were repeated ad nausea across all news channels, and revealing mostly nothing.
Only until the wars were obvious failures, the leaders responsible for convincing the world to wage them largely discredited, and the revolving door of thousands of US soldiers who endured PTSD, amputations, and countless psychological disorders returning home, are the visual realities of those wars finally being shown.
One of the earliest documentaries showcasing these wars was Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington’s documentary Resptrepo. Together, Junger and Hetherington spent 14 months following a company of soldiers in one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan, the Korangal Valley. Slowly, other news documentaries and films followed, like Robert Hodierne’s ‘Afghanistan: The Surge‘ and more recently, Peabody and Emmy Award-Winning conflict Journalist Mike Boettcher and his son Carlos’ Hornet’s Nest.
But perhaps one of the most telling and fascinating war documentaries to be released is National Geographic’s television series ‘Inside Combat Rescue‘, which closely follows the activities of a United States Air Force Pararescue unit based in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
While Restrepo, Hornet’s Nest, and Afghanistan: The Surge cover the harrowing grind of combat in foreign lands against an enemy that easily blends into the civilian populace, Inside Combat Rescue depicts how a US Air Force Pararescue unit handles the evacuation of casualties and injuries that soldiers experience during war.
National Geographic’s six part documentary series follows “the 66th Rescue Squadron performing CASEVAC operations based out of Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan over five weeks in 2012 during which the crew went on 130 missions and saved 108 lives.”
The series rightly provides an unabashed and graphic account of the work of Pararescuemen, also known as PJs (Pararescue jumpers), as they scramble to their HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters in response to calls for the evacuation of injured soldiers.
From the moment the first episode begins, you can’t help but become fully invested and immersed in the efforts of the PJs to evacuate, treat, and deliver injured soldiers to the nearest hospital. Everything is intimately detailed. From the stress involved in hooking up an IV line to provide blood to soldiers suffering from multiple amputations caused by an IED (improvised explosive device), administering drugs to alleviate the pain of screaming soldiers with multiple shrapnel wounds, to a rookie medic forgetting to perform a blood sweep (checking for additional injuries) before providing treatment.
Viewers also witness the myriad complexities of war that are seldom discussed in popular media. Although most Americans unfamiliar with war erroneously assume the seemingly invincible superiority of our armed forces, the truth is an intelligent enemy who learns quickly how to circumvent even the most advanced technology. Many of the soldiers and PJs depicted in this documentary discuss the various tactics and strategies used by the enemy to give an account of just how dangerous their job is. For example, how the enemy is known to bury and stage multiple IEDs in anticipation of a helicopter’s landing, or using recruits fitted with bombs to rush a helicopter to inflict even greater damage.
Inside Combat Rescue also provides viewers an intimate look at the extent to which wars affect everyone involved. In one episode, we are made to watch the frustration of PJs when they learn they can’t help a child injured by a leftover round that exploded due to a technicality in the US Military’s Medical Rules of Eligibility.
After watching this series, and others like it, it’s difficult not to form an opinion about war that’s contrary to those expressed by bloviating pundits and far removed politicians who have no real experience with war other than starting them.