Posted by Lexington Green on November 26th, 2010 (All posts by Lexington Green)
This is the television premier of this extraordinarily film. I wrote about seeing this filmhere.
Restrepo chronicles the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. The movie focuses on a remote 15-man outpost, Restrepo, named after a platoon medic who was killed in action. It was considered one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. military. This is an entirely experiential film: The cameras never leave the valley; there are no interviews with generals or diplomats. The only goal is to make viewers feel as if they have just been through a 94-minute deployment. This is war, full stop. The conclusions are up to you.
I highly recommend this film to all of our readers.
An information page for Restrepo is here, including video.
On a related note, I also highly recommend this article entitled Small Unit Dominance: The Strategic Importance of Tactical Reform, by Maj.Gen. Robert H. Scales.
Slightly more than 40 years ago my unit was butchered by elements from the North Vietnamese 29th Regiment at a mountaintop firebase overlooking the A Shau Valley. Nineteen of my 55 soldiers were killed or wounded severely enough to warrant evacuation. The loss was mainly my fault. I wasn’t new at the job. This was my fourth command so I thought I knew what I was doing. A much smarter and better trained and equipped enemy taught me that I did not.
The event made me promise that I would never go to war again No. 2 in a two-sided contest. It also burned into the depths of my soul several questions that have lingered and festered ever since. I asked why the most technologically advanced country on the planet was unable to make better weapons and equipment than the enemy. I asked why my soldiers were so poorly prepared physically, intellectually and emotionally for this fight. I asked why my experience as a combat leader could be gained only by spilling their blood.
Maj.Gen. Scales goes on to say:
In July, I watched the Afghanistan war documentary “Restrepo” play out on the screen and compared it to my experience decades ago: same type of unit (airborne light infantry), same lousy rifle (M16/M4), same helicopter (CH-47), same machine gun (M2), same young men trying to deal with the fear of violent death. Seared in my brain is the image of a young soldier at Fire Base Restrepo hacking away at hard clay and granite trying frantically to dig a fighting position. The U.S. is spending more than $300 billion on a new fighter plane. We haven’t lost a fighter pilot to enemy action since 1972. Why after nine years of war can’t we give a close-combat soldier a better way to dig a hole? For that matter, why do soldiers exiting fire bases not have some means of looking over the next hill? Why doesn’t every soldier have his own means to talk to his comrades by radio? Why can’t soldiers on a remote fire base detect an approaching enemy using sensors? Why can’t soldiers rely on robots to carry heavy loads and accomplish particularly dangerous tasks? I could go on, but you get the point.
Why indeed. I was struck by the same questions. Much of the American arsenal verges on science fiction. But what you see in Restrepo would be familiar to soldiers from 50 or more years ago. In fact, an infantry platoon from 1918 would be very roughly like one of platoon depicted in Restrepo, while an airplane from that era is from an entirely different universe from the aircraft of today.
Air and sea dominance have served us well, though the cost of maintaining them seems to be snowballing out of control. Nonetheless, with the USA fighting land wars against committed opponents we need to spend effort on gaining an edge in that domain as well. Our enemies drag us down to their level, where their numbers and home-field advantage are most telling, when we engage in this type of labor-intensive combat. We cannot match their numbers, and skill and training alone will not prevail over those numbers. Additional tools beyond what they can match may make the difference. Having a Buck Rogers aircraft overhead, while hacking out a hole with a shovel in the hard earth below, shows a misdirection of resources.
(h/t to Adam Elkus for this article.)