Writer/Consultant: Evan Wright
In real time, Episode Three starts about six hours after the end of Episode Two. It's the morning after the ambush at Al Gharraf. On this actual morning Bravo Two's platoon sergeant Gunnery Sergeant Mike Wynn asked me if I'd had enough and would like to drop out of the embed. At the time we were co-located with RCT-1 (Regimental Combat Team-1, a beefed-up version of the First Marine Division's First Regiment). The RCT had the transportation assets to push me back to the rear, where Wynn thought I might like to take a breather and file a story about the previous day's ambush.
When I told Wynn I'd like to stay, he said something like, "I think you're crazy. If I had the option to leave, I would." What I didn't tell Wynn is I was convinced we would never get shot at again. I had a theory that getting shot at was like getting struck by lightning. It would never happen again. So, I wasn't brave; I was stupid. And also lazy. If I'd left the battalion and gone back to the rear, I would have had to actually write and file a story. As long as I traveled with the battalion, I wasn't permitted to carry my satellite phone or modem, and therefore couldn't file the story. I will do anything to procrastinate. So, I stayed.
Once we got back on the road, I lost my chance to leave, as we were on our own. We would have fleeting contact with other units, but no ability to easily transfer me back to the rear. The morning quickly grew tense, as we started rolling past towns and villages again, similar to the one where we'd been ambushed the day before.
My notebook from the morning in which this episode is set indicates several reports of enemy contact in the battalion as it pushed north. I recall periodically passing LAVs belonging to the regimental combat team (RCT-1) as they halted by the road and fired at unseen targets. It was in this environment that we halted at the first village depicted in this episode. As is almost always the case in combat, it is quite possible that the adjacent unit that called in fire on the village was responding to actual enemy contact. In combat, you just don't always know what troops are seeing nearby. And enemy forces were already employing the tactic of firing on US troops from civilian-occupied homes. At the same time, Colbert and the rest of the platoon did spend a good long while observing it and failed to discern the presence of enemy.
I was next to Colbert as he attempted in vain to call a ceasefire. I noted the tension in his voice, his restrained but palpable outrage, as well as an approximate number of rounds dropped into the village as I jotted in my notebook. The Marines dumping the rounds into the village were about 50 meters from our position. The village was a few hundred meters distant. So, we were witness to and nearly participants in the deaths of several civilians not far from us that morning. But as the scene captures the logic of the Marines in First Recon, all they could do was focus on their own actions. As a reporter I felt a similar distance from events, despite the physical proximity.
Within a few minutes we were back on the highway dealing with other circumstances. In combat I found I continually lived in the present. Within half an hour, thoughts of the village we'd seen smoked by Marines had likely vanished from my mind as we dealt with reports of RPG teams, possible ambushes and snipers on the movement forward.
It wasn't until weeks later when I went through my notes to write my initial reports for Rolling Stone that I was able to relive and meditate on the actions at that small village that had been nameless to us. I was glad I at least took the notes. A few lines on a couple of pages may be the only contemporaneous record of the destruction of the village.
In laying out these scripts, David Simon, Ed Burns and I kept the pacing and emotional tone very much in the present. The characters seldom linger or reflect on things that happened just a few minutes earlier. It can be demanding for viewers, perhaps vexing. But it captures the feel of these early days in the Iraq war.
Ed spent nearly a year of his youth walking on combat patrols in Vietnam as a U.S. soldier. I think he instinctively understood the pacing for this episode in particular.
I wasn't present when the seizure of the airfield was filmed. When I saw the first rushes of Trombley's shooting from the humvee I was shocked to see that somehow director Susanna White and cinematographer Ivan Strasburg eerily captured what I saw looking over Trombley's shoulder firing through the camels. The rushes looked just like my memory.
As I wrote in my book, when I encountered the mother of the two shepherds hit by Trombley, the front of her robe was open. Somehow in her grief and in her struggle to drag the boy to our lines, she had partially disrobed. She knelt on the ground moving her mouth, but not making a sound, seeming to implore God in the sky, then looking at me directly in the eyes and talking silently. She was only a few feet away. I was holding a camera, ready to snap pictures. But I couldn't bring myself to shoot until a few minutes later when she closed her robe. I'm not a photographer; I simply carried a camera because I didn't have a photographer with me. My inability to take a picture of the grieving mother in that moment proved that I wasn't a professional photographer. Had I been a pro, I would have pushed my feelings aside and taken it to document the moment.
When Ed and I reached the end of this episode, I argued that we should quote all that Colbert said to me in the book regarding the shooting of the shepherd. Ed argued we should leave Colbert to keep his feelings to himself, and end the episode with Colbert dissembling his emotions by instructing me on how to best dig a ranger grave. Watching the show, I believe Ed was right.
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I arrived in the Middle East in January, 2003 to begin the reporting that would become the basis for Generation Kill. Six months earlier I had spent time traveling around Afghanistan with US Army infantry units, a Canadian armored battalion and a Special Forces team for stories that ran in Rolling Stone. Afghanistan reached 140 degrees Fahrenheit. It was dusty, and frequently I slept outdoors or inside an armored vehicle. Click Here to read more on Penguingroup.com
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