Boy + Girl + Army + e-Harmony = Captain and Mrs. Butters! This is what we're up to. Observations, opinions, events, images, and more.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Last Saturday, the Captain and I drove up to Oklahoma City to see Restrepo. If you haven't heard of it, the film is, according to the official website,
...a feature-length documentary that 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 90-minute deployment. This is war, full stop. The conclusions are up to you.
I'd say that's a fairly accurate description. Not your typical cinema fare at all. (In fact, Restrepo is atypical enough that it's only playing in select theatres--hence the drive to Oklahoma City.)

I'll admit that I walked into the movie theatre with some trepidation. Yes, this was a film that I've wanted to see for a month or so now. Honestly, though, I was selfishly worried about what I'd see on the big screen, and about how it might change my (sometimes precariously balanced) feelings on being a military wife. Let me clarify: I'm incredibly proud of Spike, and I see on a daily basis that being an officer in the Army fulfills him and makes him who he is. That being the case, it's hard for me to envision a set of circumstances that would prompt me to insist upon him transitioning to another type of career. He's my hero.

At the same time, though, I'm not one to bury my head in the sand. To the extent he's willing and able to share with me, I'll want to know what Spike is doing and facing and experiencing on his next deployment--whenever and wherever that might be. I suppose, going to see Restrepo--a film solely about a very dangerous deployment--I feared that I'd come face to face with something that would make me want to say to Spike, "No...if this happens, I don't want to know. I'd rather be kept in the dark or lied to than live day in and day out knowing that this is happening to you." I was afraid that in this documentary I'd see some aspect of a deployment that would trigger some sort of inner panic I couldn't quell.

Well, Restrepo didn't tip that inner love-worry-pride-support balance in an unrecoverable way. As much as I think is ever possible when a loved one is involved, I've come to terms with the fact that Spike's job puts him in harm's way, and that it might require him to make the ultimate sacrifice. Honestly, it makes my stomach clench up to even type those words, but there it is. It does no good to refuse to face reality. I do, however, rely heavily on faith and prayer!

Back to the main point, though. What Restrepo did do was open my eyes further to what deployed servicemen and women experience every day. As I read on one review, this platoon's experience isn't indicative of every platoon's experience in Operation Enduring Freedom. Relations with locals, and in fact the very nature of combat, might be totally different 10 miles away.

Outpost "Restrepo"
However, other aspects of a deployment, I suspect, are much more universal: the camaraderie between soldiers, the grief of losing a friend, the fear--and the hope--of what might happen tomorrow, missing family back home, wondering what and how much to tell them, fighting boredom, wondering what kind of a difference you're actually making, experiencing the simultaneous terror and exhilaration of performing your duties under fire, and feeling proud of serving alongside your buddies, to name a few. (If I'm completely off the mark here, I'm hoping the Captain can set me straight so that I can publish a retraction.)

Restrepo did a wonderful job of conveying these experiences and feelings to the viewer. Why? Because it's completely experiential. There's no voice-over, other than interviews with the soldiers themselves. The cameras simply show daily life at this particular outpost, and follow the platoon on patrols and to meetings with locals, or shuras. Politics aren't mentioned; nor is it debated whether the war is "right" or "wrong"--because those things aren't of primary importance to most soldiers downrange. They're more concerned with doing their jobs well, and with making sure that they and their buddies come home once their deployment is over.

A screenshot from the film
I'll warn you: you probably won't walk away from this documentary unaffected. I certainly didn't, and neither did the Captain, who knew much more clearly than I what to expect from it. I think something that got to both of us was how young many of the soldiers were. (Spike has mentioned this to me regarding his own experiences, too.) It's easy to forget when you read a news story that a lot of enlisted men and women are only 18 or 19 years old. It's not so easy to forget when you're watching them build and defend a vulnerable outpost halfway around the world.

I also think I came away from the movie theatre with a heightened appreciation for how strongly an overseas deployment can change and shape a person. Yeah, I have no doubt that it sucks to live in a tent or hut for a year, eat dubious food, and revise your outlook on hygiene. (Again, those are things that don't characterize every deployment. The Captain is endlessly grateful that he had access to daily showers during his time in Afghanistan!) But those things aren't lasting. What do last are the memories, the emotions, and the way the psyche is shaped. For sure, those kids aren't kids anymore. I wonder if any of them had an inkling as to how much they'd be changed when they first enlisted? Probably not. Now, some of them can barely sleep at night.

One last thing that stuck out about Restrepo: its depiction of how OEF is being fought. This isn't like some big-budget WWII film. There are no clearly-defined fronts or large-scale battles. Yes, there's shooting and fighting--but in Restrepo, we never once see who's doing the attacking. There's never a scene in which we're shown a clearly-identified Taliban combatant. Unsettling, to say the very least.

So, why do I think you should see this movie? Well, above all, I think it brings war to life in a way that's not partisan or agenda-driven. It brings a human element to talk of "surges" and "deployments" and "counterinsurgency." Actually, I'm reminded of a quote from an article I read while doing research for an unrelated work project. This is from a 2008 TIME article:
"The American who volunteers to fight in Iraq and the American who protests the war both express a truer patriotism than the American who treats it as a distant spectacle with no claim on his talents or conscience."
I think that if more people saw Restrepo, it would be more difficult for them to treat war as a "distant spectacle." I hope that it would prompt a larger portion of the public to show support for our troops, regardless of whether they personally supported or picketed OEF.

Myself, I wish I'd been able to see this film--or one like it--much sooner in life. I wish I'd been confronted with these stories and images as high school classmates enlisted after graduation. Then, maybe, I would have reacted with something more than a fleeting "Good for him!" I wish I'd been more aware of what was happening overseas as I sat next to ROTC cadets in college, idly wondering in the middle of Brit Lit class how comfortable their fatigues were. Maybe then I'd have thanked those folks for what they planned to do after we received our diplomas.

Well, I don't want to get too melodramatic here--but I do want to share my thoughts. Yes, as I've mentioned in previous posts, "this stuff" has become a lot more real to me since the Captain came into my life. But the thing is, it's been real to millions of other people for years and years--and I do think they deserve more awareness and more support than they're currently getting.


  1. Hi just found your Blog through the Friday Fill-In. I love it! I have yet to see the movie but really want to! I'm like you and wish I had a better understanding of the Military at an earlier age. Out in Northern California anything involving the Military gets a pretty bad rap. I'm using my blog to help friends and family back home to understand a bit more about the Military and Army Life. I hope, at least!


  2. Thanks! I hope my blog does the same thing--informing people in an interesting way. Now that I've seen the film, I also want to read "War" by Sebastian Junger, which is about the same platoon at Outpost Restrepo.

  3. Just found your blog and I had the same feelings about Restrepo. We were lucky enough to see it at a screening with two of the soldiers from Restrepo who did a Q&A afterwards. I book is also a fast read and you really get to know the guys in the platoon. My boyfriend is currently deployed (ironically to the same region your husband was deployed to). Another good military read is "The Unforgiving Minute" by Craig Mullaney.