Over the weekend I was finally able to watch Gunner Palace, a documentary that follows the solders of an First Armored Division artillery battery based in Iraq. I also caught several episodes of Off To War, a show on the Discovery Times channel that follows the soldiers from an Arkansas National Guard Cavalry outfit.
I realize this is a long winded review of two shows that have been on the air for quite some time, but being able to get a good look at what these guys are going through had a deep impact on me. Both shows gave an interesting insight into the situation in Iraq, although since the shows were made between 12-18 months ago they might be a bit dated.
What was interesting beyond the footage and getting to know the troops, was the difference in opinion on their situations in Iraq. The regular army guys were not so much more gung ho as less upset with their being in Iraq, while the Guardsmen were not happy at all. These guys tended to be much older, late 30s to 40s, which means they left families and jobs. It was hard to watch the families as they endured a variety of hardships, financial and personal, caused by the absence of the husbands, sons and brothers. The Guardsmen were as a whole very negative ab out the war and their current lot in life, which is understandable. This did not stop them from performing their tasks in an admirable fashion. They simply did not fully believe that the was was needed, much less their direct participation.
The artillerymen seemed to take it all in stride, which is understandable since this is their full time job. These guys were also a bit more upbeat about their mission, despite the fact that what they were doing is not something for which they were trained. Instead of firing their guns at an enemy 10 miles away the men were conducting mounted and ground patrols. Raiding homes and looking for weapons.
The programs also gave a great account of what Iraq looks like from the vantage point of an average soldier. Pretty dismal in my opinion. Every bag and box on a road can potentially kill you. Patrols are conducted down narrow car filled alleys, any one of which could be a car bomb.
Prior to seeing these shows my perception was the IED tended to go off on larger, highway type roads and that the soldiers could see trouble well ahead of time. This is far from the case.
I was also flabbergasted to see the soldiers patrolling in unamored Humvees and open backed trucks. There was also a scene where a soldier walked up to a black plastic bag that they thought might be an IED and gavie it a poke with his rifle. He said they all took turns checking these things. Now I believe engineers or explosive ordinance disposal troops are called in with specialized gear. These actions are a sign showing how far the military has come in adapting to the situation in Iraq.