Review Multi Episodic Documentary Off To War Directed by Brent Renaud, Craig Renaud

by Daniel Russ on August 3, 2010

Scene From Off To War Documentary

I have just seen the first three episodes and I have to say that this is gripping. Not just because we are covering men in a hot war zone; but because the entire narrative is stark and honest. We start by being introduced to the soldiers of the Arkansas National Guard 323rd Army Engineering Battalion about to deploy to Iraq in 2006. 57 soldiers from Clarksville Arkansas are followed. These are kids and Dads and uncles and they are the stuff of John Cougar Mellencamp’s ‘I Was Born In A Small Town’. The camera also honestly and quite well covers the families back home that have to bear the fear of losing their loved one.

By 2006 my neighbor, a retired Brigadier US Air Force General was calling  it “the Bush war planners amateur hour.” The very fact that an insurgency sparked because Rumsfeld refused to commit the right number of people to hold ground and now we had to call in reserves galled him. So here, an engineer battalion was going into a war zone. The engineers weren’t sure about it, their families weren’t, but they did it anyway – unlike the politicians who started the war, thse men were living up to their highest ideals.

The soldiers and families represent the bottom end of the socio economic scale, the most working class, patriotic Americans you can find anywhere. They are are all conservative and flag waving and Bible thumping people who lived by the oaths they swore out to the flag that they would deploy when asked to.

Once they arrive, the soldiers themselves were astounded at the poverty of Iraq. “Baghdad,” one noted “looks like one landfill after another. I’m glad I live in America because the worst of America is better than the best in Iraq.” One soldier looked into the camera and just declared “this is a shit hole.” Another remarked while driving through a town near Taji said “Not a one of us speak a word of Arabic. I don’t know if those store signs say Tacos for Sale or Kill all the Americans.” “This country is disgusting….the people are disgusting,” quips one Army specialist with a wife and two kids at home.

Immediately they move into a base where mortar rounds randomly fall into the camp and people are wounded or die on a regular basis. As the camera follows these guys on their patrols, we see the cynicism begin. “These folks don’t want us here.” You also see people trying to stay on mission, believing that they can somehow win hearts and minds by knocking off Saddam and giving some kid chocolate or Gatorade. You see the shock when three Battalion members are killed by indirect fire. You see the fake bravado speech from a Battalion commander who back home is a firefighter. You see the members of the units struggle with trucks that break down and cannot make it from their loading dock to the base. You hear them say “I’m a combat engineer. You know I build bridges. I really wasn’t trained to go on patrol.”

You see the fear and frustration of the families waiting for a call any time from their children, you see them refuse to watch TV because reports of the insurgency steal sleep from them. You see these kids hiding how bad it is from their mothers because they know it will only fill them with fear. One man has his jaw blown off and comes back after weeks of operations; you look at this skinny guy in his early fifties and just have to ask why on Earth was this middle aged man in uniform in the desert? Is this our Army? Is this what the geniuses who planned this war had in mind?

I am ordering the next DVDs today through Netflix which rocks by the way.

Watch this documentary.

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