Before I begin this week's blog post, I would like to let all combat veteran readers know that I will be discussing scenes from a film I recently had the honor of screening. It is about combat in Afghanistan. It's entitled: Restrepo.
It is powerful.
It is raw.
It is real.
Knowing that this narrative could cause some of my brothers and sisters in arms to relive some of their own trauma, I wanted to give you a heads up!
Please think twice before reading. With that said, let's begin:
General Robert E. Lee once said that"to be a good soldier you must love the Army. But to be a good officer, you must be willing to order the death of the thing you love. That is...a very hard thing to do. No other profession requires it. That is one reason why there are so very few good officers. Although, there are many good men." In the 2010 Sundance Film Festival's Grand Jury Prize Winning film, "Restrepo" we are given both of these vehicles, both good men and good officers, that deliver an emotionally packed combat story that will stay with me for a long time.
I thought long and hard about how to share this with my readers and it became obvious that there is no way to soften the descriptions of war. My observations, however; are on the elements that made this movie resonate with me. Those elements were command, loss, and love.
In my last blog post, I focused on the importance of taking charge of healing your PTSD. Taking charge or taking command is all about standing alone and being totally responsible. For my civilian readers, the act of "taking command" within the military is not only recognized with a ceremony, but it is a sacred privilege. Knowing that everything your unit does or fails to do will rest upon your shoulders, makes being a commander such a challenge, but at the same time, an amazing honor. Suffice it to say, command is not for everyone. From the opening scenes of this film, Captain (CPT) Dan Kearney, company commander of Battle Company, 2d Battalion, 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment lets you know that it is "his area of operations" and he is here to "make a difference." He says this, all the while knowing, that he will have to fight with constraining "rules of engagement" and always attempt to minimize collateral damage while fighting an enemy that does not wear a uniform, mixes in with innocent civilians, and attacks from the safety of mosques and other protected sites. Still knowing all this, every day, CPT Kearny accepts the weight of his command and continues to do his job. I wonder how many corporate CEOs, with all their privilege and perks, could hold up to the scrutiny of this type of leadership challenge? The average U.S. CEO is 56 years of age and is compensated in the millions of dollars. CPT Kearney was less than 30 when this film was shot. He laughed with his men, he fought along side them, and even had to direct them to grieve when they lost a buddy. When that was accepted, he reminded them that they still had a job to do.
Fate smiled on me during this special screening, because Captain Kearney (now a Major) was present at the theater and took questions after the credits finished rolling. He was even more impressive in real life. Here's a clip of Captain Dan Kearney that will give you a quick synopsis of his style and character. Again, here is a professional that gives all the credit to his soldiers, yet accepts responsibility for things that don't always go his way. After the Q&A ended, I had to tell him how much I valued his service. When I got my chance, I shook his hand, thanked him for setting such a great example, and that my favorite part of the film was the beginning, where he accepted responsibility for what he had been charged with. He didn't miss a beat. His reply was humbly, "thank you sir. You'll never know how much that means to us." With such a selfless response from a young man that had endured so much, I realized that it had been a while since I had stood in the presence of a real leader; better yet a Commander.
The title of this film may at first seem a bit odd, but Restrepo is a person's name. Private First Class Juan S. Restrepo from Pembroke Pines, Florida was the medic from the 2d platoon of Battle Company. From the website featuring the trailer for this movie, you discover that "this movie focuses on a remote 15-man outpost (a series of protective bunkers) named after the platoon's medic" who was the first member of the platoon that was killed in action. From the very start, the viewer is imprinted with the loss of a young warrior. This loss motivated the members of 2d platoon to establish an outpost in the middle of one of the most dangerous places in the entire combat theater. It symbolized defiance and resolve, or as one soldier put it so eloquently in the movie, "it was a big middle finger waving at the enemy."
Once the soldiers of 2d platoon realized they could hold this ground against enemy attacks, they understood that they had the upper hand to continuously run operations from Restrepo that would be focused on going after the Taliban. The missions that Directors Tim Hetherington and Sebastain Junger captured on film were sometimes quiet, sometimes violent, but were always packed with vigilance and caution. Again, I would like to warn my combat brothers and sisters that this film captures the essence of combat, right down to the casualties sustained on both sides. So please think twice about viewing it, as it will bring back many of the emotions associated with the loses you experience, namely losing sleep, losing friends, and like many of the veterans I work with today; temporarily losing our direction in life. It wasn't until after the movie that I read more about Juan Restrepo and realized that we had also lost a greatly admired young man. Rest in peace, my friend.
Above everything that this gritty combat documentary throws at us, I took away the principle emotion of Love. In a philosophical context, I believe that Love is a virtue. It can be recognized by admiration, brotherhood, and a profound sense of duty. In Restrepo, I was reminded how soldiers become like family. They ate, slept, and fought as a single being. I watched them weep uncontrollably at the death of one of their own. In person, I saw that invisible bond that still links them, even though they are no longer in the same unit. Although the film was a mere 90 minutes long, I felt as if I had been there with them for the entire year. I felt as if my clothes were soiled with the dirt, sweat, and blood that covered them all; at least I wanted to be a part of that special bonding that only comes from shared deprivation. Yes, I would love to be a part of that again!
Walking out of the theater, I heard an all too familiar sound-"Hooah!" That's when it really hit me. It is this state of unity, this quest for love and brotherhood, that I believe all warriors miss the most when they transition out of the military. It's probably the hardest obstacle that anyone can overcome. To some of the warriors I coach, they state that they don't believe they have a purpose or they don't feel like heroes, or they feel lost and wandering. What they are looking for, I believe, is the Love they once had for what they did, who they served with, and the unbreakable bond that they were a part of.
That is why we must find the Love within ourselves. However, love will only grow in the absence of the fear, anger, and guilt that so many of our combat vets harbor inside themselves. There is a process that I use in my coaching practice that helps you take control of these emotional states and empowers you to keep moving toward the Objectives in your life.
Some of you may have noticed earlier that I called Restrepo my friend. In closing, I want to honestly admit that I didn't personally know Juan, but I am reminded of these words that link us, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." With that in mind, I think you could say, we are all friends.