On September 17, I introduced Sebastian Junger for a screening of his latest documentary “Korengal.” Accompanying him at the Pentagon were former Battle Company First Sergeant, Command Sergeant Major Lamonta Caldwell, and Producer Nick Quested.
“Korengal” builds on Junger’s previous film Restrepo. It is a deeply touching, realistic, and dignified portrayal of the Paratroopers who served in the Korengal valley for 15 months in 2007-8.
These documentaries and books such as Sebastian Junger’s War and Jake Tapper’s The Outpost are critical in helping Americans understand what our men and women experience in the most intense combat environments.
Frankly, I believe it is our civic duty to learn these realities when we commit our forces to war.
Here are my introductory remarks, as delivered:
Seven years ago, while deployed to Afghanistan, I would often curse the suits and brass in the Pentagon. … some of you know that never really changed.
In May 2007 the 173d Airborne arrived in Kunar and Nuristan, one of the most difficult and violent areas of Afghanistan. Two units served in those provinces, 2nd Battalion 503rd Parachute Infantry, where Lamonta Caldwell served as First Sergeant for Battle Company, and, further north, 1st Squadron – 91st Cavalry, which I commanded.
We came armed with America’s treasure, our men and women. We were well trained, hungry, ready to fight and win.
But the U.S. had no credible strategy or campaign plan to win the war. We deployed and fought without the resources that could have made a real difference to the mission … and that could have saved lives and limbs.
I was convinced that no one in the halls of power had any idea what was really happening on the ground. When I got to the Pentagon in early 2009, I found some things to be worse than I imagined.
I also found highly dedicated people, some of whom are here today, who were trying to make things right.
With a new Administration came new leadership … new energy … a new strategy … and more resources to make it work.
As we wind down the war in Afghanistan and potentially begin another one in Iraq and Syria, this event today could not have come at a more important time.
Understanding war requires three very important frames:
— the view from above – the policy and strategy;
— the view from the field commanders;
— and the view from the ground – from the soldiers and leaders who carry out the bloody and dangerous, highly personal and sometimes exhilarating task of fighting a capable and determined enemy.
Each frame is critical; neither is complete on its own.
The Pentagon gets the view from above and from the field commanders.
Rarely do policy-makers get the view from the ground.
That is what makes today so special.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to introduce Sebastian Junger, Nick Quested, and Command Sergeant Major Lamonta Caldwell.
Sebastian Junger needs no introduction. He is the author of The Perfect Storm and WAR, and is one of America’s most acclaimed writers. His documentary film Restrepo, was nominated for an Oscar. Korengal, the film we will see today, delves further into the psychology of the same men in Restrepo.
Sebastian has made two HBO films. “Which Way Is The Front Line From Here?” chronicles the life and career of frequent collaborator and close friend Tim Hetherington, who passed away in the war zones of Libya. His forthcoming film, “The Last Patrol,” follows Sebastian, two veterans, and a fellow journalist on a 400 mile hike along railroad lines as they reflect upon the transition back to civilian life.
Sebastian, as many of you know, spent a significant amount of time in the Korengal valley with Lamonta Caldwell and the paratroopers of Battle Company.
Thank you, Sebastian, for telling the stories of these brave paratroopers, for telling, so powerfully, the stories of those whose voices would not otherwise be heard … or can no longer be heard.
Nick Quested is the Executive Director of Goldcrest Films and has over 40 films to his name. Four of them deal with themes of war: Restrepo, Gold Star Children, Which Way Is The Front Line From Here, and Korengal.
Sergeant Major Lamonta Caldwell was the First Sergeant of Battle Company during their 15-month deployment in the Korengal Valley. That valley, as you know, was the scene of the most intense fighting in theatre in 2007-8.
He and Battle Company had just returned from a year-long deployment to Afghanistan 16 months earlier.
As many of you know, the First Sergeant takes care of the 150-man Company. Together with his commander then-Captain Dan Kearney, no one knew more what the Paratroopers of Battle Company achieved and endured … and how the experience affected them.
There is no one better to talk about the realities of war.
Colonel (Ret.) Christopher D. Kolenda is a small business owner who helps NGOs and businesses maximize their impact. He is a highly decorated combat commander and veteran who served four tours in Afghanistan. He has advised three Secretaries of Defense. See his two books on leadership: Leadership: The Warrior’s Art and The Counterinsurgency Challenge.