July 23, 2010

Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience

Richard E. Robbins directed a documentary that affected me so deeply that I felt compelled to share it with all of you.

This Oscar-nominated documentary showcases veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. The documentary recounts their war experiences through the writings of both the soldiers and their families in order to give a deeply personal view of American troops' involvement in these conflicts. Various visual strategies complement the interviews and readings by such noted actors as Robert Duvall, Beau Bridges, Blair Underwood, Aaron Eckhart and writers Anthony Swofford, James Salter and Tobias Wolff.

The stories varied from heart-wrenching to humorous, touching on what it is like to live in the desert to the regret and grief that comes with killing innocent civilians in order to survive a conflict. The visuals and reenactments beautifully captured the essence of what I was hearing in the soldiers' writing. There were so many poignant statements that came from the journals and letters that I had to share some of them here. I have a feeling that even reading these will affect you.


"The war on TV just seemed very antiseptic. We were always saying 'this isn't right', 'this isn't the way it is', 'this isn't the way we see the war.' So I just started writing what we were experiencing. What my crew saw was a very up-close, personal human experience. That's all we did every day- is these battered human beings would come into our plain and we would have to take care of 'em."

"I was afraid I wouldn't see anything interesting. Which was just the dumbest thing ever. Because I had a lot to learn about the word 'interesting.' "

"The longer you're in combat the more sure you are you're not going to survive anymore. And your friends who would just be buddies under normal circumstances become the closest friends you have because they may be the last people you know."

"He pointed his AK-47 right at me, right into my pupils...and pulled the trigger."

"It's kill or be killed. It has nothing to do with what you believe."

"We lie here on the cold ground wondering how tomorrow will come if today never ends."

"I know a number of you are curious about what it's like over here. So we're going to take a small mental voyage. First, we're going to prepare our living area. First, go to your vacuum, open the canister, and pour it all over you. Now roll in it til it's in your ears, nose, eyes. And, no, there is no escape from it. And I don't even want to talk about the latrine."

"There is no perfection in warfare. It is very messy. And one thing you're trained for in the military is perfection. War is not about perfection. It's about a bloody, ugly mess. So in the midst of this world where you're supposed to constantly achieve perfection, you can't. And I think that breeds guilt and regret and second guessing one's actions."

Deep, intense, heartfelt, raw, emotional- this documentary gives it to you as straight as you will ever get it in a film. I highly recommend watching it. I know I am forever changed as a result.


  1. This sounds gut-wrenching but important. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  2. I have to watch this one. My oldest son enlisted in the Marines and will be shipping out soon for boot camp.

  3. Kathy- You hit the nail on the head.

    Staci- This will be very hard for you to watch- just putting that out there. Let me know how you feel about it.


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