CNN NEWSNIGHT AARON BROWN
Aired June 30, 2004 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROWN: In the early days of the Iraq war, the world watched as embedded reporters and U.S. troops scrambled across the desert side by side. War and those who fought it seemed that close.
As the mission shifted, the troops slipped into fuzzier focus, death tolls and casualty figures becoming the frame. For filmmaker Mike Tucker, it was important to fill in the frame. So he spent several weeks living with the 23 Battalion of the Army's 1st Armored Division and has made a remarkable documentary about them, war as seen through the soldier's eyes.
MICHAEL TUCKER, FILMMAKER: All of us have watched the war on the news, but I think you're seeing it with a really long lens. I wanted to get as close as I could to them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you hear that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What happened?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just boom.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Boom, boom.
TUCKER: To maybe almost stand a little bit in their shoes, feel what they're feeling, fear what they're fearing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keep your eyes open, because if it's anything like last night, it is going to be ugly.
TUCKER: And almost get beyond they, where I could say we.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to Gunner Palace. This palace was built after the first Gulf War for Saddam Hussein's first wife. And later, it was given to his son Uday.
TUCKER: The unit is 23 Field Artillery. And their nickname is the Gunners. They're based in Giessen, Germany. They're part of the 1st Armored Division.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was like, hey, give me 18 Whoppers. He's like, what?
TUCKER: I was more interested in these people as personalities and talking to them. I wanted to know who are these soldiers that are fighting in this war.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They got us out here in Baghdad. Life is hard.
TUCKER: When I arrived, there were a lot of weapons being captured. And I would say the insurgency was just starting to rise up then, where the IED attacks were started.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clear the road. Possible IED!
TUCKER: Mortar attacks were starting. And it was becoming a very dangerous place to be.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Part of our $87 billion budget provided for us to have some secondary armor to put on top of our thin-skinned Humvees. This armor was made in Iraq. It is high-quality metal. And it will probably slow down the shrapnel so that it stays in your body instead of going clean through.
TUCKER: They really were acting like everything from policemen to social workers to politicians.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have come so far so fast. Please, let's not digress. I'm sure we can get the same discussion done without screaming across the table.
TUCKER: And then, at night, they would go out and raid houses.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Coming up. Coming in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three RPG launchers. You know how many years in jail that is? That's 30 years in jail.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): I don't need...
TUCKER: Every few weeks, they'd have something called Gunnerpalooza. And one thing they did at these, they would have freestyle competitions where the soldiers would spit out freestyle raps. And so I approached some of the corps soldiers and said, if I can't interview, let's do a freestyle about it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This ain't fact. It's only theory in my statements about the struggle, stress and pain every day we're facing. Trials and tribulations daily we do and not always is life's pains washed away in our (UNINTELLIGIBLE) When we take a dip, we try to stick to the script, but when those guns start blazing and our friends get hit, that's when our hearts start racing and our stomachs get woozy, because you all, this is just a show, but we're living this movie.
TUCKER: Some of the stories that they tell in the raps are more on target than any report.
When I left the first time, I thought I was done. Three, four weeks later, the first soldier in the unit, Ben Colgan, was killed. He was the best soldier in the unit. It turned out later that Ben was not just special forces, that he'd been in Delta Force.
I had hoped to somehow find an ending where I could respectfully tell what happened to him. Once I was done cutting that, I found that there was so much more to tell, I just didn't want to leave it hanging there. And then I decided to go back.
When I went back, immediately, upon arrival, you could sense that it was different. Soldiers just kind of gave off a feeling that they were exhausted. They were ready to go home. And you felt like they didn't really feel like they could do anything more.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lose-lose situation we're facing, anticipation. They're hating. No need to like this, but please respect it. This is life. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We all talk about how when we're going to go home, how proud we're going to be to be combat vets. How many people can say that they're combat veterans? Nineteen years old, I fought in a war.
TUCKER: These soldiers are us wearing uniforms. They come from every walk of American life. I would hope that people would listen to what they have to say and not what we think they would say, because often what they say is pretty surprising.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't care what anybody says. There's peaceful places in Iraq, but to say -- know that anybody who has been here has lived it, seen it and done it, and they've done their job.
BROWN: Morning papers after the break.