Generation Kill – The HBO Miniseries; an Interview with Evan Wright and Eric Kocher
At times it is easy to forget you’re watching actors filmed on location in South Africa instead of a documentary made during the invasion of Iraq. There is no soundtrack, except for the men’s conversation, radio chatter and the sound of the Humvees. Discomforting it may be, but it is compelling, often insightful, fact-based television drama.
On July 7, ArmchairGeneral.com and HistoryNet.com spoke with author and consulting producer Evan Wright and with Staff Sergeant Eric Kocher, a member of the First Recon who served as key military advisor on the television production.
ArmchairGeneral/HistoryNet (ACG/HN): Evan, you had already covered U.S. Infantry and Special Operations in Afghanistan. What made you want to ride into combat at the "tip of the spear" instead of staying closer to the rear echelon as many media reps did?
Evan Wright: Some of it was reporter’s ignorance. I thought a war in Iraq would go the way the first one did with massive Iraqi surrenders and long-range fighting. I’d watched too much CNN.
(ACG/HN): Did you have any preconceptions about the Marine Recon troops you were going to be working with and if so, how did those conceptions change during the time you were with them?
Wright: I arrived in January 2003. I spent time with some Marines and really liked them. To a reporter, Marines are storytellers; they’re not afraid to say what’s on their minds. In World War Two movies, Marines have this John Wayne image, especially in The Sands of Iwo Jima. I was afraid that if bullets started to fly, they were not going to live up to their PR. In fact, the Marine Corps is one of the few institutions in America that lives up to its image.
(ACG/HN): Eric, what was your impression of Evan Wright when you first met him in Iraq, and how did that perception change during his time with First Recon?
Staff Sergeant Eric Kocher: I never talked to him over there except for the time I got relieved as a team leader. I made a policy never to talk to reporters because you get yourself in trouble. Many reporters have a subplot.
After my first tour, when I got blown up, he was one of the first guys to come visit me. Now I love him. He really looks out for the Recon and the military. (On April 7, 2004, Kocher’s right arm was shattered by an RPG blast in Fallujah. Less than six months later, he fought in the second assault on that city. During his fourth deployment, in 2006, an IED flipped his vehicle, breaking several of his bones, causing head damage and reinjuring an ear damaged in the 2004 incident.)
(ACG/HN): There are numerous jibes at the "liberal media" in the miniseries’ dialogue. Yet, in the real world outside the miniseries, the media exposed inadequate treatment of wounded vets at Walter Reed. How do you view the media’s role in reporting war within a free society?
Kocher: There’s a part of me that says everything should be open. I don’t think most people realize that more people have been killed in Afghanistan than in Iraq; that story doesn’t get told.
Even concerning the stories about Walter Reed, I never received better care (than I did there). The VA system is flawed, and that’s what you hear about, but these people work feverishly to make sure we’re taken care of. One of my drivers got his hands blown off; he got a prosthesis that cost about $35,000; no other country would do that.
In Fallujah, one reporter was there for one day, got shot at, flew out and filed his story, but he missed seven days of the battle. It is very dangerous to report on war. Reporters have to ask themselves, Is it worth taking the risk to stay?
Evan did that; he didn’t go to his first firefight and leave. He chose to stay thru 16 more firefights to see how it ended. He got himself credibility; every firefight that he stayed for brought him closer to the team.
Wright: The media is no more a perfect institution than the military. There are many Captain Americas among journalists. I would argue there are more Captain Americas in the media than in the Marine Corps. (Captain America was the nickname Marines in the First Recon gave to an overly excitable captain who evidenced few of the abilities necessary for battlefield command.)
We (the media) are a necessary evil. Everybody hates the media until they have an issue and they’re powerless. Then they meet up with a reporter, and he takes down what they have to say and calls attention to it.
About half the guys in the military want the media there because they want people to know what they do and who their guys are. Officers tell us, "Meet my guys ’cause they’re great guys and you need to mention their names." Another quarter of the military sees that the military isn’t perfect, and they want the media there to report the flaws to improve it.
I travel all over the world, and whenever I go to a totally corrupt county, it is always a country that doesn’t have a free press. We have appalling standards for becoming a journalist—basically, there are none— and we’re probably wrong the majority of the time, but we help keep the military and other institutions such as corporations and schools honest.
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