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Hawaii News

Film details soldiers’ pain

William Cole
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Sgt. Mitchell Raeon and Sgt. John Clinard deployed to Korengal Valley in eastern Afghanistan with the Italy-based 173rd Airborne Brigade. Both are now stationed at Schofield Barracks.<
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Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade in Korengal Valley, from left, Sgt. Justin Rogers, Sgt. John Clinard, Doc Old and Sgt. Mitchell Raeon were among those who took part in Operation Rock Avalanche.

When Sgt. John Clinard found out during a firefight that a good friend had been killed by militants in eastern Afghanistan, a video camera was there to capture his grief in unflinching detail.

"Shut up. Shut the f— up," Clinard said, a look of shock on his face as he sobbed over the loss. "Not Sgt. Rougle. You’re lying, right, man?"

The filmmakers of the Afghanistan war documentary "Restrepo" said the cameras stayed focused on a small group of soldiers in Korengal Valley and that there are no interviews with generals or diplomats.

"The only goal is to make viewers feel as if they have just been through a 90-minute deployment," the movie states on its website.

The National Geographic documentary does that, in shaky and gritty hand-held camera detail as one deadly firefight after another unfolds in hostile Kunar province.

But "Restrepo" goes further, serving as a tool to educate other soldiers and the public about what the particularly grueling 2007-2008 deployment was like, as well as providing a window into the post-traumatic stress that followed it.

The documentary has received critical praise at a time when the U.S. still is struggling to find a successful strategy in Afghanistan and as it continues to come to terms with stress, suicides and reintegration following combat deployments.

Clinard and Sgt. Mitchell Raeon, who were both on the deployment with the Italy-based 173rd Airborne Brigade and now are stationed at Schofield Barracks, spoke with audience members about "Restrepo" after the film was shown Friday at the Mililani Stadium 14 theaters.

The 90-minute documentary will play in Mililani at least through Tuesday, theater representatives said.

"(Almost) every last person in the theater stayed and there was a slew of questions," said Staff Sgt. Amber Robinson, a spokeswoman for the 3rd Brigade at Schofield.

Soldiers who were there and the film’s makers have spoken to audiences around the country about the hardships in eastern Afghanistan and the fallout from that service.

Eastern Kunar and Nuristan provinces, meanwhile, have a past unwanted connection to Hawaii and a possible future one, as well.

On the same 2007-2008 deployment by the 173rd Airborne Brigade, 1st Lt. Jonathan P. Brostrom of Aiea was killed along with eight other soldiers when an overwhelming force of militants attacked his platoon in the village of Wanat in the neighboring Waigal Valley.

Five Pearl Harbor Navy SEALs were killed in June 2005 in an ill-fated commando mission and the subsequent crash of a rescue helicopter in Kunar, two events in which a total of 19 lives were lost.

The 3,800 soldiers of Schofield’s 3rd Brigade have been tapped for duty in Kunar and Nuristan when they deploy to Afghanistan in the spring.

Restrepo was a 15-man outpost named after Pfc. Juan S. Restrepo, a 20-year-old medic killed by insurgents on July 22, 2007, in Korengal.

Restrepo and four other outposts in Korengal were subsequently abandoned by the U.S., along with the outpost where Brostrom was killed and two others in Waigal Valley, after officials concluded they couldn’t be adequately defended and the decision was made to move forces to more populated areas.

Kunar was legendary as a hostile region before the 173rd Brigade arrived, and it continued to live up to its reputation after the soldiers showed up.

"If I was to try to sum it up in one word, I would say ‘relentless,’" Schofield’s Raeon, 27, said of the attacks. "At one point, as we were building Restrepo, we had 20-something firefights in two days."

The outpost, built on a mountain ridge where attacks had been prevalent, was an amalgam of dirt-filled barriers, beams and plywood, sandbags and camouflage netting.

Staff Sgt. Larry Rougle was killed by insurgents on Oct. 23, 2007, after he was shot multiple times during an operation called Rock Avalanche.

"Before Larry died, we knew we were in a bad area," said Clinard, 25, of High Point, N.C. "We were in a firefight every day, but not really thinking about it,"

Two more 173rd soldiers were killed the next day.

"(The deaths) really put it in perspective. This is real. We could die here," Clinard said.

In an interview in the film after the deployment, Spc. Miguel Cortez said he was taking four to five different kinds of sleeping pills so he could sleep.

Clinard also said that "when we got back, it was pretty rough."

"Honestly, it’s still affecting me, with dreams and anxiety and dealing with Larry’s death. I think about it all the time," he said.

He’s been to a doctor and also taken sleeping pills and "it’s helped a lot," he said. "It is getting better."

Both Clinard and Raeon said they like that "Restrepo" told the soldiers’ stories without injecting a political point of view into the film.

Raeon, from Elbridge, N.Y., may head back to the region with Schofield’s 3rd Brigade.

Asked how he feels about that, Raeon said: "I don’t know. Stressed. Anxiety. I feel all right because I kind of know the area and I know what I’m getting myself into. But it brings back a lot of bad memories that you don’t want to experience again."


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