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Semper Fi, Semper Fidelis which means ‘Always faithful,’ that’s our code. We say, ‘It’s not ours to ask what or why, only to do or die.’- Rudy Reyes

 

War is not only for shooting, killing, and dying. For the men of the Marine’s First Recon’s Bravo Company’s Second Platoon it’s also for joking, singing and friendship. In the crucible of sand and peril that is Iraq, the mettle of each man is sorely tested, and judged by his comrades. Falling short of the highest possible mark is not acceptable, and the result of even the most human of failings is ostracism by the others. All things familiar are absent- food, sleep, family, privacy, security, even water, while danger, fear, and noise are constant companions. Generation Kill is the story of some of these men, told in their own words, and we watch as their resilience and determination is stretched to the limit- never to fall down, always to rise up.

 

It was 2003, and the marine platoon was poised at Kuuwait’s border, getting ready to invade Iraq. Embedded with them for a month was Evan Wright, a journalist with an assignment to write about the early weeks of the military campaign from the point of view of the guys on the ground as they began their dangerous trip to Baghdad. Wright’s careful and factual reporting resulted in three articles that appeared in Rolling Stone, and a year later, an award winning book entitled Generation Kill. Now, HBO has decided to turn the tome into a 7-part miniseries which will debut on Sunday, July 13, 2008 (9-10:10 pm ET).

 

Executive Producers David Simon and Ed Burns (the team behind The Wire) were determined to remain faithful to Wright’s original reporting, by using the marines’ actual words as dialogue, and by featuring several of the marines Wright knew in the film. Among them are Josh Person, the real HUM V driver (played by P.J. Ransone) and Eric Kocher, who served 5 tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq (who played himself), as well as marine and martial arts expert Rudy Reyes (who also appears as himself).

 

Interestingly, Wright’s journalism career began as the entertainment editor at Hustler Magazine, the magazine’s main “XXX film critic,” as he calls himself, working for the notorious Larry Flynt. As shown in Episode 1, that career choice was crucial in paving the way for his easy acceptance by his Marine subjects. Josh Ray Person, explains what happened when Wright arrived at camp.

 

“I know a lot of guys kind of latched onto that. Oddly as it may seem, I’m not really a super sex addict or sex freak, so I was indifferent to that. The very first thing [I thought] is, where the hell is this guy gonna fit in with the kind of missions that we felt we were going to be doing there. It almost seems like he’s more in the way than anything. It’s like having a pet or something that you’ve gotta feed and water and put into its kennel when it’s bad. Oh great, now we get to baby-sit somebody else. And he’s not one of us, so in effect what happens when we get into a firefight?”

 

Though they may not have realized it at first, Wright turned out to be the right man for the job. Wright is a student of life and is most curious and non-judgmental. Plus, he thinks of himself as a journalist first and foremost, there to get the story, the true story. Soon enough, the men were convinced.

 

“I think Evan did a really good job of just blending in with everybody and making himself a gray man. And that allowed him to see the true side of everybody and write as well as he did. So, kudos for him for getting to a position where he could see everything for what it really is, and at the same time make it very entertaining,” says Person.

 

Evan Wright explained his philosophy to Dish, “Larry Flynt lived on the first amendment, you know, he was always like, ‘The freedom of press.’ Now to him, freedom of press was to show naked women. Here the military allowed us to embed and to exercise our first amendment right to portray one of the most delicate things a republic does—go to war and kill people. So I felt that, not in some high-minded way—but since I’ve always been a beneficiary of the first amendment as a citizen and then as a journalist and as a pornographer basically, to appreciate that they’re giving me a chance to really live in the first amendment, by doing something significant.”

 

“And another reason to be there, there were no journalists with the first Reconnaissance battalion, so who the f--k was going to write about this stuff? Nobody else, there was nobody else there whose job it was to record this, so when I saw civilians get killed, I noted it as much as I could, just as I noted when I saw the marines do things I thought were heroic and noble.”

 

Wright continues, “The Marine Corps mission is small wars. They’re much more oriented toward smaller numbers of troops engaging smaller numbers of troops, and doing so in an environment where there may be complications like civilians on the battlefield. It develops by episode three. It becomes a big theme because that is the problem in Iraq.” To point, there are only 250,000 marines as compared to 1,050,000 men in the army, and only 20% of those who try make through the grueling basic training.

 

The fact that there are civilians on the battlefield is explored in depth on “Generation Kill,” and some of the scenes are tough to watch. It’s almost impossible for an audience member, especially those with no military experience, to believe what these men have seen. Dish asked Wright about his worst memory.

 

“I mean, I saw many horrific things, but for some reason, when we were driving on a road, there was this girl in a very pretty dress, someone had dressed her up that day, and I don’t, still to this day, I don’t know why, her legs were cleanly blown off at the knees, or why she was there, why she was dead, how she got there. Who dressed her up that morning? It actually brings a tear to my eye now, because that’s just one of many things I saw. At the time, I couldn’t get teary-eyed about it. Now I do. Not a wimp, it’s just a matter of survival.”

 

And in fact, surviving is ultimately a soldier’s greatest challenge in a war, but ironically, also his greatest high. “Winston Churchill said something to the effect of, ‘There’s nothing more exhilarating than to be fired upon without effect,’” Eric Kocher says. “There’s a negative side to combat, but the scariest part of combat is it’s so much fun when you’re the guy who’s there but you’re not getting shot or injured and you’re surviving. There’s no greater high. OK, and that’s a very scary thing about war.”

 

He continues, “Look at me. Five combat tours, and I’ve just become more arrogant, I guess, and more confident. But every time you’re not shot in a firefight, and you see guys that should have shot you, and you beat them to the punch, you came out on top. We were actually in seventeen major firefights in this, and then there’s another four or five skirmishes, but each one, guys got more confident and more confident. God likes us or something. I don’t know what it is.”

 

Evan Wright adds, “So, to see all that death was bad enough, but really to see how quickly humans can go from ordinary civilized life to all out warfare, killing each other. And how quickly humans adjust to this, you really see there’s this thin veneer of decency and civilization that we have, and it slips away very quickly. The best people I know are the ones like Sgt. Colbert (played by Alexander Skarsgard), who even though they were pushed into this, maintained their humanity, and that’s a very rare person, and that’s why he’s, in a sense, the hero of my book.”

 

Kocher adds, “[Civilians] think we go over there factoring that we’re going to die. That’s never on my mind. It’s never on my mind that I might die. It’s on my mind that the guy next to me might die, and I don’t want that to happen, so I’m going to fight as hard as I can. And we’re going to kill, but that’s what we’re trained to do. We’re trained to fire, we’re trained to attack, we’re trained to be aggressive, and over a ten year period for us, we’re kind of desensitized by it. It’s not like we shoot someone and we’re like “Oh my God.” We rehearse, we rehearse. We train, we train. The reconnaissance course is always called ‘The Last Superman School on the Planet.’ And in extreme stress, we always resort back to our last highest level of training. That’s why they always say, ‘The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.’”

 

Wright himself was quickly affected by this mentality, even without the military training. “When I was in Iraq I had a girlfriend, and I did not allow my mind to ponder that relationship because then it would have reminded me I had things to live for back home. And I wanted to shut that part of me off because that would have then made me afraid of death, and if I was afraid of death, then I might have panicked, and if I’d panicked, it would actually have increased the likelihood of my dying because then I wouldn’t have been paying attention.”

 

One of the most fascinating aspects of “Generation Kill” is the remarkable dialogue, written by Wright and Ed Burns and based on Wright’s tapes and journals from Iraq. What is revealed throughout all 7 episodes is that marines speak a private language that only they can interpret, full of synonyms, abbreviations, nicknames, code words and more. Even the men themselves have code names: Godfather, Captain America, Encino Man, Q-tip, Gunny, Iceman.

 

Wright describes the writing process, “We started with the most accurate and inscrutable, arcane language, and then we peeled it back as little as possible to let people understand. For example, you know, ‘Oscar Mike’, means on the move or we’re rolling; we did make it a point to make sure they say, ‘We’re Oscar Mike,’ at a time when they started the Hum V and drove off. We actually did think about that, and there are a few times like when they’re rolling into Nazaria, and other marines are waving at them and they say, ‘Those fucking POGs (pronounced poges).’ And the reporter says, ‘What’s a POG?’ and the marine says, ‘That’s a person other than a Grunt.’ And I asked him, obviously, ‘What’s a Grunt?’ The marine says, ‘An infantry man, a gun slinger. And a POG is somebody who gets supplies.’”

 

Dish asks, trying to understand, “So they’re low class?”

 

Wright replies, “Yeah, but you know what, this miniseries presents these Recon marines as they see themselves, which is, of course, not an objective viewpoint. So, the Recon marines glorify in not being POGs. The truth is POGs are in combat in Iraq, and so we capture the marines’ snobbery, but in reality, if I was writing a purely objective show about the military that was not locked in the perspective of the guys in that Hum V, I would say being a POG is a an honorable profession too. And a noble warrior.”

 

Wright adds, “I do happen to look at editors and assistants and all the people back in the offices in New York at the magazines I work for as f--king POGs. In the army they have a colorful term- they’re called the REMFs which stands for Rear Echelon Motherf--kers. And unfortunately that’s an army term, that’s not a marine term, they just use POGs.

They deliberately use the most fowl, transgressive language possible, to shock each other, to entertain each other, and to celebrate the fact that they’re warriors who are doing the ultimate taboo. Killing people, that’s what they’re trained to do, and then once you’re trained to do that taboo, you’re going to trample on every other taboo you can, at least verbally. But the truth is, I think they’re a much more enlightened, tolerant group of people than their language indicates.

 

Dish asked Ed Burns how he felt about writing a script, in English, that a typical American could not understand at all. “I don’t care,” he replies, laughing. “It’s not that I don’t care—I think of [film] as a passive medium, and if everything is spoon-fed to the audience, you don’t really get that much out of it. Instead, if it makes you try to figure things out, and it engages you, I think it’s much more powerful for you as the person who is watching. We hear this a lot of times with ‘The Wire,’ ‘What’d she say?’ Listen, and if you can’t pick it up, watch her, and watch him, it’ll get there, you’ll get there.”

 

One of the most interesting sequences in the early episodes of “Generation Kill” involves J. Lo, or at least there was a persistent rumor running rampant through the entire Marine Corps that she had died. It seems that in 2003, marines loved J.Lo. Kocher describes what was happening. “Marines were obsessed,” he says. “For some reason, she was much in the zeitgeist of the time, so when I arrived at Camp Matilda, marines were like, ‘Do you know about J. Lo?’”

 

Dish was curious. “Why did they think that she had died?” we asked.

 

“There was like an urban legend. Basically these guys were so cut off from the news, like they didn’t have radios and weren’t allowed to have any personal electronic devices,” Wright explained. “When we got to Nazaria, I quoted a person saying that there was an urban legend that was not true, that Justin Timberlake and George Michael had banded together to make an anti-war song, and the marines believed this was true. It was not true, but Corporal Person went off on these rants against Justin Timberlake, and he kept referring to him as a ‘pussy faggot retard.’ So, Justin Timberlake’s PR people and his attorney contacted Rolling Stone, and they wanted a retraction and all this stuff, and I was furious. I was like, ‘It’s clear in the context that this is a marine, we’re getting shot at, and he’s just making humor to sort of deal with this.’ Justin Timberlake should have been a mensch about it, been a man, manned up and said, ‘That’s funny, these guys all get free tickets to my next concert.’ Instead we get all these cease-and-desist type letters.”

 

Interestingly, for this all-man mini-series about marines fighting in Iraq, the producers chose a woman to direct 4 of the episodes. “I met Susanna (White, “Bleak House”) early on, and I was very involved in the preproduction process,” Wright says. “I went to Africa a year before the shooting, and we went on a location scout because we used my photographs as references for the locations. There are great, smart, talented women in the film business; the thing that Susanna brought is that she did what I do. She wanted to focus on the relationships and the nuances of how these guys got along. And so from the start, I thought she was perfect, and I was glad not to have a male director who wanted to prove his machismo by simply focusing on the combat scenes. She wanted to show, ‘Hey, I’m a woman, and I can do kick ass combat too,’ and she did.”

 

It would be hard to understate the part that sex plays, or rather doesn’t play, in these all- men marine units, and the part it plays, in a transformational way, in “Generation Kill” as well. Remember, these marines are young men, and they spend months at a time without women. Ed Burns addresses this situation by saying, “If this was a co-ed campus of 20-year-olds, same population, cohort [cavorting] or whatever you call it, you would have guys, and all they think about is sex and they’re horny. These guys are the same population group, but they’re in a desert with no women. So, the effect of this, there’s all this humor, and it’s complex, so I hesitate making a simple quote about it. First of all, Sgt. Espera says a line, ‘The Marine Corp is so homoerotic.’ Because they always talk about fruity Rudy [Reyes]. I don’t think there’s actual homosexuality much in the Marine Corps. If there is, I never saw it or heard reference to it. I’m sure that there are things that happen. But the truth is with these guys, they know each other so well, they’re actually very secure in their own masculinity that they can joke about this stuff, they can talk about how beautiful Rudy is, and it doesn’t mean that they actually are feeling physically aroused.”

 

Wright adds, “If you look at Lt. Fick and Mike Wynn in my book, Fick was the platoon commander, and Wynn was the senior enlisted man. They’re sort of like a team that runs the platoon, and often, they were sort of like a husband and wife. And in our vehicle, it was often like Colbert was the dad and Person was the mom. And what Ed said, when you have a population of men that are cut off from contact with women, actually what happens in a certain sense, the machismo is enhanced, but so is the feminine within this group, and I don’t mean in a sexual way. There’s role playing, and there’s a high degree in a small marine unit of things that we associate with the feminine, nurturing. For instance, Trombley is the youngest marine in the vehicle, and Sgt. Colbert asks him, ‘Are you drinking water?’ ‘Did you go to the bathroom?’ Because that’s his job as a team leader, but that’s also what mommy does to her children. The feminine comes out when you have a population of just men.”

 

Person also makes note of this type of role-playing. “Warfare is the exploration of the feminine side. It’s not brotherhood, it’s really sisterhood.” (Think about that, ladies!)

 

Wright was brutally honest when Dish asked him about the daunting task of translating his intense experiences in Iraq with these marines, now his friends, first into the articles and the book, and now into this HBO mini-series. “I had to maintain my objectivity as a journalist, and my loyalty was to the story not to them as people,” he says. “Unfortunately, that’s how a journalist is. Someone once said, ‘A journalist’s job is to charm and betray.’ Charm and betray, that’s what a real journalist does. Not that you mean to betray them, but often when you write what happens, it seems like a betrayal.”

 

But in spite of revealing some things that the marines might have preferred being left out, Wright’s integrity impressed them in the end. “The best thing to me was, after I finished the book, and I was done being a journalist, I could become friends with these guys that I was already very close to. But I had to maintain my role as a journalist, and to become friends with them was really the best thing that happened, and that happened a couple years after the reporting was done.”

 

Don’t miss the intense experience of “Generation Kill” beginning Sunday July 13, (9-10:10 p.m. ET).

 

 

To find out more about the sexy Rudy Reyes Click Here!

 

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 88 - September 0839
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