CERDEC HQ Review of At War

Written by Debra Bathmann, CERDEC Public Affairs Office & Outreach

Employees from the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center were invited to the Myer Center Auditorium on the afternoon of June 2 to view “At War,” a hard-hitting documentary that aims to expose the realities of the conflict in Afghanistan.

The film records, in gritty realism, the daily activities of U.S., Canadian and Afghan Soldiers – from the commonplace task of purchasing a cow for food to the horrifying affair of being fired upon at night by an unseen enemy.

The director, Scott Kesterson, created the film after quitting a successful construction job at age 41 to pursue his lifelong ambition of photojournalism. He managed to secure a mentorship with Pulitzer-Prize winning photojournalist David Leeson, and just six months after leaving his former employment, Kesterson found himself stationed in Afghanistan as an imbedded photojournalist, living his dream.

Kesterson felt very passionately about presenting a raw account of life in the combat zone, said 1st Sgt. Troy Steward, a colleague of Kesterson’s in Afghanistan.

“He didn’t want the Soldiers’ stories to go untold,” said Steward.

Mike Tumminelli, who was deployed to Afghanistan from September 2007 to October 2008 as a National Guard staff sergeant serving as an imbedded training advisor, befriended Steward through a blog that reports on the happenings in Afghanistan as well as other military-related issues. Aware that Steward had been touring the U.S. with Kesterson, showing “At War” to different units and groups of civilians, Tumminelli convinced him to bring the film to Fort Monmouth and serve as a guest speaker.

Tumminelli and Steward believe that “At War” helps dispel some common misconceptions held by the public about the conflict because it is an unedited picture of the war in Afghanistan.

“I think people have been seeing Iraq in the mainstream media so much, and when they think of an army at war, they think of a lot of people in a unit moving left and right and the Soldiers having a lot of support – not two Soldiers in a small mud farmhouse, teaching Soldiers not to steal, teaching them basic ethics, trying to help stand up a government and trying to do all the things that have nothing to do with Soldiering,” said Steward.

“These Soldiers are doing their mission with very little support. As you see in the film, close air support is hours away and medical attention, helicopters or any aircraft is between four to six hours wait time, and I don’t think the general public really understands that aspect of this conflict: that we have very little, and we’re doing a lot,” said Tumminelli.

As a civilian, Guilange Fabien, an intern in CERDEC, felt that the film opened her eyes to the trials and tribulations of the Soldiers in Afghanistan.

“I think that the documentary gave me a good perspective of what Soldiers experience during war. While I was watching, I felt I was a part of the Soldiers’ experience as they interacted with Afghanis, drove in the Humvee and spent time with their comrades,” said Fabien. “It left an undeniable impression on me.”

Steward stressed that “At War” doesn’t contain any political agendas, but rather an accurate presentation of the conflict in Afghanistan intended to provide a window into the lives of Soldiers stationed there.

The film, which essentially projected Steward’s and Tumminelli’s experiences onto the movie screen, had an emotional resonance with both men.

“It’s that feeling of loneliness the film shows that was very compelling to me and most of the guys I know who have watched the film: the feeling of being left out there, in the middle of nowhere and not knowing how long it’s going to take your fellow American forces to get to you,” said Tumminelli.

“I was actually with Scott [Kesterson] at my house, and we watched it with a couple of guys that were on my team,” said Steward about his first time viewing the film. “It was very emotional to watch; it brought back a lot of memories not just for me, but also for my son, who just got back in January. It was a lot to take in; I sat pretty quiet afterwards.”

According to Tumminelli, “At War” puts forth a portrait of the war in Afghanistan that no glamorized Hollywood movie could ever offer.

“If you look at war movies like ‘Black Hawk Down,’ something like that doesn’t compare. There are no agendas in ‘At War.’ It’s crisp; it’s real. There are no scenes where everyone becomes a hero, and there’s no ‘last stand,’” said Tumminelli. “Believe it or not, war can be very boring. It’s ‘10 hours of boredom and 30 seconds of pure terror,’ as everyone says, and that’s what the film shows.”

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