Tech Adviser/Marine Recon SSgt. Eric Kocher talks about HBO's "Generation Kill"

Ravage

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In the kill zone



New HBO show aims to tell the rough, raw realities of war
By Dan Lamothe - dlamothe@militarytimes.com
Posted : July 14, 2008


Former Staff Sgt. Eric Kocher has lived war.

He has watched friends die in combat, endured surgeries after an RPG attack, received a Bronze Star for his actions in Iraq.

Now, he’s helping a major television network tell it the way he saw it.

Hired as a technical adviser for the new seven-part miniseries “Generation Kill,” Kocher’s job was to stop the hatin’ before it began — to make sure HBO and its hotshot producers got life in the Corps right.

For two months beginning July 13, he’ll find out if he pulled it off. That’s when the series rolls out, beaming into America’s living rooms an unvarnished look at life in 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

This is no rifle-flipping recruiting video filmed on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Based on a hotly debated, bestselling book by an embedded Rolling Stone reporter, it’s a vulgar, searing portrayal told with the same frankness that brought its producers critical acclaim for another HBO series, “The Wire.”

With HBO’s track record of taking subjects that mainstream America has little understanding of — normalizing the mob in “The Sopranos,” for instance, or going downstairs in the mortuary on “Six Feet Under” — millions of people across the country will likely be tuning in to see what the network thinks of the Few and the Proud.

The question is simple: Can America handle the truth?

Capturing a culture

Ed Burns and David Simon want credibility. That’s the overriding sentiment the producers of “Generation Kill” express when speaking about their work, and the reason they worked closely with “Generation Kill” author Evan Wright, who co-wrote the series’ script.

“The real fun isn’t trying to convince the average viewer [that we have it right],” Simon said. “It’s trying to convince people who have been in the game.”

The producers sought out Kocher not long after he left the Corps in February 2007, after getting passed over for a promotion to gunnery sergeant. Once he arrived on one of the series’ sets in the African nation of Namibia, Kocher quickly realized how difficult it was going to be to get the nitty-gritty details straight.

Within days, Kocher and another former 1st Recon Marine, Sgt. Rudy Reyes, had implemented a daily 14-hour boot camp on set, to whip the cast into shape. Former Cpl. Jeff Carisalez joined them after dropping classes at Texas A&M University, coming in to bring a fleet of ratty Humvees back to life and eventually begin advising on technical issues as well.

“I’m trying to train these guys to carry themselves like recon Marines, and that’s very hard to do,” Kocher said. “I tried to speak like I would as a Marine, which is to say ‘f---’ about every third word.”

The boot camp was severe, Reyes said, with four hours per day of heavy physical training, followed by 10 hours of lessons on weapons handling, tactics and Marine jargon.

“I’m out there teaching them jujitsu in the rain at 2 in the morning, in the middle of a desert in Namibia,” Reyes recalled. “I’m out there taking all comers, but the actors kept on coming, and after a while, they were all just recon Marines to me.”

By the time filming began in June 2007, the actors began to look like a cohesive unit. Filming moved from Namibia to South Africa to Mozambique over the course of the series, with Kocher and Carisalez offering criticism and Kocher checking with friends in the Corps to see if needed equipment could be purchased or borrowed, Burns said.

“We tried to be true to the culture and the particular details of the culture,” Simon said. “There were times when we wanted to try things, and if we went too far, [Kocher] would be the first one to bristle.”

Said Carisalez, who ended up with a small role in the series:

“There were times where I was like, ‘Bulls---, Marines would never do that!’

“I was like, ‘Hell no, dude!’”

Getting it right

It might not be perfect, but the surface results are pretty darn smooth.

Throughout the mission, Marines spit a steady stream of Copenhagen, with part of a scene devoted to teaching a Marine to spit through his teeth to keep from coating the Humvee door in goo. Background radio transmissions form the only real score in the series, much of it culled from actual battalion recordings.

Marines also sit in real Humvees purchased from an undisclosed military aficionado near Camp Lejeune, N.C., and fret over a lack of lube to keep their “Forty Mike-Mike” MK19 grenade launchers from jamming.

It looks and sounds like war, right down to Marines being “Oscar Mike” and screaming “Get some!” when insurgents get lit up by Cobra gunships. The show is so full of jargon, HBO sent out a nine-page glossary of terms in its press kits so mainstream television critics can keep up.

Burns said certain elements in the series, such as the Cobras, are computer-generated special effects. Glimpses of them are kept to a minimum, though, and shown only from the view of grunts on the ground.

One example of a required change: Kocher said it was necessary to scrap using “homemade” light armored vehicles, and instead go with computer-generated versions, because Marines watching the series would pick out the fake LAVs.

“You’re dealing with the most anal-retentive mother------s on the planet, and we tried to tell people [involved in production] that,” Kocher said. “I’m telling you, that’s the way we are. That’s in our blood.”

Conflict remains

Despite all the work, not everyone’s happy to see “Generation Kill” make the small screen. Former Capt. Nathaniel Fick, a first lieutenant during the 2003 invasion, said he and several other members of 2nd Platoon wish the series had never been made.

Fick, who has seen the series and is portrayed as one of the few competent junior officers, said some of the Marines depicted wish they could “just get on with their lives.”

Fick said they also worry that too much attention has already been placed on 1st Recon, considering that Wright’s book and a 2006 book by Fick, “One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer,” have already been published.

With his own book, Fick said, he felt obligated to run the manuscript by the Marines named in it before it was published, a courtesy they didn’t have with either incarnation of “Generation Kill.”

“There’s a general sense among the guys that between Evan’s book and my own, we sort of feel like the story has been told, and our story isn’t that exceptional,” he said. “I feel a real discomfort with there being so much attention put on it. I ask people if they’d like to see a high-intensity, stressful part of their own lives played out that way.”

Other Marines depicted in the series couldn’t be reached for comment, but some have criticized Wright’s book in the past. Retired Gunnery Sgt. Daniel J. Griego, for example, took issue in a 2006 blog entry with the way a character modeled after him — nicknamed “Casey Kasem” — was depicted as an incompetent operations chief for 1st Recon’s Bravo Company.

“Not only are there multitudes of lies, but the book is written from the point of the view of the Marines that befriended Evan Wright,” Griego wrote. “Evan Wright created characters for his book, a book that can only be categorized as fiction.”

For his part, Wright said he stands by his work, especially when it comes to Griego.

“I can’t bend the truth as I saw it to suit one individual’s needs,” Wright said.

Fick said that while he has misgivings about the attention 1st Recon again will receive, the miniseries and book “by and large” depict the unit accurately, with occasional overdramatization of some of the tensions between enlisted Marines and officers.

“Some of the dialogue is priceless, and it’ll be recognized by anyone who has spent time with young infantry Marines,” Fick said.

A part of the lore?

But how will America receive “Generation Kill”? And better yet, how will the Corps?

Those are questions that remain, and those involved in the miniseries admit they don’t have an answer yet.

For its part, the Corps did not endorse the series, Marine officials said, a blessing that could have led to some technical support and shared equipment. But HBO also never sought it, choosing instead to rely on Wright’s journalism and the expertise of its military advisers.

R. Lee Ermey, a former Marine who played the legendary DI in “Full Metal Jacket,” said a miniseries about life in the Corps won’t hurt the service as long as things are presented accurately.

“I’ve probably had a half million people tell me that they went into the Marine Corps because of ‘Full Metal Jacket,’” Ermey said. “We make mistakes in war, and [viewers] expect that. We capitalize on the other side’s mistakes and we make our own mistakes. That’s war.”

Ermey agreed that small mistakes in the presentation of the Corps will be magnified, recalling a letter he received in regard to a scene from “Full Metal Jacket.” In it, he wore a Korean War ribbon incorrectly after “a little guy in wardrobe popped it back on upside down and backwards” when it came off, he said.

“The objective, always, is to always try and get it right, because if you leave one stone unturned, as a technical adviser you’re going to catch crap for it,” he said.

Marine recruiting officials declined to comment on the series’ potential impact but said that a part of a recruiter’s job is to dispel myths created about the Corps in popular culture.

Through a spokesman, Gen. Jim Mattis, commander of 1st Marine Division during the series, said he had not seen any of the prescreenings of “Generation Kill.” He declined to comment on the book, which often described officers making rash decisions in an attempt to impress him.

The Marines involved in the series said they hope the civilian world doesn’t judge pieces of the show independently but takes in the work as a whole.

“It’s hard to understand that we say these nasty, nasty things, but it’s really just to make us laugh,” said Reyes, who plays himself in the series. “Is there a tougher job in the world than to protect your guys and kill the enemy? I don’t think there is in the freakin’ world, and if you can’t find a way to laugh about it and to make light of your suffering, you can go crazy.”

Carisalez said too many people think Marines are “brainwashed” and don’t have any feelings about the work they do.

“Hopefully, this shows that a Marine can joke, and he can laugh, and he can cuss ... I hope that people see that there’s a human behind the uniform.”

Kocher, who plays a bit part as a gunnery sergeant in the show, said he thinks “Generation Kill” will be an education for civilians and officers who haven’t spent time in combat.

“I hope that an audience of outsiders will grow to respect these guys as I did,” he said of his old unit. “There’s no politics in the show. I hope not, at least.”

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/issues/stories/0-MARINEPAPER-3608950.php
 

Pete S

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I read the book, it was alright but with to much bravado.
I'll probably watch the series but with some skepticism.

I don't like that Rudy Reyes is using this series as a way to break into acting.
 

Hitman2/3

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I don't like that Rudy Reyes is using this series as a way to break into acting.

Why not? He was a member of the Platoon, he was a tech advisor, and he's playing his self. I think he's earned the right to do as he pleases. Hell who wouldn't want to play thereself in a movie about them if they had the chance.

The book that Evan wrote was....... close to the truth, but he missed some things, he exaggerated some things, and he saw things from a civilians point of view. I found myself laughing a couple of times at the way he saw things. Certain characters were potrayed in the wrong light, since he saw them from his point of view as a civilian, and he wrote down things he overheard junior enlisted saying in the moment of what was thought to be a stupid decision made by the leadership. It will be interesting to see if they get the story right with Rudy and Kocher there to help them get it right.
 

Typhoon

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Kocher said. “I tried to speak like I would as a Marine, which is to say ‘f---’ about every third word.”
Heeheehee!!! Yep, that just about sums up a number of fields in which I have worked or am intimately familiar. Imagine how linguistically difficult it is to bounce between one (coaching football) and another (working with special ed kids) :)

I am looking forward to HBO's presentation, and hope that it lives up to the billing that the network has given it (There are a number of long trailers for it playing in between shows on HBO).
 

Ravage

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First reviews:

Generation Kill: ''Get Some'' Review
We take a look at the premiere of the new HBO miniseries from the creators of The Wire.

The Iraq War, controversial from the start, has been going on for over five years. In that time, there has been a growing number of films (e.g., In the Valley of Elah, Redacted), as well as a plethora of books about the war. One of those books was 2004's critically lauded Generation Kill, written by Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright.

Generation Kill the miniseries follows the same nonfiction account of events as Wright's book, depicting real events, and using real names and actual dialogue from the Marines that Wright was embedded with in 2003. Wright, understatedly played by frequent HBO actor Lee Tergesen (Oz), was assigned to the First Reconnaissance Battalion -- the first branch of the American military to march into Iraq. The miniseries, like the book, tells the story of the war from the perspective of the troops on the ground.

This first episode thrusts us right into the action, meeting mouthy Marines and eventually Evan "Scribe" Wright, who accidentally impresses the troops when he mentions he used to write for Hustler. The writing is excellent, presenting a large number of characters, sometimes doing or saying something offensive, but displayed without judgment. It's a writing style well honed by writers David Simon and Ed Burns, the creators of the acclaimed HBO series The Wire.

Generation Kill begins with the First Recon Marines in Kuwait, awaiting orders at the Camp Mathilda staging ground for "Operation Iraqi Freedom." Before they roll out, they deal with boredom, supply shortages, a crazy wind storm, an espresso machine accident, and ridiculous grooming standards regarding exact specifications of moustaches and tucked-in shirts.

generationkill-humvee_1215718144.jpg


The cast is excellent, and populated with mostly unknown actors. Several characters stand out from the crowd during "Get Some." Perhaps the most memorable is Cp. Josh Ray Person, played by James Ransone, whom The Wire fans will recognize as season two's Chester "Ziggy" Sobotka. Ransone has a number of amusing lines, including a long diatribe about the root cause of all world instability. Ransone drives the Humvee of Team Leader Brad "Iceman" Colbert, played by Alexander Skarsgard, another stand-out character. Iceman appears to pull off being respected by both his fellow team members and his higher-ups. His best scene this episode centers around his explanation for an accidental espresso fire to his superiors.

The episode is a solid hour, with little lag time and a definite message: these first Marines were sent in undersupplied and without any kind of actual plan of attack -- or plan for dealing with surrendering Iraqis. Granted, there may have been overall plans but Wright's (who acts as a consulting producer for the series) account in this episode shows that the troops on the ground weren't aware of them. It's a very well-done start to a miniseries that feels as real as a documentary.

------------------------------

The seven-part miniseries Generation Kill begins airing Sundays on HBO at 9pm ET/PT on July 13.

IGN: 9/10

http://tv.ign.com/articles/887/887913p1.html
 

Ravage

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Right. Saw the first episode. Since I'm no military man I must say I liked it :)

But one thing puzzles my though. The were Recon Marines. But they weren't Force Recon? The reason I'm asking is because every time I hear about Recon Marines the only thing that comes to my mind is Force Recon. I understand there is a difference ?
 

Pete S

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Right. Saw the first episode. Since I'm no military man I must say I liked it :)

But one thing puzzles my though. The were Recon Marines. But they weren't Force Recon? The reason I'm asking is because every time I hear about Recon Marines the only thing that comes to my mind is Force Recon. I understand there is a difference ?

No, they were not Force Recon.
 

JBS

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Couple of things:

1.) there is a difference between Force Recon and Recon. Historically, Force was but a small percentage of Reconnaissance qualified Marines, with a particularly sharp mission. Every Marine that has earned the MOS designator receives very similar special operations training, but Force can receive more specialization, more school slots, etc.

2.) Generation Kill. I observed traces of the Recon culture in the film- especially the casual nature and interaction between Marines- sometimes with a bit less regard for rank, etc. In smaller units, men can get more casual, and a slightly different, parallel hierarchy develops around one's ability, intelligence and expertise just as much as rank structure. To the outside observer, it may seem like a Cpl taking a bit too much liberty or a Sgt talking to a junior officer in an inappropriate way; inside Recon, however, things are just understood to be that way, and some of the more mundane rituals of military service are allowed to move to the back of the priority bundle. I never saw any disrespect among the Recon Marines that I knew- to anyone. It's just that they felt more comfortable talking openly with their immediate chain of command than I ever felt as a junior man in the infantry. That was probably a good thing, since a junior man in the infantry doesn't usually have much to say.

The "conventional" Marine Corps (if you can call it that) has sometimes found wrinkles in its ability to properly interface with the special operations mindset, and often for some of the same reasons. The mindset of the unconventional warrior is different from the man who runs the supply depot, logistics, or other post that requires rigid record keeping, and repetitive tasks. Unconventional warfighters don't care as much about spit shining boots for hours (a typical Marine Corps tradition aimed at preserving professional appearance), and would rather spend that time sorting ammunition, or practicing failure-to-fire/failure-to-feed drills. This isn't to suggest lower standards of appearance, lax grooming, or failure to display military bearing among Marine special operations forces, only that there has historically been a different focus for them than some of the rest of the Marine Corps. In today's Corps, special ops Marines have a full load to juggle.

That subtle hint of something just shy of internal rebellion, the tendency to try to anticipate motives behind orders which have come downrange, and the inability to quietly accept incompetence around them- these all simmer just under the surface in the show.

If the average Marine or military man doesn't appreciate the tone of Generation Kill, some of that can be attributed to the influence of Recon Marines as technical advisors for a show that highlights breakdowns in the chain of command, weaknesses in individuals and bad decision making, along with the Marines who must bear the burden created by those bad decisions.

The show doesn't portray the endless weeks of activity where everything goes the right way. They zoom in on the day when a mistake was made, and the catastrophic consequences that ensue. Of course, in combat, that is the price for mistakes.


Personally, I don't like the show- not because I don't understand the message, but because it makes Marine Officers look collectively like blithering idiots, chasing solely after rank and promotion. I never served under an officer like that (even if I'm sure some may carry themselves that way), so I'm probably a bit biased in favor of the Marine Corps.


Hitman 2/3 said:
...he (embedded journalist) wrote down things he overheard junior enlisted saying in the moment of what was thought to be a stupid decision made by the leadership.

Exactly. Well said.
 

Cecil

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Couple of things:

1.) there is a difference between Force Recon and Recon. Historically, Force was but a small percentage of Reconnaissance qualified Marines, with a particularly sharp mission. Every Marine that has earned the MOS designator receives very similar special operations training, but Force can receive more specialization, more school slots, etc.

2.) Generation Kill. I observed traces of the Recon culture in the film- especially the casual nature and interaction between Marines- sometimes with a bit less regard for rank, etc. In smaller units, men can get more casual, and a slightly different, parallel hierarchy develops around one's ability, intelligence and expertise just as much as rank structure. To the outside observer, it may seem like a Cpl taking a bit too much liberty or a Sgt talking to a junior officer in an inappropriate way; inside Recon, however, things are just understood to be that way, and some of the more mundane rituals of military service are allowed to move to the back of the priority bundle. I never saw any disrespect among the Recon Marines that I knew- to anyone. It's just that they felt more comfortable talking openly with their immediate chain of command than I ever felt as a junior man in the infantry. That was probably a good thing, since a junior man in the infantry doesn't usually have much to say.

The "conventional" Marine Corps (if you can call it that) has sometimes found wrinkles in its ability to properly interface with the special operations mindset, and often for some of the same reasons. The mindset of the unconventional warrior is different from the man who runs the supply depot, logistics, or other post that requires rigid record keeping, and repetitive tasks. Unconventional warfighters don't care as much about spit shining boots for hours (a typical Marine Corps tradition aimed at preserving professional appearance), and would rather spend that time sorting ammunition, or practicing failure-to-fire/failure-to-feed drills. This isn't to suggest lower standards of appearance, lax grooming, or failure to display military bearing among Marine special operations forces, only that there has historically been a different focus for them than some of the rest of the Marine Corps. In today's Corps, special ops Marines have a full load to juggle.

That subtle hint of something just shy of internal rebellion, the tendency to try to anticipate motives behind orders which have come downrange, and the inability to quietly accept incompetence around them- these all simmer just under the surface in the show.

If the average Marine or military man doesn't appreciate the tone of Generation Kill, some of that can be attributed to the influence of Recon Marines as technical advisors for a show that highlights breakdowns in the chain of command, weaknesses in individuals and bad decision making, along with the Marines who must bear the burden created by those bad decisions.

The show doesn't portray the endless weeks of activity where everything goes the right way. They zoom in on the day when a mistake was made, and the catastrophic consequences that ensue. Of course, in combat, that is the price for mistakes.


Personally, I don't like the show- not because I don't understand the message, but because it makes Marine Officers look collectively like blithering idiots, chasing solely after rank and promotion. I never served under an officer like that (even if I'm sure some may carry themselves that way), so I'm probably a bit biased in favor of the Marine Corps.




Exactly. Well said.
Well stated. :)
 
A

arizonaguide

Guest
...In smaller units, men can get more casual, and a slightly different, parallel hierarchy develops around one's ability, intelligence and expertise just as much as rank structure. To the outside observer, it may seem like a Cpl taking a bit too much liberty or a Sgt talking to a junior officer in an inappropriate way; inside Recon, however, things are just understood to be that way, and some of the more mundane rituals of military service are allowed to move to the back of the priority bundle.
AND
... Unconventional warfighters don't care as much about spit shining boots for hours (a typical Marine Corps tradition aimed at preserving professional appearance), and would rather spend that time sorting ammunition, or practicing failure-to-fire/failure-to-feed drills. This isn't to suggest lower standards of appearance, lax grooming, or failure to display military bearing among Marine special operations forces, only that there has historically been a different focus for them than some of the rest of the Marine Corps. In today's Corps, special ops Marines have a full load to juggle.

JBS, AWSOME analysis! That's why so much respect for the Marines. Leading from the front, and Getting the job done!

Personally, I don't like the show- not because I don't understand the message, but because it makes Marine Officers look collectively like blithering idiots, chasing solely after rank and promotion. I never served under an officer like that (even if I'm sure some may carry themselves that way), so I'm probably a bit biased in favor of the Marine Corps.

Boy, I sure have, (..MANY in the USAF..) and that's why I thought your analysis was so cool.

One thing I understand about SEAL training is that officers are trained to "lead from the front", and share the pain / earn the respect...so different from my experiences in the USAF...and I think all officer training should be THAT way.

I used to divide them into Good Officer:
..One who wants the be informed of the HONEST truth/bad news/etc...so that he can DO SOMETING about it before his senior officers have to react...(and he stands up for his men, even at his own career expense).

and Bad Officer:
..One who DOESN'T want the bad news, or if something makes him "look bad" it's usually swept under the carpet (after shooting the messenger) or blamed on some low level corporal/airman.
And, Usually he's followed around by an "entourage" of lower level officers who make a profession of telling him how "correct" and "great" he is...and shelter him from truth. (with their lips typically attached to his ass!)

I think every officer should be trained to "lead from the front", or find another profession.
:D
 
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