We have no idea. Those of us who have never served in the military or never had a family member serve … we have no idea. We have no idea what really happens on the front lines. We have no idea how hard it is when a loved one doesn’t come home. We have no idea of the sacrifices that all men and women in the service make, from time with their families to higher paying jobs, even their very lives. We have no idea.
That’s why Mike Boettcher made this film. Boettcher, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, has been a war correspondent for the past 34 years for CNN, NBC and ABC. He has made covering war his life and has made his own sacrifices of time with his family and living a normal life. He has even been a victim of terrorism himself. In 1985, he was kidnapped and threatened with execution in El Salvador and, in 2005, he survived a suicide bomber attack and a roadside bombing in Baghdad.
Boettcher says that 99 percent of Americans have no idea what is going on in Afghanistan. “Many of you, God bless you,” he says. “When you see a soldier on the street, go up to him or her and thank them for their service. But you really don’t have any idea what you’re really thanking them for. That’s why I made this movie. So you would know exactly what you’re thanking them for.”
The Hornet’s Nest covers several events which happened while Mike and his son Carlos were embedded with the Army’s 101st Airborne division in Afghanistan — elite, dangerous missions, checking for IEDs, searching for members of the Taliban, a suicide bombing, saving the lives of Afghan civilians, and, ultimately, the troops getting caught in what Boettcher called “The Hornet’s Nest” — a valley surrounded by Taliban in every direction.
The documentary is real. It is raw. It will frighten you, anger you and move you to tears. There were so many deaths, so many lives lost — soldiers and civilians, even children. Afghanistan is the longest war in American history. Three-thousand four-hundred thirty-nine soldiers have been killed there, 2,320 of which were Americans. It is estimated that between 18,000 and 20,000 Afghan civilians have been killed. So much death, so much pain, that many have asked, “Why?” Why are our troops in Afghanistan? Why are all of these noble men and women risking their lives over there? Watching this documentary, I couldn’t help but ask the question myself … and Mike Boettcher answered it.
It was after a scene where the American soldiers saved a 12-year-old boy who had been severely wounded by a suicide bomber. He and his brothers and sisters had been playing by the road — just playing — and a suicide bomber, wanting to kill the American troops nearby, killed five out of six of them. His own people. Children. This is the kind of evil our troops are fighting. Over video of the boy in his hospital bed, Boettcher says, “Will this change Afghanistan? Probably not. But we saved this one kid’s life. And maybe one day, he’ll grow up and change Afghanistan.” These are the hearts of these amazing men and women.
At the end of the movie, watching the names of those who were KIA (killed in action) scroll up the screen, I just prayed. I prayed for their families and for their legacies, that their sacrifices would be worth it. These soldiers deserve to have people hear their stories. They deserve to have people watch this film and be moved by it. Moved to understand and appreciate their sacrifice. Those 99 percent of us who have no idea owe them at least that.
* WARNING: This film contains a lot of language and real-life violence
Kathy Larson is the director of Christian Education and Creative Arts at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C.