The Office of Student Veterans and Commissioning Programs hosted an advanced screening Oct. 24 of “The Warfighters,” a docuseries by executive producer Peter Berg that focuses on U.S. Special Operations Forces soldiers and their personal stories from the front lines. The event consisted of a showing of “Objective Breton” — one of the eight episodes set to premiere on the History Channel on Veterans’ Day — followed by a Q&A with producers Mike Baumgarten and Ray Mendoza.
With detailed and realistic reconstructions of battle footage and the participation of over 90 veterans in the production of the series, “The Warfighters” focuses on authenticity and intimacy. Born from roughly three-hour-long unscripted interviews, each finished product is a 44-minute, artfully woven collage. A balance of personal narrative, moving testimony from parents and families of the deceased and vivid reconstructed footage of the operations, the documentary exposes the raw reality of being a special operations member. Each episode details their experiences, such as living in close quarters with other men, building complex interpersonal relationships within the platoon and being attacked with an Improvised Explosive Device.
The focus on intimate story-telling — rather than on tactics or heroic dramatization — speaks to the objective behind the project. “This is a human story. This is not about geopolitics; this is not about national interest,” Baumgarten said. “The whole point of this is to give (the) human aspect — … our reflections, thoughts, feelings.”
The idea for the docuseries originated with the producers’ close relationships with their fellow veterans — friends who could not remember what had happened and constantly asked for their wartime stories to be retold. For their sakes, the producers decided to create this series as a testimony to their experiences during war.
Mendoza cited various challenges that they experienced in bringing the project to fruition, including pitching the idea to various entertainment networks, finding the market for this type of exposition and reaching out to their team members to participate.
One of the major challenges the producers found themselves battling was the entrenched, Hollywood-generated perception of soldiers and war created by films such as “The Hurt Locker” or “American Sniper.” “The battle is keeping our vision … (in) an industry that doesn’t get that,” Baumgarten said.
In contrast to the commercially focused vision of success, the producers defined success for the project as their ability to bridge the gap of understanding between military personnel and civilians or families. Baumgarten saw “The Warfighters” as a means for those who found it difficult to articulate their wartime experiences and connect with their families. He called it “a frustrating thing, when you come home, and you don’t know how to tell your family about the last 10 years of your life. This show articulates it for them.”
Bryan Rippee ’17, a former special operations combat medic, spoke about the goal to close the civil-military divide. To veteran students, the experience of attending Brown post-combat can be alienating and isolating, Rippee said.
“The experience that I had, between 18 and 22, it’s just so much different that … for the first couple years here, I felt very insulated from the culture.” He added that entering into a rigorous academic environment like Brown after having been outside of formalized education posed an additional hurdle.
It is for this reason that the Office of Student Veterans and Commissioning Programs aims to attract both veteran and non-veteran students to their arts and cultural events. “Any time there’s an avenue for discussion, where we can draw on our experiences as veterans, we’re game to do it,” Rippee said. “If there’s a gap between student veterans and more traditional students at Brown, … the burden is on us to communicate our experiences and let people know.”
Correction: A previous version of this article referred to the Office of Student Veterans and Commissioning Programs as the Student Veterans Commissioning Program. The Herald regrets the error.