“The Outpost”

 

            The dialogue is not easy to understand at first.  The soldiers use a lot of slang, peppered with scatology and personal invective.  All part of the comaraderie, the culture of the tough guys who knew they were not in a good spot.

            2009.  Afghanistan.  Somewhere nearly inaccessible.  Mountains ascending above them, with endless switchback trails.  Their forward base was called Keating.  Their mission, supposedly, was to do good P.R. Work with the local council of indigenous elders.  Assure them tha the United States military was only there to help remove the Taliban.  Ask them to turn in their weapons, hopeful that the Taliban weren't using them.  The captain as the one in charge of meeting with the elders, along with an interpreter.  But captains kept rotating in and out and at an alarming pace.  Nobody else knew anything about negotiations.  All they knew is that every day, they got shot at.  The Taliban would suddenly appear above them, there would be a brief firefight, and the Taliban guerillas would melt away into the mountains again.  It was a nervous, edgy was to live.  Guys got wounded regularly, sometimes killed.  Some of the soldiers suffered from psychological fatigue.  Some the captains they sent were better than others at leading the rest of the men.  Their interpreter kept telling them that one day there would be a big attack from the Taliban.  He said it so often that the men began to regard him like the little boy who crief “Wolf!”  Until one day the big attack did happen.

            The camp was ill-prepared for defense.  There wasn't a good plan to shrink the perimeter in order to maintain coordination and communication.  It was a  lot of yelling, screaming, chaos, gunfire, smoke and confusion.  But somehow, in the midst of all the terror, some solid battlefield leadership emerged.  Some sergeants kept their wits about them.  A Lietenant took command when he needed to.  They all understood that they were literally fighting for the lives, because if they were overrun, they wouldn't be taken prisoner.  Supposedly, there was air support on its way, but it would be a while.  Supposedly, there were ground reinforcements on their way, but they would be a while arriving, also.  So, for now, it was just this squad and its own resourcefulness.  It was the first time in 50 years that 2 medals of honor were awarded to living soldiers from the same unit.

            Yes, underlying all the laudable valor is the more difficult question of why we were----are---in Afghanistan in the first place, and if any ostensible objectives have been accomplished.  But whether the rationale for combat is clear, the American soldier is capable of great valor, even defending an objective of questionable tactical value (amply demonstrated when the Keating Outpost was subsequently abandoned by U.S. forces, anyway, as “indefensible”). 

            Director Rod Lurie projects the viewers into the maelstrom of a combat firefight, along with the predictably sobering aftermath, featuring several sons of famous actors/directors/musicians.  It's an unexpected tribute to an unusual legacy.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association