[Rushtalk] 3 Years After Iraq, the Marines of 'Generation Kill' Regret Nothing

Carl Spitzer cwsiv at juno.com
Wed Feb 1 16:18:51 MST 2017

Military.com | Dec 22, 2016 | by Hope Hodge Seck 
For many Americans, civilian and military, the most intimate look at the
2003 invasion of Iraq comes through the eyes of a company of wry
reconnaissance Marines who trade insults and belt Avril Lavigne songs to
ward off sleeplessness and boredom as they plunge deep into an unknown
combat zone as shock troops in thinly protected Humvees.

As captured by Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright in a series of
articles that would later spawn a book, "Generation Kill," and an HBO
miniseries of the same name, the Marines of Bravo Company, 1st
Reconnaissance Battalion, find themselves at the front lines of the
invasion, improvising ways to fight in unfamiliar terrain and navigating
the moral quandaries of combat, under the leadership of junior officers
they don't always understand or trust and enlisted leaders seemingly
fixated on enforcing the ubiquitous Marine Corps "grooming standard."

Bubbling below the surface is a fundamental difference of perspective
between the elite and irreverent Recon Marines and a larger Marine Corps
with an allergy to exceptionalism and a need for all Marines to toe a
strict line.

And at the helm of the entire assault is a familiar figure: Maj. Gen.
James Mattis, who called the men of 1st Recon "cocky, obnoxious
bastards" and sent them to the front, saying he prized their courage
over the armor and gear of better-equipped units. Mattis, now a retired
four-star general and the former commander of U.S. Central Command, was
nominated this month to become secretary of defense.

Thanks to the runaway popularity of "Generation Kill," the Marines got
something else they hadn't bargained for -- a measure of celebrity and
recognition that continues to follow them, to varying extents, a decade
later. Some have traded on their fame, while others have just tried to
move on. But the Marines of Bravo Company who spoke with Military.com
said they remain glad that their story was told, and proud of their
service in what would be a long and costly war.

Thrust into the Spotlight

If a single protagonist emerges in "Generation Kill," it's Sgt. Brad
Colbert, a wry, intellectual 28-year-old team leader whose coolness
under pressure earns him the nickname "Iceman."

While most of the enlisted Marines in Bravo Company who make appearances
in the book and show left the Marine Corps shortly after their
deployment, Colbert chose to make a career of the Corps, retiring Oct.
24 as a master sergeant with 20 years of service.

When he spoke with Military.com in July, Colbert, 42, was still on
active duty as a project officer for Raids and Amphibious Reconnaissance
at Marine Corps Systems Command, the branch of the service responsible
for developing and acquiring new gear and equipment.

For Colbert, the attention that came with his inadvertent starring role
was a mixed blessing; for Marines looking for a long-term future in the
Corps, conventional wisdom says to "keep off the skyline" or out of the
public eye -- particularly as part of a group of foul-mouthed Marines
holding forth with complete candor on subjects ranging from their unit
leadership to the state of race and class in America.

As the articles came out and began to receive attention from the Marine
Corps, Colbert said he was called in to several meetings with service
leaders, including Mattis himself, to account for the portrayal. He
assured the leaders that the conversations were not a sign of dissension
in the ranks, but rather a "ground-eye view of warfare."

"I don't tell my Marines in the heat of battle what to say and what to
think," he said. "What I ask my Marines to do is execute commander's
intent. And I like to think my Marines did what was asked of them and

On a personal level, Colbert said his feelings about "Generation Kill"
evolved over time.

"It's like listening to yourself on the answering machine; you sound
like an idiot," he said of seeing his conversations and remarks
reproduced. "I was excited, because I wanted to be able to share my
experiences with the world, and I had a vehicle to do that. But at the
same time I would cringe. So many of the things I said, having them
thrown back in my face was embarrassing."

He did lose some friends, and said he experienced some ostracism within
the close-knit reconnaissance community as a result of the unvarnished
account. While some officers, such as 1st Lt. Nathaniel Fick, a platoon
commander, were generally well-regarded by the junior Marines and
noncommissioned officers, others were sometimes regarded as incompetent
or unable to handle the stress of combat, and given unflattering
nicknames such as "Encino Man" and "Captain America."

"At the end of the day, it was real events," Colbert said he ultimately
concluded. "No matter how gritty or politically incorrect, it was real

Colbert's vehicle driver and counterpart is Cpl. Josh Ray Person, a
whip-smart 22-year-old with a quick response to everything and a
penchant for energy drinks and caffeine. Today, he's a 36-year-old
father of three who is part of a software development start-up in Kansas

Person, who left the Marine Corps in 2003, shortly after returning from
his deployment to Iraq, said "Generation Kill" gave him a rare gift: the
opportunity to share his deployment experiences in the most realistic
way possible with his wife, whom he married in 2007. They attended the
2007 premiere of the show in Burbank, California, together, and it
brought them closer, Person said.

For her to be able to see it on the screen and have it so accurately
portrayed just visually, I loved that," Person said. " 'See that, that's
exactly what it was like.' That was what I enjoyed the most out of the
entire thing."

The miniseries, which has remained popular with Marines in part because
of its realism, was accurate at rates of "60 to 70 percent," Person
estimated, though the elements he singles out as not true-to-life have
little to do with major events in the deployment. The personalities of
the Marines were a bit exaggerated for the screen, and he complains,
tongue-in-cheek, that the actor who played him onscreen, James Ransone,
was a lot more petite than he is.

"They found a guy who's like, 'Hey, you're 120 pounds soaking wet,
perfect,' " he said. In the next breath, though, he admitted he and
Ransone had very similar personalities and that the actor portrayed him
pretty well.

"Generation Kill" has opened some doors for Person in his business
ventures, making people who recognize his name more willing to hear him
out. And he still occasionally has fans find him on social media, he
said. But the value of the series goes far beyond that for him. And he's
grateful for it, in part because of the clear-eyed way it approaches the
imperfections and ugliness of war.

"It was raw and real; it showed the confusion. It showed incorrect
decisions in hindsight," Person said. "That's life. It showed it in a
very raw way from a perspective that wasn't from the top down, it was
from the bottom up. It gave voice to the low-level guys who never had a
voice before."

Scenes that depict a small child inadvertently shot at a military
roadblock, an airstrike that decimates a compound full of Iraqi
civilians, and Marines trying to conduct crude crowd control with smoke
grenades show realities that haunt warfighters -- realities that the
public, for the most part, has the luxury of ignoring.

"War is stupid. War is ugly. War is confusion. War is death," Person
said. "[Generation Kill] shows that 19- and 20-year-olds are prosecuting
this war, for the most part. Here they are, having to navigate
geopolitics combined with group psychology and all these things. Yeah,
they're going to bumble. Even barring all of that, what we're capable of
and what humans are capable of is phenomenal. I think people are used to
seeing the reality of things. They have never really gotten that from
war journalism."

Life After Generation Kill

A significant number of the the Marines from Bravo Company were brought
in at some point to consult on the "Generation Kill" miniseries, a fact
that unquestionably contributed to its realism and accuracy.

But no one was more involved than Rudy Reyes, a sergeant and team leader
who agreed to play himself in the show -- a surreal experience, he says,
in which he said lines as himself that he'd never really say.

Reyes, 44, has made better use of the publicity that came with
"Generation Kill" than perhaps anyone else involved with the project.
For him, it's been a springboard into a fitness modeling and acting
career and a host of other military-related projects. He's a spokesman
for brands including Pentax Camera and Beyond Clothing. But he won't let
anyone forget that he's a Marine first.

Reyes was never your stereotypical grunt. The members of his unit called
him "Fruity Rudy" because he was "so beautiful," journalist Evan Wright
wrote, though he insists he's no more appealing than any of the "young
gods" he went to war with. Reyes comes across as a mixture of Bruce Lee
and zen master on screen, and he has a meditative way of speaking that
can contrast startlingly with his frank discussion of war.

Reyes, who still makes public appearances based on his "Generation Kill"
fame, said he noticed the series had made a resurgence among troops and
the general public as the country finds itself once again at war in
Iraq, trying to eliminate Islamic State militants from the air and in an
advisory capacity on the ground.

"When [the series] came out, it was too close and too timely. We were
not interested in veterans' issues at that time; we were not interested
in anything except forgetting," he said. "Now America is finally waking

Like many of the Marines portrayed in the show, Reyes makes no attempt
to gloss over the pain and the moral conflict he still grapples with,
more than a decade after the invasion.

"There is a gravity, there is a sadness, there is a rage that you carry
with you forever," he said. "I was hoping, when I did this work for HBO,
that we could find a way to peer into that world. I think it was a start
to open a dialogue for all of us, and open up a dialogue amongst
ourselves in the military communities. I still work on it. I still have
problems inside."

As far as Reyes is concerned, he owes no debt to the show for the
exposure it afforded him.

"I couldn't have done it without 'Generation Kill,' " he acknowledged.
"But then again, 'Generation Kill' wouldn't have existed without me
invading a country. Nobody gave anybody a hookup."

"Generation Kill" also springboarded the career of at least one of the
professional actors: Chance Kelly, who played the raspy-voiced Lt. Col.
Stephen "Godfather" Ferrando, the commander of 1st Reconnaissance
Battalion. Ferrando is portrayed as tough, unrelenting and ambitious,
and consumingly eager to stay in the good graces of Gen. Mattis, to
ensure his Marines stay on the front edge of the fight.

The show often appears to take the side of the junior enlisted Marines
with whom Wright spent most of his time, and Ferrando, like many of the
officers, is shown as flawed.

Both the book and the show end with a frank discussion between Ferrando
and Wright in which the reporter asks him about his seeming
over-aggressiveness to send Marines into the fray, and his decision to
keep an officer in his command who seemed to have become erratic and
violent in the face of combat. In the end, Wright concludes Ferrando was
"vindicated," as Mattis' choice of unit to prosecute the fight.

Kelly said he knew he had to get in touch with Ferrando himself when he
landed the role, and the two men quickly developed a friendly
relationship, he said. It was especially difficult, he said, to play
Ferrando as a conflicted character on the show after he had developed so
much respect for the officer personally.

"These guys were officers in 1st Recon, USMC. You do not get there by
being a bumbling idiot," Kelly said. "They went over there and they did
not have one death. They did not paint things [subtly] in that
black-and-white TV world. Ferrando gets an A-plus, I don't give a s---
what anybody says. "

Kelly's exposure in the show led to a host of new acting opportunities
-- he has since had roles in hit shows including "Fringe," "House of
Cards," "Homeland" and "Army Wives," as well as a role as a military
officer in the Bradley Cooper blockbuster "American Sniper" -- but it
has also given him rare access to military culture through the show's
fanbase. He laughs as he describes walking through Prague with his wife
five years ago and getting stopped by four Marines on leave who
immediately started calling him "Godfather."

"Everybody identifies with this, especially in the military. This is the
Bible to the Marines," he said. "There's no other show that profiles
Marine Corps life like this to date."

Moving On

There are some who have done their best to move past the fame and infamy
of "Generation Kill." For Jeffrey Carisalez, a lance corporal and
vehicle mechanic for Bravo Company, the deployment ended on a bitter
note with the relief of team leader and friend Sgt. Eric Kocher, after
another unit reported he and other Marines had been mistreating an Iraqi
prisoner, a point hotly disputed by the unit.

Carisalez, a salty-mouthed Marine who freely criticizes the Marine Corps
and the war throughout the deployment, was informed after his return
that he too could face administrative punishment for his comments. At
that point, he knew for sure he wanted out of the Corps.

"I popped smoke quick," he said. "I was on base like, two weeks at

Now he's an envelope-pushing stand-up comedian in Los Angeles who
performs five to seven nights a week, he said. Now 34, Carisalez' Marine
Corps service was the better part of a lifetime ago. He's not an
enthusiastic fan of "Generation Kill," but he said it accurately
captured "how foul-mouthed and dirty we were."

It also provided a moment of vindication for Kocher, who called
Carisalez when the Rolling Stone feature came out to tell him, "Dude, we

Like many, Carisalez hopes the story paints a clearer picture of war's
realities for those who never served.

"Civilians can have attention deficit disorder," he said. "['Generation
Kill'] maybe exposes the trials, tribulations and struggles of these
guys that go up and stand for something bigger than themselves. Whether
than the war was right or wrong, these guys stood up for something
bigger than themselves."

On the other side of the spectrum is Walt Hasser, a good-natured Humvee
MK-19 grenade launcher gunner who spent three more years in the Marine
Corps following the 2003 deployment, leaving the service as a sergeant.

Now 36, Hasser works as a marksmanship trainer and a security consultant
in Texas. He has pointedly tried not to capitalize on the measure of
fame afforded by his involvement in "Generation Kill," but said his name
still gets recognized regularly by people he encounters through his
work, and one of his co-workers insists on calling him "Hollywood

Hasser's reservations about the series come not from any concerns about
how he was personally portrayed, but more from a reticence about the
publicity it afforded the traditionally secretive Marine reconnaissance

"As a recon Marine, we exposed our soft underbellies a little bit," he

Yet, over time, he like many others has concluded the story has
significance that goes beyond one unit and their experiences.

"If it was in my power to pull that story back, I wouldn't do that," he
said. "It's a hell of a time in our history. It's definitely important."

No Regrets

After the initial shock of "Generation Kill," most Marines embraced the
narrative and its author, Evan Wright. In 2005, he would receive the
General Wallace M. Greene Jr. award from the Marine Corps Heritage
Foundation for best non-fiction account depicting Marines and Marine
Corps life.

There were exceptions: Wright said he found himself briefly handcuffed
and escorted out by military police at Camp Pendleton, California, in
2004 after one of the junior officers he had described unfavorably
learned he was aboard the base.

Wright said he worked to involve as many Marines as possible in the
production of the show, with roughly a dozen participating in roles
ranging from consulting to background voice work. He said he's witnessed
up close the Marines' struggles with post-traumatic stress and
"darkness" since returning from Iraq. At least one man from Bravo
company has contended with serious mental illness since the deployment,
and several have had grave brushes with the law. In one case, Wright
testified as an expert witness in the defense of a Marine he met in Iraq
who was later arrested for homicide.

While some may come away from the book and the series conflicted about
the realities of war and the collateral damage sustained, Wright
maintains the men he traveled with have never received enough credit for
the disciplined war they prosecuted in a complex and unfamiliar

"It's so much easier to write about a firefight, where shootings
happened," he said. "The thing that I witnessed in 'Generation Kill'
that's so hard to dramatize is the many times that people took fire and
did not shoot back because they didn't have a legitimate target. Moral
courage and restraint; it was on the backs of [sergeants] and below that
our military succeeded."

While many of the Marines have stayed in touch in the years since the
invasion, Colbert and Wright both cited the warm friendship that has
grown between them through "Generation Kill."

For Colbert, his confidence in the project was bolstered when Wright
approached him to ask his blessing to turn the three-article Rolling
Stone series into a book. Despite the heat Colbert initially took
because of "Generation Kill," he said he has no regrets that the story
was told.

"I've spoken to sailors and soldiers and Marines and airmen. Almost to
the man or woman, the 'Generation Kill' book and following show seemed
to resonate so strongly," he said. "It didn't matter that it was a
Marine unit that was being portrayed. To not have that story told would
disenfranchise the experience of the U.S. military for the last 15
years. It is that everyman and every woman story; to be able to have
that narrative is invaluable."


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