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Citizen Soldier is an excellent documentary, from soldiers’ perspectives, made freshly relevant by the infuriating revelations that top Department of Defense officials were blatantly violating their oaths of office and actively lying to the civilian elected leadership, President Trump and the Congress, about troops these excrement heaps in suits were keeping in harm’s way. President Eisenhower was entirely right to warn of the deeply corrupting congruence of profit and career in the name of our national security. To understand on whom the Department of Defense are really imposing costs, watch Citizen Soldier.
I finally viewed Citizen Soldier this past Friday with a group of friends who are not veterans. We were all a little skeptical when we popped the DVD in the player, worried that it would be amateurish and not the subject matter that lends itself to being so bad it is good. Everyone gave the movie a thumbs up. We had briefly talked about the forsworn, lawless leadership at the Department of Defense. This movie captured deployment at the height of the Obama Afghanistan surge. The comments after the lights came up were not entirely printable about the top Pentagon leadership then and now.
Citizen Soldier feels like a multiplayer first-person shooter, always from the perspective of one of the soldiers. The view over gun barrels will look very familiar if you ever played or saw a bit of a game being played on a computer screen. This is because the footage comes from small, light video cameras, like GoPro, mounted on the soldiers’ helmets. So, this was an intentional project, from before their deployment, to tell the story of a company company of “citizen soldiers,” the Oklahoma Army National Guard’s 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, known since World War II as the “Thunderbirds.” A thunderbird is on their diamond-shaped unit patch.
The soldiers deployed at reduced strength, just two platoons instead of three, and the top leadership we see each day is a platoon leader, a lieutenant. Partway through, we see one of the platoon leaders killed and the soldiers recovering his body, all from the immediate, grunt-level perspective of men who were there. The only footage notably different is of the same charter service jet returning first one and then another fallen hero to their home town. Yes, you see the wife meet the flag-draped coffin in one case, and the mother meet the other. This is not an easy movie to watch, even though it never goes for cheap sentiment.
The source material is both the strength and the minor weakness of this film. The beginning and the end of the movie are National Guard messaging, standard-issue remarks, and talking points about the value of not “part-time” but “citizen” soldiers. The closing credits include a roll of the National Guard’s war dead, by state, since 2001. My viewing companions commented that the ages looked higher than what they expected from years of Vietnam movies. Yes, the Guard and Reserve do tend to be slightly older and stay in units at older ages than their active-duty counterparts. The soldier-eye view conveys a valuable perspective. You share the feeling of just how formidable the terrain is, and the frustrating, frightening limitations on what you can see and hear as you are surrounded by mostly unseen dangers. There is not flying into an overhead view. The weakness, if it is one, is the same limited perspective, a lack of larger context which they might have from maps on their Combat Operating Post, their small outpost.
Citizen Soldier is well worth the watch. It is on Amazon Prime, currently requiring a rental fee. You can also directly download it or get the physical media from the movie’s website, linked at the top of this review. While rated R, it does not have gratuitous violence, nor any gore, and the language is less salty than a Hollywood version of soldiers in the field. Check it out.