Sitting with his father, Daniels clicked play. The menacing snap of gunfire and Daniels’s calls for help filled the small kitchen. His father watched in silence, his eyes growing red. When the video was over, he rose from the kitchen table and left the room without speaking. There was no hug. No warm pat on the back. “That is not my dad,” Daniels said. “He is not one to show a lot of emotion. But I could tell it really touched him. I think he was scared for me.”
Daniels imagined that some day he would sit with his two boys and play the video for them, just as he had done for his father. The best way to preserve the footage, he decided, would be to upload it to a private YouTube channel. When he returned to Fort Carson, Colo., in September, he created the channel and started to upload the file, intending to set the channel to private as soon as the footage was finished loading. The process would take about 56 minutes.
Daniels ran some errands in town in the meantime, and when he returned, he had received a message from Funker530, the screen name of the proprietor of a YouTube channel featuring combat footage from Afghanistan. Funker530 may have set up an alert notifying him when someone uploaded war-related footage. His message complimented Daniels on the video and asked for permission to display it.
Daniels’s hands, voice and rifle are in the video, but he isn’t visible. He figured that only the soldiers from his unit would recognize him. He said okay.
Funker530 sent him a few background questions. The firefight had taken place along a ridge in eastern Afghanistan’s Konar province, Daniels responded. The “rest of the squad was pinned down by machine gun fire,” he wrote. “I came out into the open to draw fire so my squad could get to safety.”
Two days later, Daniels’s first sergeant called him at home. “Is that you in a video online?” he asked. CNN, Fox News and MSNBC had spotted the 4th Infantry Division patch on his shoulder and were asking questions. Daniels’s commanders in Afghanistan wanted the video deleted immediately. Daniels felt sick.
He killed his YouTube channel and wrote to Funker530: “Hey Buddy, I am in a really big jam and my command down range wants the video removed or it’s my ass! This is as high as brigade and division level. Please help me out man. I don’t need the extra stress on my ass! Please take down the video. Thanks Brother.”
Funker530 did not respond.
In the public eye
By early October, Daniels’s footage had become a sensation. “This is not Xbox,” a CNN anchor gushed, five days after it appeared on YouTube. “What you’re about to see is real. The Pentagon is telling us it happened, and it happened in Afghanistan in April.”