Helmet-cams have the potential to explode the illusion of order and control. Soldiers can click record and quickly forget the devices are there. The cameras capture the brutality, fear and chaos of modern war without filter.
There is no blanket ban on helmet cameras, which are permitted in some units and prohibited in others. Daniels bought his helmet-cam, a GoPro Hero 3, for about $250 at the Army post exchange at Fort Carson. The cameras are so popular with the military that in 2011 GoPro started manufacturing a mount designed especially for combat helmets.
As one of two soldiers in his company’s intelligence cell, Daniels used his camera to record potential enemy activity and capture his personal war experience. Whenever he was on patrol, the camera was on his helmet.
The Army viewed Daniels’s video as a potential propaganda victory for the Taliban. In it, he is helpless, scared and alone. His fellow soldiers appear to have abandoned him. “If I were a Taliban propaganda video producer, I would be personally thanking this soldier for uploading this video to YouTube,” said Maj. Chris Thomas, an Army spokesman in Afghanistan.
Because Daniels recorded the video with his own camera on a military patrol, it is not clear whether he or the Army owns it.
Daniels’s commanders couldn’t control his video. But they could control Daniels, and until recently ordered him not to talk about it in public. Soon it seemed like everyone, with the exception of Daniels, was talking about the video. In four months on YouTube, it has drawn more than 80,000 comments. The people who were watching and commenting did not know anything about Daniels, but that did not stop them from speculating on his intelligence, motives and battlefield savvy.
“This guy’s logic was stupid,” wrote sprayprayanddie. “He should be staying at home playing Call of Duty.”
“This dude is brave as hell!” countered jcg1984. “He’s drawing fire so his team can maneuver!”
Others wondered why Daniels’s fellow soldiers weren’t rushing to his rescue. They criticized the way he shot his rifle, loaded his magazines and scrambled for cover. On CNN a retired general, brought in to analyze the footage, speculated on Daniels’s state of mind. “You don’t want to put this guy off to the side and have him get into his own little dark hole,” said Maj. Gen. James “Spider” Marks. “Get him back into the action. Let him respond.”