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Frontline: A Company of Soldiers

Edward Jarvis
Wednesday, February 23, 2005; 11:00 AM

In "A Company of Soldiers," Frontline reports from inside the U.S. Army's 8th Cavalry Regiment stationed in Baghdad for an up-close, intimate look at the dangers facing an American military unit in Iraq. Shot in the weeks following the U.S. presidential election, the film tracks the day-to-day challenges facing the 8th Cavalry's Dog Company as it suddenly has to cope with a dramatic increase in attacks by insurgents.

Watch "A Company of Soldiers" on Tuesday, Feb. 22, at 9 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings). Then, join producer Edward Jarvis online Wednesday, Feb. 23, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the report.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Marietta, Ga.: I've heard that several PBS stations air a modified version of the program. The way it was edited the documentary seemed extremly sanitized. I'm wondering if the Atlanta stations aired a sanitized version. If so, how can we view the complete footage...?

Edward Jarvis: Hi Marietta. The "sanitized" version of the film that I think you you are referring to is the same as the original apart from 13 expletives which were bleeped by PBS for fear of incurring a fine from the FCC. Apparently 50 stations showed the raw version.


Saint Louis, Mo.: I was wondering if you had shot any footage that you were later asked not to include in the documentary by the government or military.

Edward Jarvis: Under the terms of our embedding agreement we had to show a rough cut of the film to a Pentagon official for security clearance purposes only. They had no editorial control over the film at all. In the event there was only one shot they were concerned about. This was the name of an intelligence official whose name appeared on a document that appeared in the film. We blurred the name and the shot remained in the film.


Sumter, S.C.: Will you be keeping up with D-Company and their activities and will you be making a future report on them?

Edward Jarvis: At the moment no, there are no plans for any kind of follow-up but maybe it is something we should be looking at.


Anonymous: How long did you stay in Iraq before the documentary?

Edward Jarvis: We didn't. Originally we had wanted to go to Camp Falcon a week or two before filming began in order to have a look around and select a group to film. In the event we were told that the level of protection required just to get people to the base from the airport was such that this would not be possible. We therefore arrived in Baghdad, spent one night at Camp Victory before being taken to Camp Falon the following day and from that point on our work on the film started.


Richmond, Va.: Fantastic program last night. Great cinematography, editing and storytelling. As a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet, I am curious to know if the Army put any restrictions on your efforts to capture the raw environment of combat in Iraq? Was there a PAO rep who followed your team or influenced the content?

Thank you.

Edward Jarvis: Thanks for your comments about the film. The Army put no restrictions on us whilst we were filming, partly I think because we were a documentary which would not be going out for several months and therefore there was practically no possibility of compromising any on-going operations but also because they were aware the film would be security cleared before going to air. There was a PAO officer who helped us in the early part of the filming but the logistics of our team and the nature of what we were doing meant it would have been virtually impossible for him to be with us 24/7. There was only one scene we were asked not to film and that was when an officer received a personal threat and his men were asked if they wanted to leave his team because of the increased threat level. They felt that our presence might inhibit their choice so they asked us not to film. Needless to say they all chose to stay on the team.


Alexandria, Va.: Has SPC Travis Babbitt (deceased) been nominated for the "Congressional Medal-of-Honor"? His heroic actions to defend his fellow soldiers (while mortally wounded) surely would result in a MOH being awarded to him posthumously. Please respond? Thanks.

Edward Jarvis: Specialist Babbitt has been nominated for a Silver Star by his fellow soldiers. As of this moment the application is pending.


Grand Rapids, Mich.: First of all, I want to commend you on a top notch production. I watched it in its entirety last night and was mesmerized.

My question is, are there plans to do more of these types of programs (riding with the soldiers, showing what they face on a regular basis) in the future?

Edward Jarvis: Thanks for your comments about the film. I would hope that there would be more films made in the future but we don't have any plans at the moment, although this could change. The BBC in London is currently showing a series about British soldiers in Southern Iraq.


Washington, D.C.: The soldiers displayed an almost total inability to understand the perspective and concerns (let alone the language) of the civilians around them. Very little compassion or understanding was evident in the behavior of the military and consequently no rapport, professional or otherwise, appeared to exist between the Americans and Iraqis. How crucial is this relationship to the success of the U.S. mission in Iraq, and is it possible for the U.S. to engage in nation-building without it?

Edward Jarvis: Communication was and is a big problem as we were to witness on a number of occasions. They US have a few Arab interpreters who are in the main used by the senior officers. The civil affairs units hire Iraqis who speak English with varying degrees of fluency. This can and does lead to problems, especially in threatening situations. Also small mistranslations can lead to problems when the army does not understand fully what the situation is and what is being asked of them. And to compound matters the translaters put themselves in enormous danger just by working for the Americans - if you check the programme website you will see an interview with two translaters who worked for Dog Company and will be able to see the risks they are taking.


Seattle, Wash.: Hello Edward,

Thank you for your amazing documentary. How did you come to choose this particular unit? Was it your choice, did you have them chosen prior to entering the country, or were you assigned to them?

Edward Jarvis: Hi, thanks for the positive comments. After we were asked to look into the idea of making this film i did a bit of research into what various units were doing in Iraq and then rang them to check out the possibility of making a film. We all liked the idea of 5BCT, which is based at Camp Falcon, because its area was Shia and Sunni, urban and rural and they seemed to cover the full spectrum of operations that the Army was and is performing in Iraq. They agreed to us joining them. when we arrived at the camp we explained that we wanted to film a unit that did everything from nation-building, economic regeneration as well as combat duties. Several companies were suggested and we were being introduced to the commander of one of these when the church bombings happened. From that moment onwards we didn't stop running and after about a week we realised that we had our unit. we hadn't even made it to the others we were planning to see. So you could say that they chose us rather than the other way round.


North Tonawanda, N.Y.: I really enjoyed your film last night. It showed me some great projects the soldiers do for the people, that we don't normally hear about on national television. One of those projects would be the indoor market. On your television program it was brought up that the Iraqi's were being charged to use it. Were the Iraqi's reimbursed, and are there plans to open it in the near future?
Thank you

Edward Jarvis: This was quite a complicated story which we, and the army, found quite tricky to unravel and exemplifies the difficulties in Iraq. There were around 140 licensed stall holders for whom the new stalls had been built. One of the problems was that there were about another 150 unlicensed traders who also wanted a stall if the Army was to achieve its task of moving everyone inside and off the street. The figures obviously don't add up. The market manager said he would build some more units so everyone could move. On top of that the new administration had reintroduced taxes which the stall holders had stopped paying some years previously. And it was the sheik's job to collect these taxes. It was all quite chaotic and everyone looked to the Army to resolve the situation. As of this moment the new market remains empty, although they are hoping to have it up and running by March.


Myrtle Beach, S.C.: Regarding the dog that was shot: Did I miss something because I didn't notice any aggression from those dogs. Watching the reaction from the Iraqi who approached that dog after it was shot was .... profound.

Edward Jarvis: The doctor said the dog was going to attack him but the view of the team who witnessed the shooting was that it clearly wasn't.


Richmond, Va. (again): Another question: what cameras/format did you use to shoot the footage? HD? DV? Which specific cameras? Edited with Avid?


Edward Jarvis: We used a DSR 500 and PD150 and I took with me some lipstick cameras with specially adapted miniature recording units. Our sound was record on DAT. We also took a night-vision lense and tiny infra red lights.


Grand Rapids, Mich.: Were any of the documentary crew injured while in Iraq?

Edward Jarvis: Thanks for asking but no, no-one from the team was hurt.


Tampa, Fla.: This story was great!

I admire the troops for their courage and you also for being there. How would you describe soldier morale overall?

Edward Jarvis: The morale of the unit we filmed with and the soldiers on our base as a whole was very good.


Paragould, Ar: Great show last night! I have friends at Camp Falcon and they were always telling me how they were attacked right there at base with rocket attacks. I got to see a little of what they were experiencing when you showed the attack that injured the MP. Are things better at Camp Falcon today?

Edward Jarvis: Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. I personally felt that the rockets were one of the hardest things to endure just because they are so arbitrary. And whilst the aim of those who were firing them was not perfect they were close enough and frequent enough to cause concern. Things quietened down a bit after we left, although I think there was further trouble during the election period.


Nederland, Colo.: How much do soldiers discuss the political implications of their activities? How diverse are their opinions? NPR recently aired an account of a soldier reporting that when the 9/11 Commission Report stated Iraq was not connected to the 9/11 attacks, he and all his buddies were really surprised and felt they weren't there for the reasons they thought they were. What do the soldiers you met believe about the reasons for being there? Thank you.

Edward Jarvis: It's difficult to talk about the soldiers' views as a whole because actually we found a wide range of views and opinions amongst them. There were some who felt they should not be there. We did not set out to make a political film but we found most of them understood the implications of their activities and believed in their mission. But ultimately they are obeying orders and so they do their job regardless of whether they really believe in it. In our experience most did believe in what they were doing. It's a personal opinion and they are professionals doing their job.


Deltona, Fla.: I was riveted to the TV as 'Frontline' was being aired. I could not help feeling the fear our soldiers are experiencing every moment they spend in Iraq. To my mind, this is one war we simply CANNOT win. Every Iraqi I saw looks so ominous. How can we trust these people,especially since we don't speak their language?And although we avoid referring to the insurgents as Guerillas,it was refreshing to hear one of the members of Dog Company refer to them as just that-Guerillas.This is a classic case of guerilla warfare!!!I just could not help reminiscing on Willia Pomeroy's "War of the Flea",where the fleas are everywhere,sucking away at the lifeblood of the big,fierce,ferocious Dog!!Regis Debray and Che and Fidel must be rubbing their hand in glee!

Edward Jarvis: Hi glad you liked the film. I think you are correct to say that this the Sunni insurgency is waging a classic guerrilla war as they try to prevent power slipping from their grasp. But this does not mean they represent the entire population. Many are glad Saddam Hussein has gone. They just want security so they can rebuild their lives. I felt that the situation on the ground was far worse than I had been led to believe but at the same time there is clearly cause for optimism as Iraq has all the ingredients to be a successful country. There are just a lot of hurdles in the way and it is going to take a lot of time and effort to achieve this.


Detroit, Mich.: Absolutely fantastic work.
Did the soldiers or military officials ever voice resentment over your presence as a personal intrusion or negative impact on their ability to perform?

Edward Jarvis: Thanks. We tried very hard to be as unobtrusive as we could and we also worked hard to ensure we did not get in the way of whatever they were doing, especially in combat situations. And as far as I am aware there was never any resentment at our presence and we did not impinge in any way on their ability to conduct their work, including combat.


Ann Arbor, Mich.: Great piece of work. Thanks for doing it.

Condi Rice once wrote:
"The President must remember that the military is a special instrument. It is lethal, and is meant to be. It is not a civilian police force. It is not a political referee. And it is certainly not designed to build a civilian society."

In the piece your team describes other missions related to building and promoting the local economy. How do the soldiers on the ground view this work? Are they prepared for it? Is this something our military forces can accomplish?

Edward Jarvis: Hi Ann. I think you raise a very good point. Armies are designed and trained to fight not to build nations. But today around the world this appears to be changing with many forces stepping into countries where the administration has collapsed. To be honest i think the soldiers' were doing valuable work in their efforts to rebuild but it is not really what they are trained to do. For that you really need a civilian structure to plan, oversee and carry out the work. The real problem in Iraq was in the absence of any political structure the Army has been left to deal with it. And whilst it is doing a good job it is rather a blunt instrument to achieve this tak.


Boston, Mass.: Your documentary was extremely informative, especially for those who do not have family, or friends serving in Iraq. It was good not to just hear daily updates from reporters, or the discussion of broad, hypothetical topics from pundits and politicians. My question is how do the experiences of soldiers serving in the urban surroundings of Iraq, differ from those serving in rural Afghanistan?

Edward Jarvis: Thank you for your comments. Unfortunately I have never been to Afghanistan so I am unable to answer this question


Dover, N.H.: Hi Mr.Jarvis, did I read correctly that the unit called 'Dog Company' is an idea inspired by Mr Rumsfeld, and if so, has Mr Rumsfeld used these tactics elswhere, and if he has, I would like to know where and when and how much success he has had using these tactics prior. Thank-you

Edward Jarvis: Hello. It is the Fifth Brigade Combat Team (5BCT) which has been pulled together specifically for Iraq. I'm not an expert but the Army has been going through some pretty big changes and adapting to the new types of wars and operations it is being asked to perform. The overall idea is to make it much more flexible, able to deploy at short notice and carry out a broad range of tasks. This is also necessary because of the relative shortage of manpower - something every officer we spoke to admitted. As such the 5BCT has been pulled together at short notice purely for a one year period in Iraq.


Honolulu, Hawaii: Enjoyed your remarkable film very much -- even with the unfortunate sanitizing! Did the families of the soldiers get advance notice so that they could watch those very brave Americans that belonged to them? Thanks again for an amazing experience.

Edward Jarvis: Thanks, I hope the bleeps did not detract too much from the film. We wrote letters to the families of Spc Babbitt and White so that they would not be taken by surprise, although i think in the event they will be very proud of what they see and i think the film is a fitting tribute to two brave soldiers. I am in email contact with the rest of the soldiers and they know all about the film and when it was due to be broadcast. I am also in email contact with one or two family members who have contacted me since i returned from Baghdad.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: Have you received any feedback from Specialist Babbitt's family? In a strange way, I thought that they might feel somewhat comforted by knowing how well respected he was as a soldier and how the unit felt about him. The memorial service there was so touching.

Edward Jarvis: We haven't heard from them directly but we have sent personal letters to their relatives informing them about the film


Marietta, Ga.: Is there any way I could send a note to the owner of the dog that was killed to let him know I am sorry it happened?

Edward Jarvis: Sadly, I can't help you on that one. The only detail I know is that he lives in the village of Horjeb.


Fort Wayne, Ind.: Why is the narrator not given a credit?
Was this company supplied with more or less armored vehicles?

Edward Jarvis: The narrator is the director Tom Roberts.


Denton, Tex.: Hi.
My name is Ulises Reyes. Private Reyes would be my brother. We all sat down today to watch the program featuring him and his fellow comrades. I really do miss him and this makes him seem more closer to home then his letters or phone calls. Our family thanks you for putting together this so that we may see what it's really like over there, and how my brother lives from day to day. So thanks again for this opportunity.

Edward Jarvis: Thanks. It was a privilege to meet him. He was a genuinely decent and thoughful individual. You can be very proud of him.


Bowling Green, Ohio: How would you describe the effects of war on soldiers, such as those in Dog Company, during and especially after combat?

Edward Jarvis: I think this is something that will not really manifest itself until after they return home. That is when they will have to deal with the trauma of the events they have taken part in and witnessed.


Houston, Tex.: I want to say thank you forgiving us a documentary to see what really goes on.

Sargeant Garcia is my cousion, which is more like a brother, just thanks for doing it so we really get to see what he does.

Edward Jarvis: Hi, nice to hear from you. I'm glad you liked the film and hope he will too when he gets back, which should be shortly. It was a real pleasure to be with him.


Ft Rucker, Ala.: Awesome Doc! The very best I've ever seen. I was moved beyond belief!

Scott Childress

Edward Jarvis: Hi Scott. Nice to get positive feedback from a fellow film-maker.


Smyrna, Ga.: I watched "A Company of Soldiers" and disliked the dismal day to day protrayal of soldiers in Iraq. I suspect you carfully edited your personal views into the program. War and its description is seldom pleasant, but sometimes necessary. Why is it the media's goal to spin events to suit its viewpoint. Killing the dog (Dog company) certainly completed the spin. Try to be less clever and more reality in future productions

Edward Jarvis: Obviously I disagree with you but you are entitled to your opinion. As far as I am concerned we set out to faithfully and accurately portray the life of the American soldier in Iraq and I believe that this is what we have achieved.


Providence, R.I.: How much did the troops talk about the protests/sentiment back home and how much did it affect them either positively or negatively?

Edward Jarvis: Whilst they are obviously are of the protests back home the intensity of their daily activities mean they don't really dwell on it too much. I do think that deep down they probably feel slightly hurt to feel that not everyone is behind them given what they are going through.


Edward Jarvis: Thanks everyone for all the positive comments about the film, it's really great that most of you feel this was an honest and illuminating account of what the troops are going through in Iraq. Thanks also for taking the time to email me with your questions. It was an interesting discussion.


Boston, Mass.: Very powerful program last night.

Do you care to draw any comparisons to the Vietnam war with respect to military actions or war reporting in general?

Edward Jarvis: That's a difficult question because I could write a thesis on the answer. Basically, the insurgency can't win this war as long as the US and Britain stay. In strategic terms the Sunni cities are surrounded by desert without effective means of resupply - there is no Laos or Cambodia - nor any possibility of an outside army, like the North Viet army, joining the conflict. Further, the insurgents cannot ever hope to unify Iraq, it is too divided and the Shias have long realised, that although they do not like the Western presence, they know it will deliver them power, so they see the Sunni insurgency as threat to their gaining power. The Kurds are pro-western and will work with us - not join the insurgency. On the otherhand, it is highly unlikely that we can militarily defat the insurgency as they are too entrenched within the Sunni community. The only possiblity, in my view, for a resolution of the conflict is the long, bloody process of slowly building the Iraqi state security forces up until they can destroy the insurgency. The Jihadists will thus continue to attack the Iraqi government and the Shia community in an effort to destablise the country. So it will be two steps forward, one back for the forseeable future. As Bush says he won't cut and run, expect to see US troops in Iraq on the day he leaves office.


Dayton, Ohio: What is the maximum tour length for soldiers assigned to combat? How much of a concern is the drop-off of enlistments to the Marines and Army?

Edward Jarvis: As far as I am aware 12 months. I didn't really have any discussions with anyone about the drop-off in enlistments.


Fort Leavenworth, Kans.: I served in Ar Ramadi for 12 months in OIF I (Apr 03-Mar 04). I feel this really portrayed what is was like. What was your personal reaction to what daily life is like? Thank you.

Edward Jarvis: That's a good question. At the time I just wanted to make sure I was doing my job and not compromise anyone's safety. In the longer term I'm not sure yet, it still hasn't really sunk in.


Bethesda, Md.: Are the troops still under the impression that they are fighting terrorism there? Is that misconception necessary for maintaining morale? Do they believe that the Sunni insurgents would somehow decide to come attack America if we didn't kill them there first?

Edward Jarvis: I think the US troops are under the impression, correctly in my view, that the Sunni insurgency they are fighting is the main obstacle to establishing stability in Iraq. I don't think they believe America is directly threatened by the insurgents. Their mission is to stablise and help rebuild Iraq and the insurgency stands in the way of that.


Philadelphia, Pa.: There are reports that approximately one quarter of our casualties are from friendly fire. What did you see that makes this such a problem? How hard is it to quickly respond to an attack and attempt to properly identify who to fire upon?

Edward Jarvis: We haven't seen any reports like you mention but I do recall that the 25% figure was supposedly the case in WWII. I think things have improved substantially although it is still a considerable worry as Lt. Col Allen actually warns in the film as well as Major Leiker as his troops dismount from the Humvees during the ambush - so it still must happen.


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