This Story Of A Seven-Month Afghanistan Deployment Is The Grittiest You Will Ever Read


Photo: Video via PBS

The documentary Armadillo follows a platoon of Danish soldiers as they endure a six-month deployment to Afghanistan in what ends up being the bloodiest two years of the war, fought in Helmand, the most dangerous province of the country.The grunts start off green, inexperienced, unseasoned, even innocent. But as they explore the depths, the frustrations, and the subtle horrors of the cold moral abyss that is the face of combat, they discover things about themselves they never knew, until Afghanistan demanded an answer.

Scars, seen and unseen, take shape throughout the course of their deployment.

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Clean shaven and eager to fight — the troops line up to for the obligatory speech about duty, honour, etc

But the real camaraderie is displayed outside of formation — wresting and rough-housing brings the young troops closer — like brothers

The guys bond over other activities as well before they deploy — like hiring exotic dancers

Then, just like that, there are the airport goodbyes

Farewells to mums and girlfriends are the absolute hardest — truly like leaving a piece of yourself behind

And none of it really sinks in until you're making your way up the stairs and to the plane

Trapped in a tiny room deep in Afghanistan with a group of stinky dudes — they get it — six months without women

But some routines are the same everywhere and provide a calming consistency

'Mads' — calls home on to find his mother already had a late night scare when her phone rang in the early morning hours

It's on his mind the first patrol out of Armadillo when the troops are confronted with local civilians — some say to go home while others complain about dead livestock — still others tell the troops Taliban will certainly kill them

Many civilians badger the troops for any sort of hand out they can get, but always on guard, the troops shoo them away for their own safety

It's not long before combat smacks them in the mouth though. Here's Mads, looking at a computer screen-like targeting system in his armoured fighting vehicle, shooting heavy calibre rounds at running figures on a screen

Consistently you see the detached nature, and varied levels of combat, as soldiers watch the life-and-death unfold from a drone camera

Meanwhile Rasmus is on the ground, duking it out with well entrenched, hardened Taliban fighters

Running through smoke and gunfire, the patrol quickly becomes disoriented and the claustrophobic fog of war creeps in

The gunfight is pitched now, and Mads has had to jump out and reload his mounted weapons a few times — the number of rounds he's pouring on the enemy is indescribable

Suddenly it's over. They're back at the base. Ammunition's unloaded. All's quiet. Mads falls into one of those consistent habits — cleaning weapons, like gravity, is always there.

The next day the troops are planning a night patrol. Darkness can be worse than smoke and gunfire. Darkness is when the Taliban move.

Commander Rasmus is blown up by an improvised explosive device, but survives. The troops on the scene offer medical and emotional support.

The debrief after the patrol requires soldiers to methodically go through the step-by-step process by which the unit hit an IED — so it doesn't happen again

The next day at Armadillo, it's business as usual as an unmanned aerial vehicle catches three Taliban fighters out in the open

The guys at the controls radio in the news to command

While the fighting goes on, Rasmus heals and insists on being sent back to Armadillo

Others become reclusive, preferring just to sit alone, in peace

Rasmus comes back and the troops are noticeable happy to see him. A huge weight is lifted.

Soon after that he's back on the battlefield, calling for mortars

A mortarman misjudges a call though, and hits a group of children. The other troops console him.

Regardless of their conclusions, every day they leave the wire combat is there to greet them

A few members of a sister platoon hit an IED, and don't survive, so the troops decide to hold a memorial for them

The guys set the memorial aflame and fall silent watching it burn

The next day all action is focused on tracking down the Taliban fighters responsible for ambushing their friends, and a night raid is planned

Troops conduct a night-infiltration, setting up in town at an ambush point

As the sun rises, innocent bystanders flee from the town — one of many 'Combat Indicators'. The Taliban is fully embedded in the village and ready to fight.

Gunfire breaks out as teams move in to sweep out the enemy

Again confusion sets in as dust, kicked up by rockets and grenades, settles around the fight

One of the assaulters takes a hit, and immediately goes into shock — Kim the Medic rushes him off to the side for treatment

Another is hit in the shoulder as troops make the final push on deeply entrenched Taliban

While the body count is concluding a Medevac Swoops in and carts off the wounded Armadillo troops

Back at base, you can see the special kind of excitement and delight troops feel after finding themselves alive after a firefight

Daniel recounts in detail to the others how he had to strip the bodies

Spoils of war: The next day at an awards brief, the confiscated Taliban weapons are on display

During the ceremony the group shows a type of relaxation bought only by nearly six months in the field — that jumpy, anxious feeling is all but gone outside of combat and patrols

Then again, in the post brief, they go through an almost surgical play-by-play of the prior day's engagement

Near the end of the deployment troops begin to loosen up

Some do doughnuts on motorbikes, cutting loose

While others take time to reflect; Mads sits, alone in his bunk

Later he and Daniel talk about the single most relevant battlefield philosophy: when is killing right, if it is

Then the moment everyone has waited seven months for: Helicopters start to filter in and out of the base, bringing in the troops that will allow everyone to go home

With the new troops assuming their duties the guys have time to relax and unwind doing things they never had time for — like swimming

Until finally they catch that big bird home

To all the loved ones they left behind

The enthusiastic girlfriends

And the friends eager to see new scars

At least in Denmark the troops get a welcome home parade

Though some of the guys don't march as well they did when they left

And others march only in their brothers' hearts

Then comes reality. Five kinds of hamburgers. Root beer floats, texting and twisty straws.

But after the initial thrill of coming home it becomes a struggle to endure and motorcycles, drinking, and fighting are all very popular

And even while some scars fade away, there are others that lie deeper and bury themselves inside

And those scars will simply never go away

You saw how the rigors of combat meet the psyche of the soldier on the battlefield ...

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