Generation Kill holds a special place in my heart. It came out in 2008, and I religiously watched a whole two episodes of the show before I went to Parris Island. On Family Day, I picked the series up at the PX and sent it home to finish watching it. Since then, I’ve watched it a time or two and recently finished the series for the fourth or fifth time. Every time I watch it, I swear I find something new, from the hilarious background chatter to the expressions of background Marines.
Generation Kill is the true story of the 1st Recon Battalion’s push into Iraq in 2003. The story is based on the book written by Evan Wright, a journalist who worked for Rolling Stone magazine and was embedded with the Marines as they launched the invasion. The book is a bit of gonzo journalism. It doesn’t have a huge focus on the strategic maneuvers of the war. Instead, it focuses on the efforts of 1st Recon primarily on the men of Second Platoon, Bravo Company, with the most time spent with three Marines in an HMMWV.
The series stays fairly true to the book and tracks roughly two months during the initial invasion. It captures some of the lunacy of war, as well as the violence, chaos, and hilarity that the average infantry Marine dealt with.
Generation Kill – Nothing is average
Average infantry Marine? These guys are Recon! How dare you! That’s true. They are an elite, covert force designed to give commanders recon of valuable territory, but in the invasion of Iraq 1st Recon Battalion was more or less being used as conventional infantry. They weren’t being used for reconnaissance efforts.
This is often part of the frustration the men in the series feel. They’ve trained for years to be these elite Recon Marines and never get a real opportunity to do their job. Instead, they charge face-first into Iraq, leading the way at times.
The story follows the men as they navigate Iraq’s brutal terrain while wearing MOPP suits in over 100-degree heat to the occasional firefight and long stretches of boredom and lack of sleep. Our main HMMWV houses Sgt Brad’ Ice Man’ Colbert, Cpl Ray Person, LCPL James Trombley, and Evan “Rolling Stone” Wright.
The chemistry between Colbert and Person is amazing. Person is the tuned-up driver, sucking down Rip-Its, making boisterous claims, and complaining in the most creative of ways. He is often our tour guide to the Marine Corps and is always willing to very creatively explain the Marines’ culture, situation, and more to Evan Wright.
Colbert is the Ice Man. He’s quiet, a good leader, and always calm. He’s the Marine I wanted to be when I grew up. Then we have Trombley, who wants to fight and wants to be a Marine but lacks maturity. More on him later.
Every performance is outstanding, and the show benefits from consulting with the Marines that were there and even put two of them in the show.
A grunt’s-eye view
One of the men’s big challenges is that they came to Iraq as Recon Marines but had to act as regular infantry. This resulted in less than stellar equipment to lead an invasion with.
In fact, even if they were infantry, they might not have the equipment to lead an invasion. A lack of armored mobility and proper equipment was a constant theme among the men and women being sent to Iraq. It becomes a running joke that one of our main characters orders a turret shield because his men don’t have one.
Generation Kill points out a lot of the problems the average grunt deals with that most accounts inadvertently gloss over as rarely does a reported embed themselves in the midst of an invasion. The show highlights the frustration and shows that even the mightiest military in the world can fail at the little things.
That’s what Generation Kill does well. It provides an authentic grunt’s-eye view of the war. Sure, looking at maps and seeing where divisions and battalions went is important, but a grunt’s-eye view puts things into proper perspective.
The show does a fantastic job of translating that frustration, fear, and confusion to the viewer. There are typical complaints about leadership and a perspective that details that even the wrong decisions can work out okay.
What Generation Kill gets right
The show tries very hard to be authentic, and to that measure, it does a great job. Generation Kill captures some of the really insane stuff Marines deal with when deployed. In the midst of an invasion having a senior NCO focus on mustaches and shaving is very real. It also shows officers having a just-get-it-done attitude even though they lack the right equipment to do so.
The constant movement, lack of sleep and of proper hygiene are also very accurate. Heck, even the random rumors about pop culture are real. Further, some random occurrences that just happen and can’t be accounted for add a level of realism to the show. For example, the power lines hanging down and nearly taking a guy out is just one of those things you can’t plan for.
Generation Kill also captures the dark humor, which is often perverse and not safe for work, or hell, sometimes it’s not safe for life. While the Dress Blues make Marines look like gentlemen, a man at war stands in stark contrast to that.
Where it slips
My main issue with Generation Kill is its portrayal of Trombley. Sure, he’s young, hasn’t passed Recruit Basic Training, and is a bit insecure. However, the show and book seem to try to portray him as a psycho. He often says dark things, but in reality, I think Evan Wright might have misinterpreted Marine culture, as most of his comments just sound more like the type of perverse humor Marines have.
I think Trombley was an insecure boot trying to fit in. I was once that insecure boot, so I get it. Other than that, I think Generation Kill offers the best grunt’s-eye view of the Global War on Terror to ever appear on TV.