Turns out they're wrong.
Shoot man, where do I begin?
You cannot hear each other during an intense firefight. In movies, they yell at each other while bullets are flying and explosions are happening. No. In firefights, all you hear is a buckle and then a relentless pinging sound. Sign language and prior training is fundamental.
Confirmed kills are not a thing unless you're an elite operative (Special Forces, Navy SEALs, etc). I was a conventional artillery soldier and we used confirmed kills for the sake of filling out battle damage assessment forms after fights, but it's not like in the movies where you shoot someone and yell "KILL CONFIRMED TANGO DOWN!" There's no record of your kill count.
Grenades in movies tend to take a while to explode. From the time you pull the pin, you've got about 3 seconds until it explodes. Because of this, you absolutely should NOT volley a grenade like they do in the movies. You should aim to aggressively beam it to get it as close as possible to the enemy. I can't remember the numbers off the top of my head, but an M68 fragmentation grenade has a kill radius of 5 meters and a blast radius of 15 meters. I'm really not sure about those numbers, but they should be close.
Bullets. Omfg. Guns in movies seem to have endless rounds in their magazines. For the US military, the standard rifle is the M4 Carbine and the M16A2. Each standard magazine holds 30 rounds and you are given 7 of them, so you only have 210 rounds on your kit. You can pack more if you get a bandoleer or something, but standard is 7 mags.
Speaking of bullets, automatic fire. Automatic fire on a rifle is worthless. Not only can it compromise accuracy with its rapid recoil, but remember that I said that each M16A2/M4 magazine holds 30 rounds. You know how long a magazine lasts in an automatic M4 if you hold the trigger down? About 5 seconds. Also, you're not supposed to hold the trigger down with any kind of automatic weapon (except for the VERY rare cases where you just really need to lay down suppressive fire that badly). Automatic weapons are supposed to be fired in short bursts. Prolonged rapid fire is not only inaccurate, but it'll overheat the weapon, risking damage. Barrels on automatic weapons are supposed to be changed out every few hundred rounds for just this reason.
This is what haunts me the most, honestly [kill count]. The not knowing. I get very stressed when someone asks me "Did you ever kill anyone when you were in the Army?" This has happened to me a few times, usually from teenagers who don't really know any better, but it's such an awful thing to ask, because I'm not really sure.
I've been in combat, our convoy took fire, and we reacted to contact. I shot at people, and sometimes when you're firing at someone, you see them go down... as a soldier, you sort of get a feel for how long a bullet from your rifle takes to reach its point of impact at different distances. On the range, you'll sometimes have a green, plastic target shaped like a man that will flop down backwards when you hit it. You sort of develop a gut instinct for how long it takes from trigger pull to the target getting knocked back.
So, when you're in combat, and you're firing at an enemy, it's, you know, chaotic, you're hearing rounds fly over your head and smack into things behind you, you're afraid, your buddies are firing at the same enemies, it's hard to tell sometimes who did what to who, especially when thinking back afterwards, at the AAR, or later in life.
So, when someone asks me, "Did you ever kill anyone?" it forces me to think back to all those moments of uncertainty. Did I? I'm not sure, I don't know. That instinct tells you that you almost certainly were the one who hit the enemy, but who knows if they died? Maybe it wasn't a fatal wound, maybe they got medical treatment, maybe they lived, maybe they died. It's not something I like to think about.
All the nitpicky stuff aside, one thing that sticks out for me is how you get acclimated and numb to things. My first deployment was 15 months in Baghdad during the surge. While my unit was there we were hit with what we call IDF - indirect fire (mortars and rockets) - about 4-6 times a week, every week. When you get your first taste of that... it's really hard to describe. There were a bunch of times when I would be walking across a big empty patch of moon dust on my FOB with no shelter anywhere nearby when we'd get incoming and things would start exploding nearby. In that situation there's nothing you can do except lie on the ground, cover your head and hope it's not your time to die. Your mind is gripped with this primal terror that is really difficult to give justice to, listening to the whistling sound draw closer and knowing you may be literally seconds from exploding.
After a while of this you kind of just stop caring and it no longer bothers you. If you're eating and explosions hit nearby you just keep eating like nothing happened. If there was a boom outside of my tent I'd just roll over and go back to sleep. In fact we'd find it funny if people dove for cover or whatever because it meant they were new. I'm not saying this to seem badass or whatever, because that wasn't the case at all and I wasn't unique. Everyone in my unit was like this and it's a pretty universal experience for the most part from talking to other military guys over the years. You just slip into autopilot and kind of accept occasional shelling as an everyday annoyance like morning traffic. The TV miniseries All Quiet on the Western Front about German soldiers in WW1 was the closest I've seen to capturing what I'm talking about.
I would like to bring up the issue of engagement ranges.
In Afghanistan, we were only ever in hand grenade range (around 35 meters) of the enemy 1 time. One grenade was enough to scare them off. Believe those things are terrifying. So much louder and destructive than you might think.
Otherwise most of the fire fights were at long range or extreme ranges.
Worst fire fight I was in lasted over 8 hours and it wasn't really a fire fight like you might think. It was mostly just 8 hours of them shooting, inconsistently mind you, a PK-M at us from well over a kilometer away.
Was not fun. Especially when you're struggling to climb 300 meter tall hills at angles as high 50 degrees of inclination.
I deployed to Afghanistan twice with the US Army in 2009 and 2012. A couple documentaries like Korengal, Armadillo, and The Hornet's Nest come close to showing what it's like, but that's it.
-When something explodes near you, you feel it in your body more than you hear it. And it kicks up so much dust you won't be able to see anything. And they're typically not big fireballs, especially not if its military grade explosives.
-The pace of firefights. In my experience, they were much slower paced than what movies lead you to believe. You'll spend twenty minutes unloading into a tree-line with everyone else in your squad establishing fire superiority while who ever is in charge figures out what's going on. Then you'll maneuver towards the area you took fire from. Or maybe you'll call for CAS or CCA(Close Air Support, like fixed wing aircraft; of Close Combat Air, rotary wing like helicopters)
-When calling for things like air support it can take a while. We once waited nearly an hour and a half to have a bomb dropped on a building. This happened because our chain of command wanted to make sure there weren't civilians nearby, then the aircraft had to go refuel, then the aircraft had a mechanical issue and couldn't release the bomb so his wingman had to come take his place and do it. By this time the Taliban were long gone.
-Most of the missions are boring as all f**k. Most of the missions I went on were just things like presence patrols, or going out to some random village to take everyone picture for a census. Even the ones that sound cool on paper, like going to a cordon and search of a village for weapons were usually super boring.
-Most of the Afghan people didn't care much about the war one way other the other. They just want to farm their land and be left alone. But they were also usually very polite and friendly with us when we came through. They wouldn't hesitate to give us chai or food or let us crash in their homes. However, they also had no qualms about trying to game the government out of money. If a convoy drove by and f*ed up one of their mud walls around their field, they would come to our outpost and ask for hundreds of US dollars to fix a wall that was made from mud and straw.
-The Intel was super hit and miss. Sometimes we would be told exactly where to find a cache of weapons or a local Taliban commanders home. Other times we would be told a horde of hundreds of Taliban fighters were preparing to overrun our outpost and kill us all that very night only to have absolutely nothing happen.
-The way that everyone talks to each other and interacts. Yeah, there is still some military bearing and professionalism. But these are also guys you are living in the same tent or mud hut with for a year, and have probably known for even longer. You can tell who is getting up to take a piss by the way they walk. You crack jokes and sh*t talk and tell tall tales constantly. The two best movies for showing how soldiers interact with each other are In The Army Now and Fury. In fact, the former is pretty much the most accurate depiction of army life Hollywood has ever made.
How clumsy it can be.
The movies show everyone running around all fluid and smooth and in reality foot patrols in Iraq were slow and cumbersome. Picking anything up after being dropped was a chore with the weight of all the gear. Trying to turn around in a vehicle with front, back, and side plates in a vest is near impossible. Getting in and out of up armored vehicles smoothly is a pain.
The movies only show some important mission and not all the positive daily interactions with local nationals.
The wholeness of it. It's not just war, or killing, your buddies, your duty, your job, your life, your blood, your sweat, your tears, your time. It's a people business. The reason is for the men (women) you're with. Never enough character development. You cannot replicate the bond on film, although some have done really well. The lasting effects aren't talked about much in Hollywood though. Not sexy I suppose.
Another thing is the smells, all of the different and horrible smells. Bullets, shitters in the sun, food, sweat, burned bodies all have a smell that stick with you. Even to this day the smell of burning flesh makes me sick.
How much you sweat, we would get salt stains on our clothes from sweating so much.
The pure and harmonious joy of being alive after a fire fight. It is addictive.
I'm a combat veteran with PTSD. War is extremely boring. Several months of preparing, sleeping, playing golf in the sand, writing letters, drinking water, singing songs with guitars people brought along, pooping out in the open, playing football, freezing at night, burning up during the day, wishing you were home, and ... ... several hours of pure terror, your heart pounding so hard you think it might leap out of your chest, your best friend on fire, running as fast as humanly possible, pure luck, sleeping with one eye open and your hand on your weapon, laser focused on the task before you, the world melting away as the only thing you observe is a heart beating and breath being taken in, then silence. You walk along with the rest of the group. Everyone celebrating that we're going home, but you just give a fake smile. All you can think about is not having been there 5 minutes earlier, or why didn't he duck, or why him... And the sound still stays muted even through the great yell being given by everyone as the plane lifts off the ground and heading home, the high fives given are half hearted and unenthusiastic as we stop at several airports on the way to the states. Everything quiet and just as dead as your best friend. Then you finally see your beautiful wife...and it hits you. That you were lucky enough to be here, now. That incredible moment when you finally hold her and kiss her deeply and forget everyone else there to meet you. Then remember that other beautiful woman not kissing her hero. Not making love to her prince - and the guilt starts again. Then the real war starts. The yelling and screaming - you left the f*ing door open! What the fk is wrong with you! Dont you know anything about security??? The feeling of fury over a burned sandwich-that smells like death. The anger over someone being sweet to you. The murderous rage over being woken up in the middle of the night by that sweet someone wanting to make love. The anguish of having experienced a break in and beating the f**k out of that person only to find out it was an elderly man with alzheimers having accidentally walked into the wrong home and the blind fury over her having not locked the front door - again. War itself is hard, sure. But the training and the adrenalin and the focus makes it all a blur. It's After war where we aren't trained and don't have an outlet for the adrenalin and the only focus is the pain and fear and guilt and sleeplessness that makes it last decades. Decades.
I was Army infantry and spent 15 months in Iraq for the surge.
In the movies war is so clean. One group of adult men with guns fighting another group of adult men with guns. No kids or other civilians roaming around. On my deployment I saw more child fatalities than anything else.
Sometimes they were targeted because of the ethnic cleansing that was happening when I was there. Sometimes it was just collateral damage.
Another thing is: if one of your battle buddies gets wounded or killed you usually don't get a chance to look over see what's going on, and stop fighting to dramatically scream "DDDAAAVVVIIDDD NNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" In fact there's a good chance you won't even know your buddy is down until after some of the action stops.
Oh and Apache helicopters. They are not WW2 fighter planes. They don't make low passes shooting rockets at targets just right below them. The are flying so far away you don't notice them. We have fancy guided missiles with generous range.
In most movies, they come home and resume where they left off.
I stayed to myself for a month or two because I was afraid of lashing out at someone. I hated everyone. Just because I saw them complaining. Before I left, I would understand people complaining but after deployment, anytime I heard someone complain about something I thought was trivial made me see red.
For example, I went to the store the day after coming home and some kid was complaining his mom got the wrong flavored gatorade. The first thing that came to mind was "REALLY?! YOU FKING POMPOUS SELF-ENTITLED LITTLE ST!" I would catch myself comparing civilians here to those civilians overseas that were grateful for even your leftovers from an MRE.
Took a while for me to re-adjust. But to me, anything trivial isn't worth complaining over.
Bumped into me and my screen protector cracked? accidents happen man, don't worry about it.
You gave me the wrong sides to my order? Ill take them as long as im not inconveniencing anyone else, no worries bud.
One thing movies do not show is the numbness you get while in war. At first when you receive indirect fire or hear sirens go off from mortar attacks you hit the ground like a sack of potatoes or look for the nearest structure with a hard cover. By the end of deployment I was fing pissed that the sirens would go off like it was a fing nuisance that they were attacking when I wasn't on patrol. There is literally nothing we could do to retaliate because RoE is fing retarded and everyone is dressed like civilians and more than half the time they fing book it before QRF can even be called. Another thing, I was on QRF and once we got attacked we had to be geared up and ready to leave the fob within minutes but by the time we left the gate it was easily 30 minutes after. Who sticks around for that long to get their asses fed up? Deployment is a lot like prison, you eat, you sleep, you workout a lot and you go on patrol; any free time is usually spent playing cards or huddled around someone that has a laptop and the newest haji movie. I can go on and on about the fery but I digress.
H/T: Ask Reddit