Literature: Generation Kill
"Wake up, Trombley. You're missing the invasion."
—Sgt. Brad "Iceman" Colbert
In 2003, Rolling Stone
reporter Evan Wright was embedded in the US Marine Corps' First Recon, for the onset of the War in Iraq. Over the next two months, he would have a firsthand view into the lives of some of the toughest men on the planet, The War on Terror
, —er— Saddam Hussein, and the command decisions that put them where they are. Wright compiled these articles into Generation Kill
, which was later made into a seven-part miniseries by David Simon
Marines will talk like Marines, complete with lots of jargon and realism. Some examples:
"Dear Frederick, thank you for your nice letter. But I'm actually a U.S. Marine who was born to kill, where you have clearly mistaken me for some sort of wine-sipping communist dick suck. And although peace probably appeals to tree-loving bisexuals like you and your parents, I happen to be a death-dealing, blood-crazed warrior who wakes up everyday just hoping for the chance to dismember my enemies and defile their civilizations. Peace sucks a hairy asshole, Freddie. War is the motherfucking answer."
— Cpl. Josh Ray Person
"If something happens to me, I want my wife to know the truth. If they say we fought valiantly here, I want her to know we fought retarded."
—Sgt. Eric Kocher
This complete lack of political correctness in favor of realism is a major cause of criticism for both the book and series. Negative reactions tend to be questioning of the material's validity
at best, and accusations of it being anti-military, biased and fabricated at worst. The miniseries DVD extras include a discussion with the real Marines, during which this phenomenon is brought up: Ray Person tells a story about meeting people who, despite his own ability to validate the material, refused to believe American serviceman would even swear so much, while Gunnery Sergeant Colbert hypothesized that this mindset among some viewers might be traced back to the tendency of older war movies to depict war as more civilized and glamorous to the point where it's become a case of Reality Is Unrealistic
. The author himself has spoken out against media trying to use the book and miniseries as anti-military.
As this pertains to a military operation, expect a lot of military tropes.
See also: Michael Herr's book, "Dispatches", also by a Rolling Stone contributor about the Vietnam War
for a similar POV.
Tropes the series provides examples of:
- Adaptation Distillation: When the series changes something from the book, it's either an omission for lack of time and budget, or a way of adapting the same message to the limited time a scene has to make its point. Wright also didn't want people to harass Captain America and Encino Man.
- Adaptation Expansion: SgtMaj. Sixta plays a much larger role in the series than in the book. Also, the scene in the show where the off-duty Recon Marines infiltrate a building under guard by other Marines is much more elaborate than in the book, where they simply break down a first-floor window out of view and enter the building.
- Amusing Injuries: Seems to happen to Cpl. John Burris (and some people around him) on a regular basis throughout the invasion. At Nasiriyah, Burris trips on his gun and skins his face, provoking amused laughter from everyone around him. He gets sprayed with sewage when the Humvee he's on drives through the open sewer puddle of Al Gharraf. This series of unfortunate events culminates in Burris's destruction of the Iraqi tank outside Baqubah: he fires an anti-tank missile at the tank's fuel pod, setting off a massive explosion that blows the tank to pieces and knocks him on his back with its blast. When he returns to his team, his dazed smile causes Cpt. Patterson, who had come up to congratulate him, to break out in laughter. Further, one of the pieces of the tank flew hundreds of meters to hit another Marine in the head; while the man's helmet is partially shattered, the man himself only suffers a concussion. These events were not presented in the show.
- As Himself: Sergent Rudy Reyes, a.k.a. "Fruity Rudy." He was slated to be played by someone else, but the actor became ill.
- Attack! Attack! Attack!: Captain America.
"He's shooting at scraps of metal."
Can you believe that fucking retard is in charge of people?
- Attack Its Weak Point: In the book only, when the Marines encounter a Iraqi tank near Baqubah and bring out an anti-tank missile to disable it (given the lack of available artillery and air support). The "best-case scenario" envisioned before the attack is that the missile, being incapable of penetrating most of the T-72 tank's armor, would be used to attack its treads and stop it from moving. Corporal Burris, assigned to launch the missile, discovers an auxiliary fuel pod on the back of the tank upon getting closer to fire, and aims at it instead, blowing the tank to kingdom come.
- The Alleged Car: Bravo 2-1's Humvee, which was missing several key parts like doors and armor. Colbert and Person had to restore it at their own expense. Rudy and Pappy also had to make repairs to Manimal's turret, which could not turn all the way around. According to the book, the issue with missing vehicle components was a somewhat widespread problem in the build-up to the invasion, made worse by the fact that the unit wasn't originally intended to be mechanized at all, and so vehicles had to be scrounged up at the last minute.
- Autobiographical Role: Rudy Reyes
- Badass Boast:
- Gentlemen, we just seized an airfield. That was pretty fucking ninja.
- "Re-Up Time," performed by Josh Ray Person.
- Battle Couple: Subverted; Lilley gets a letter from his wife telling him she's already signed her enlistment papers by the time he's reading it so she can be closer to him. Given the slant towards realism, her letter informing him of such is all we see of her, and the other Marines comment that she's more likely to end up being sexually harassed working in a motor pool than by his side in combat.
- Bash Brothers: Most of the Marines have an official or unofficial "battle buddy," whether it's the other half of their sniper team or just their best friend in the platoon.
- Bayonet Ya: Captain America loves his bayonet, looking for an opportunity to use it and constantly attaching it even when it would serve no useful purpose. He finally gets to use it. On a restrained detainee. Who he doesn't even wound. He can't even commit war crimes properly.
- Berserk Button: Has Lt. Fick mentioned that you do not fuck with his men?
- Black Comedy: The Marines start calling Trombley "Whopper Jr", which is a roundabout way of calling him Baby Killernote . The name is used affectionately.
- Blatant Lies:
- Half of what the translator, Meesh, says the Iraqis are telling the battalion consists of crap he's just making up—due to orders from above; this mostly consists of "the Iraqis are grateful to be liberated" and such. Fick, Doc Bryan, and others call him out on this, and he admits that he had been instructed to lie.
- In Episode 1 of the show, Lt. Fick lies through his teeth to Godfather to keep his men from getting in trouble over the malfunctioning portable stove that burnt Person in the face. They had been operating the stove inside a tent in blatant disregard for regulations.
- Godfather sees through this straight away but goes along with it, snarkily suggesting that Fick write up some of his men for commendation for their efforts.
- Generally, when Fick tells his men that he is assured that something will happen, the complete opposite happens.
- Blood Knight: Lance Cpl. Harold James Trombley
- Boisterous Bruiser: Cpl. Josh Ray Person
- Brutal Honesty: In the series, Encino Man asks the platoon to "speak freely". He goes through the Marines, who all palm him off or dance around the issues. Then he gets to Doc...
"Well sir, it's just that you're incompetent sir."
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer:
Colbert: Need I remind you that he is the best damn RTO in the business, as long as you keep him away from your uglier daughters and your smaller livestock.
- It should be noted that these men, however they might act during their offtime, are all still recon Marines.
- Casual Danger Dialog: Played absolutely straight and taken directly from the actual accounts of the Marines under fire. At one point, Person climbs out of his Humvee, calmly walks into enemy fire, and yells for the rest of the convoy to back up while bullets whiz over his head ("Would you please back the fuck up?!"). Fick does this soon after when he dives out of his Humvee to run between them all and personally give them directions on how to fix the traffic jam, once it becomes apparent that radio communication is just causing confusion. Listen closely and you'll even hear Gunny Wynn express surprise.
- Catch Phrase: "Stay Frosty" for Colbert. "Screwby" for Stafford. Fick is assured that he does not have a Catch Phrase. He is assured of this. And what does Godfather think?
- The Chains of Commanding: Discussed in the final episode as one of the reasons that Captain America wasn't removed from command even after everything that he did. The chains weren't on him, in case you were wondering.
- Cold Sniper:
- Sgt. Larry Shawn "Pappy" Patrick, Sgt. Ken Sutherby, and to a lesser extent, Sgt. Brad Colbert, who while he doesn't have the gun, he certainly has the mentality. When Pappy is asked about his kills, he even says that all he felt was "recoil".
- Fruity Rudy, as a spotter, is one half of Pappy's Cold Sniper. Seeing the two of them do their jobs in the second episode is serious Mood Whiplash from how they've been established as characters so far. Rudy definitely qualifies for this trope, for the spotter in a sniper team is actually the better shot.
- Colonel Badass:
- Lt. Colonel Stephen "Godfather" Ferrando in the series only. In the book, he's treated as capable, but generally disliked by his men for his recklessness and his unnecessary adherence to the Grooming Standard. In fact, Navy HM2 Robert Timothy "Doc" Bryan posited that Ferrando might have been deliberately trying to get some of his men killed, so his compatriots don't think he avoided actual combat.
- Ferrando's competence is the most obvious example of what one could say is the 'theme' of Generation Kill; that no one man in a warzone has a full perspective of what's going on. The book notes that Ferrando had never been in combat before and that his previous billet was commander of the parade ground at Headquarters Marine Corps in Washington DC, which he himself described as "the most ceremonial billet in the Corps." Considering this, he certainly could've done a lot worse, and some of the Marines who openly criticized his decisions during the time the book/series covers later learned of variables they weren't originally aware about that made those decisions more reasonable in hindsight.
- Comically Missing the Point: Colbert sarcastically points out he was unfortunate enough to be adopted by an upper-middle class family with a millenarian, Talmudic, rich, cultural tradition, as opposed to Person, raised in a white trash environment and fathered by a random passing trucker. Person's retort? "At least my mom took me to NASCAR!". Furthermore Trombley takes the father jab at face value and asks Your dad's a truck driver?
- Cultured Warrior:
- Sgt. Brad "Iceman" Colbert and Sgt. Antonio "Poke" Espera are this to some degree, but Sgt. Rudy Reyes is the unchallenged king of Bravo Company.
- Corporal Holsey, outwardly a Scary Black Man, is seen reading Sun Tzu and is not into "the whole racial thing". He's also seen later making an effort to learn Portuguese from Baptista.
- Lt. Fick also qualifies, being a Dartmouth graduate. As he states here, he even took the troops on a field trip to see the ruins of Babylon when there was a lull in their patrol schedule.
- Cunning Linguist: Meesh is an overweight, nineteen-year old Kuwaiti who wears a Grateful Dead shirt underneath his chemical-and-biological-weapons protection, is a serious dope smoker (even lamenting that he had to leave his weed supply behind before setting off), and happens to be the entire Battalion's translator.
- A Date with Rosie Palms:
- The "Combat Jack".
- Brad "enjoying the fruits of civilization" before the invasion.
- Deadpan Snarker: Wright's style of writing in the book certainly suggests this. Observe:
A few hours before the invasion, Encino Man had covered over the side windows of his command vehicle with duct tape. He believed this would mask light seeping out from a computer screen in his vehicle, making it "extratactical"—harder to spot by enemy forces. Unfortunately, the covered windows seem to have diminished his already feeble navigation abilities.
- "Dear John" Letter: In the series only. Manimal's first in-country communique from his wife? Divorce papers. Naturally, he is less than pleased by this turn of events.
- Dramatic Gun Cock: "Gentlemen, from now on we're gonna have to earn our stories."
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: Sgt. Maj. John "Coward of Khafji" Sixta.
- Dumbass Has a Point: Character Filibuster Ray exasperates Iceman Colbert with his drug induced rants and theories about the war, but Wright gives him credit.
- Dysfunction Junction: According to the book, many of the Marines joined to escape life in street gangs, and tales of alcoholic dads and crackhead moms are quite common. Averted often enough, though, that Wright explicitly says they disprove the stereotype of servicemen all joining as a last resort; Colbert and Fick come from loving, middle-class families, Person's father was absent but he had a relatively good upbringing from his mother, while Reyes and Stafford wanted to challenge themselves.
- Elites Are More Glamorous: Subverted. First Recon is one of the elite units for the Marine Corps, but the missions they were performing here by tooling around Iraq in Humvees were basic. In the book, it's explained that this was a decision by higher-ups to "confuse" the enemy. The Marines Lampshade and complain about this constantly. Near the end of the series you see what Recon Marines are actually capable of, when they raid an Iraqi office under protection of other Marines for the giggles.
- Ensign Newbie: Inverted. Lieutenant Fick, the lowest ranking officer seen in the unit, actually has more combat experience than most of the higher ranking officers, due to how Marine Recon units normally operate (small deployed detachments in the field, with most of the higher ranking personnel looking after the intel and administrative needs of the unit in the rear area). While most of the officers had never been in combat, Fick previously served in Afghanistan.
- Establishing Character Moment: In the first episode, Bravo Company's tent is blown over by a sandstorm in the middle of the night. Gunny Wynn announces that he needs Marines with sledgehammers, and the Marines leap into action without hesitation, grabbing tools and running out in their underwear to repair the tent in the middle of the storm. Colbert steps outside, takes one quick look at the confused activity, and starts directing Marines and coordinating their efforts to resolve the situation as quickly as possible. We now know that these are men who do not hesitate to act even when surprised, and Colbert can seize control of the most chaotic situations to reestablish order.
- Even the Guys Want Him: Quite a few straight male characters comment on how hot Fruity Rudy is. Which he seems to revel in, even though he has a steady girlfriend back home.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: "Danger close," meaning a fire mission (artillery or air strike) called in dangerously close to friendly units. Somehow this was lost on Encino Man and Casey Kasem. Fortunately, when they attempted to call in the fire mission, they used the wrong authorization and grid square coordinates.
- Facial Dialogue: Fick and Colbert in Cradle of Civilization. Colbert had just keyed his mic to reply to Encino Man's radio announcement that they were lost because Colbert took a wrong turn (Encino Man had ordered the turn despite Fick and Colbert's protests). Fick makes eye contact with Colbert and shakes his head silently, and Colbert released the mic without comment.
- A Father to His Men:
- Lt. Fick, who, ironically, is younger than some of his troops, nonetheless takes on this role of his platoon. He even lies through his teeth to Lt. Col. Ferrando in order to keep his men out of trouble over the incident where Person burnt his face from a faulty espresso machine. It comes to a head in the sixth episode, when "Casey Kasem" goes over Fick's head and orders one of his teams out to check out a possible tank, saying he's "covering" for Fick (while calling his competence into question and accusing him of cowardice behind his back). The Lieutenant is understandably pissed that he's using his men to get to him.
Fick: "Get the fuck out of here. And do not ever again mess with my platoon. (...) Fuck that. You can fuck with me all you want, but do not, I repeat, do not fuck with my men."
- In the book, Wright notes that the platoon command seems more like parenting than autocratic control, with Lt. Fick being the father and Gunny Wynn being the mother.
- Felony Misdemeanor: Do not bring Charms candy into any Marine vehicle, or even eat it. It's bad luck. note .
- Fiery Redhead: Doc Bryan, who is described as being always angry at something in the book. Not readily apparent in the show since his head is always covered by a bandana.
- Field Promotion: Colbert eventually receives a combat meritorious promotion (to Staff Sergeant), something that is rarely handed out nowadays.
- Freudian Trio: Iceman's team is a variant of this.
- Trombley is the Id, mainly concerned with getting a chance to kill someone (the death instinct) and is starting a family when he gets back home (the life instinct).
- Colbert is the Ego: As the team leader, everyone goes off of his cues, and he works to keep them focused on the ever-changing and sometimes poorly-defined mission.
- Person is the Superego, and this is where it gets weird: Instead of being concerned with acting according to social norms and expectations, he makes it a point to highlight where failing to properly develop and apply these norms and expectations has lead to all of the problems they are dealing with on a personal or national level.
- Friend or Foe: Garza comes under fire from members of Alpha Company near Baqubah after they mistake him for an Iraqi due to his dark skin color and the general tension of fighting deep in enemy territory. In the show, this incident is elaborated with Garza having appropriated an Iraqi helmet for use.
- Friendship Moment: Many small ones throughout the series to go along with the abundant examples of Vitriolic Best Buds and Headbutting Heroes in the show. In the first episode, Espera chews out Trombley for wearing the wrong hat (everyone else is wearing knit stocking caps, and he is wearing a brimmed boonie cap). After Trombley is left looking like his puppy just got kicked, Espera pulls a spare out of his pocket and hands it to Trombley to show he's looking out for him. Later on, Person is driving Colbert up the wall with his endless Ripped Fuel-induced conspiracy rants, but in between unhesitatingly hands Colbert a spare can of chewing tobacco when he sees Colbert is out.
- Funny Background Event:
- When Sergeant Major Sixta is reprimanding Pappy about his mustache the second time around, another Marine can be seen goosestepping in the background in a Nazi Salute, to mock Sixta, and to remind Pappy that the 'Hitler 'stache' that he wears falls within the grooming standard
- Random marines quoting The Big Lebowski when Encino Man is informed by his Marines that they consider him a woefully incompetent leader.
- Manimal dropping a box of grenades, followed by a Marine yelling that "This is why we can't have nice things!"
- Rudy taking a run in full combat gear while Marines cheer him on, urging him to "slay that dragon".
- Gallows Humor The Marines use morbid jokes to relieve the stress caused by dealing with death and killing on a daily basis.
- Glamorous Wartime Singer: Woefully subverted. While Person has dreams of being a rock star, in the miniseries, if they sing, they suck. Played a little more straight with Cpl. Walter Hasser in the book, who apparently has a wonderful country music singing voice (and doesn't like to sing!).
- Genghis Gambit: Sixta is smarter than he appears; he knows exactly how ridiculous it is to keep harping on the Marines for the grooming standard, and not only does he do it so they can hate him as an outlet, he has Gunny Wynn tell him when morale drops so he can time it right.
- Good People Have Good Sex : In the opinion of Marine Person, good sex makes people good. note
- Gratuitous Spanish: Actually Portuguese. Sgt. Baptista is a Brazilian immigrant and during times of stress he unconsciously starts radio chattering in his native tongue, which drives the other Marines crazy.
Person: "Goddammit Baptista! How would he like it if I joined the Brazilian Marines and only spoke English?"
- Handicapped Badass: Sgt. Sutherby, the sniper, is hearing impaired.
- Heroic BSOD: This show loves this trope.
- Brad after Trombley shoots civilians with his ok. In the book, Brad is reduced to tears when he comes face-to-face with the aftermath.
- Brad again, along with Poke, when a badly targeted airstrike annihilates a hamlet.
- Brad yet again when Walt accidentally kills a civilian, and Walt immediately after.
- Ray after Rudy checks him too hard during the football game. Rudy's response is to BSOD even worse.
- The dazed and confused Marine Colbert encounters outside Nasiriyah apparently suffered one of these after seeing one of his men getting shot in the stomach. He turns down Colbert's offer of help, and wanders off again.
- Subverted the first time Trombley kills someone. For a second, he looks like he's about to BSOD, but then:
- In the book only: at the roadblock outside Al Hayy, where the Marines open fire at a car after it fails to stop at the warning shots, two Marines—Sgt. Graves and Cpl. Jeschke—approach the car after it becomes clear it was a civilian vehicle. They find a little girl in the back seat. As Graves reaches out to her, thinking she is merely injured, the top of the girl's head falls off and her brains fall out. Graves, stepping back, almost slips in her brains. He cannot speak for a full minute, and cannot coherently describe the scene afterwards. The show presented this scene in condensed form with less gore, with no one shown going full BSOD.
- Heroic Fatigue: Everyone is running on little to no sleep, but it is especially significant in a couple cases.
- Person's dependency on Ripped Fuel allows him to drive the Humvee for days on end. It also makes him a manic motor-mouth that drives Colbert crazy but gives Evan Wright plenty of amusing material.
- We find out it was Lt. Fick himself who authorized Casey Kasem's pointless orders to send sick Marines on patrol, apparently while in a fugue state due to over 72 hours without sleep. Fick looks horrified as he realizes he can't take punitive measures against the Gunnery Sergeant for orders he endorsed; Kasem's evil smirk clearly implies he knew Fick was completely out of it, and took advantage of it.
- Hollywood Tactics: Completely averted.
- All of the combat footage seems to be taken from real life tactics and methods, with the outlandish stuff actually occurring, such as Trombley exposing himself without regard for his own life to find a AAA gun trained on the humvee column, or Person getting out of his humvee in the middle of an ambush to yell at the various column drivers to back up and get out of the kill zone.
- The show possibly has tracer rounds used accurately, too; that is, the tracer rounds are only every couple of bullets, with rounds you can't see going out in-between them. Military fiction practically never gets this right.
- In Nathaniel Fick's own account of the invasion, One Bullet Away, he actually does point out an instance where Encino Man orders the platoon to attack a structure believed to contain feyadeen. Specifically, they were to attack on foot across three hundred meters of open terrain with no cover, with LAV fire support directly behind them as opposed to to either side, risking massive amounts of friendly fire.
- "Always run in a serpentine fashion!"
- Ice-Cream Koan: According to the book, Pappy is apparently fond of serving these up whenever asked by a fellow Marine to impart some wisdom, "Don't pet a burning dog" being one of them. This phrase becomes far less confusing for Lt. Fick after the night ambush at the bridge in Al Muwaffaqiyah—the lesson being something along the lines of "if it looks dangerous, it probably is, so don't get near it".
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Everyone in the platoon feel sore at Trombley for an incident where he shot a pair of civilians who turned out to be unarmed children. At the same time, they respect Trombley's skill because he only fired a few shots but still managed to hit both of his targets multiple times center mass at over 200 meters from a moving vehicle. In the book, Wright relates his mixed feeling about the shooting; he's dismayed by the child's injury, but admits that when Trombley was on the gun, he couldn't help feeling a little safer.
- I Just Shot Marvin in the Face:
- At one point, Person handed Wright his unused rifle and told him to point it out his window. While the fact that Wright was willing to go along with this earned him some respect, they never asked him to do it again because he pointed the barrel at both Person and Colbert's faces while passing it back, with the safety off. Unfortunately, while this is mentioned in the miniseries, the actual scene is omitted. In an interview, Wright confessed that he wasn't so much concerned about shooting a civilian as he was about causing all the Marines to shoot at something that wasn't a target (his potentially accidental gunshot setting off a full-fire from the rest of the platoon). Apparently he never even kept his finger near the trigger to avoid it.
- There's also the old man at the end of a refugee column who gets killed when a Marine fires off a 40mm smoke grenade to warn off a passing car, only for the grenade to ricochet off the pavement and into the back of his head so hard it looks worse than a gunshot wound.
- In the book, Wright goes on to state "We got a report saying he was OK and he was last seen enjoying a meal. A marine says this probably means someone tossed an MRE at his corpse." In the series, Poke exclaims (in frustration) that "At least we gave him a happy meal before he died!"
- Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: In contrast to the hyper-competent shooting of the Marines, the Iraqis can't seem to hit the ground with their hat. Probably explained by the fact that most of the regular army had retreated or deserted, and the fighters the Marines encountered were little more than cannon-fodder.
- Informed Attractiveness: Reyes is described as a very attractive man.
- Insufferable Genius: Brad Colbert has shades of this trope, usually condemning religion and the desire to have children.
- Interservice Rivalry: Or, rather, intraservice rivalry between the frontline combat personnel and the rear echelon personnel (POGs). Subverted in the case of Cpl. Carasalez, who while being a rear-echelon mechanic, is well liked by the men in Bravo Company, not the least because he is willing to stick his neck out for his friend Sgt. Kocher—so much so that he volunteered to drive his team's Humvee after the previous driver, Cpl. Darnold, was wounded and had to be casevac-ed out.
- It Works Better with Bullets: After spending several minutes explaining to Encino Man why they absolutely must not call in an artillery barrage that will inevitably injure, maim or kill the entire platoon, Lt. Fick eventually gives up and walks away to the disbelief of his platoon, who are rather understandably worried about getting hit by friendly artillery fire. Fick reassures them quickly, however:
- Kicked Upstairs:
- Sort of happens to Encino Man and Captain America, the resident Neidermeyers. They get removed from frontline duty and placed into desk jobs so that the Marines can get competent officers who are actually damn good at commanding troops in battle.
- Averted with Casey Kasem, who, after the events of the book and the series, was promoted into a leadership position, where he not only excelled, but earned the respect of the men who had once had nothing but disdain for him.
- Encino Man and Captain America were ORIGINALLY intelligence officers assigned to Combat leadership positions. For all intents and purposes, they were put back in their original duties.
- Large Ham: Sergeant Major Sixta, who deliberately crafts a combination of this and a Jerkass Façade to give the Marines someone to direct their anger and frustration toward, in order to keep morale up.
- Les Collaborateurs: Played for laughs by Sgt. Espera. He justifies everything that he does in the Marines by saying that the white man has "gotta rule the world".
- Lost Forever: Conventional example. A valuable supply truck is abandoned and unsurprisingly looted. To great dishonor and chagrin, it transported the battalion colors, carried into battle since Vietnam. Cpl. Person jumps at the chance to sarcastically analyze the move and delivers one of his Idiot Hero remarks about the higher-ups.
: I’m betting that they were thinking that they could just, you know, leave a fully loaded supply truck laying around, just like you could anywhere in America, you know. I mean, you park your unlocked car in Detroit or Baltimore
, I mean, your shit’s going to be there, guaranteed, when you get back from the day spa with your skin all exfoliated and shit, right. I mean, seriously homes, why would our Iraqi brethren want four hundred pounds of C4, claymores and crates of M-16’s. I mean, it just doesn’t make any sense. Oh wait, you know they could be using all that C4 for like a giant Fourth of July celebration.
- Low Clearance: During the book's Action Prologue describing a vehicular assault through a hostile town, the Iraqi soldiers string cables between buildings, hoping to clothesline the roof gunners of the speeding humvees. Bravo 2-1's gunner takes a glancing blow from one of the cables, and quickly shouts to the driver that he's OK.
- In the series, it was a downed power line in the second episode that snagged the gunner, nearly strangling him. Person realizes just in time and reverses the Humvee enough for the marine to free himself.
- Meaningful Name: Lt. Col. Ferrando's callsign is "Godfather", because he sounds like Marlon Brando from the eponymous movie. When Wright (inevitably) asks him about his voice, he explains that he had throat cancernote , and had parts of his vocal cords removed during the operation.
- The Medic: Navy Hospitalman Second Class Robert Timothy "Doc" Bryan.
- Military Alphabet: If you don't have a basic working understanding of this, the show will destroy your brain. The book, however, is much easier to follow for the non-military. One thing not explained in the miniseries is FPF (when Delta is shooting on a village). Final Protective Fire is only supposed to be used when a Marine position is about to be overrun, and involves setting up a solid wall of ammunition. Hence why the rest of Recon thinks it's hilariously unnecessary.
- Mistaken for Racist:
- Some of the 1st Recon Marines say quite racist things, directly to or in the presence of the individual who should be personally offended. It becomes apparent, however, that all the Marines are so close to each other that they all basically have N-Word Privileges with each other. Might be played straight when the Marines are talking about the Iraqis.
- There is one instance where they seem to avoid using N-Word Privileges. The Marines are drinking coffee and calling it "November Juliet." When the reporter asks what that means, all the Marines look around uncomfortably, and then look toward Holsey, the sole black Marine in that particular group, before Holsey finally flatly says: "Nigger Juice." After a beat, the whole group cracks up.
- Mood Whiplash: In-universe, when Colbert comes up with a new option for stopping cars at a roadblock non-lethally, Walt, exhausted beyond reason, kills the driver after the smoke grenade is seemingly ignored (it was actually fired a little behind the car, the driver couldn't have seen it). Colbert immediately flips out, and then immediately flips back.
Colbert: Walt, fuck! That wasn't even a warning shot! That was a wounding shot, motherfucker! ...you okay?
- Must Have Caffeine: Cpl. Person, whose bizarre behavior is caused solely by a legal stimulant addiction. Careful with that Ripped Fuel, man.
- The Neidermeyer:
- "Captain America" whose activities include hoarding Iraqi fallen goods, spazzing out on comms about being attacked by every little thing, abusing prisoners, demanding the Marines shoot something or someone at random, shooting at random people when in the convoy, and freaking out at the slightest problem.
- "Encino Man" whose claim to fame includes attempting to order an artillery fire mission in which his men were right in the way (called "Danger Close"), but failing to do so because he didn't have the right protocols, and generally being distressed whenever anyone questions his orders. He actually tries to court-martial a few subordinates after they demanded that he not call in the artillery strike. The book doesn't specifically mention what happened as a result, but Encino Man was eventually removed from duty for another unrelated incident. Lieutenant Fick made Captain at some point between OIF-1 and leaving the Corps, so it's likely that no one took Encino Man or Casey Kasem very seriously in the long run.
- "Casey Kasem," who as a logistics and appropriations NCO failed to secure enough batteries to run Night-Vision or Heat Sensors or LSA lubricant for heavy machine guns, and seemed to act like a sycophantic suckup to Encino Man. However, "Casey Kasem" later turned his reputation around after the events of the book, when his company commander Captain Brent Morel was injured; he took command of the remaining troops of his platoon and is generally credited for saving their lives.
Cpl. Michael Stinetorf: "It was weird. In OIF-One I hated him. But as soon as he became our platoon sergeant, it was clear that tactically he knew his shit, he trained us really well, and he was definitely not afraid to fight. I really like the guy."
- In his own book, Nathan Fick explains why First Recon ended up with such incompetent officers. Recon is primarily intended to send small teams of highly-competent troops into enemy territory to perform recon missions. The company and battalion-level officers are primarily assigned to do organizational and logistics work, and were never really intended to command in the field. The enlisted Marines, NCOs, and platoon commanders are extremely well-trained and highly competent men who are supposed to operate mostly independently of battalion and company-level command. Thus, the book and series showcase what happens when you take a unit trained and organized for a specific mission and then use them for something completely different from their original purpose.
- Nerves of Steel: Trombley, in episode 4. When under fire from a Russian machine gun, he calmly spots the distance to the battery for air support while bullets land inches away from him. He seems fascinated that it's a Russian battery, and has to be pulled away.
- Brad Colbert is called "The Iceman" for a reason. When he realizes that the company is in the killzone for a prepared ambush, he calmly points out that there are men in the trees and opens fire. For the entirety of the ambush, he's singing under his breath.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Every time the more reasonable marines try to deal with The Neidermeyers.
- "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: The real Evan Wright often says "this really happened" on the DVD commentary tracks during events that seem more fantastical.
- In fact, they had to tone down some of the more bizarre shit that Captain America did. Yes, he was actually worse than what was portrayed in the mini series.
- Another notable example of excluding something on account of Reality Is Unrealistic; when Pappy was shot in the foot and reported it by first referring to himself in the third person with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek, Doc Bryan started laughing because it meant he was okay. The laughter part isn't in the mini-series, because Wright was worried the audience wouldn't quite understand why someone would laugh, given the situation. The miniseries also left out the fact that during the bridge ambush, while Colbert was calmly gunning down enemy troops, he was singing. Yes, in the middle of a giant ambush, Colbert was quietly singing to himself. There is a reason they call him the "Iceman." note
- One of the scenes involving an ambush on the Marines' convoy by an Iraqi AA gun was criticized, as the gun being used in such an ambush supposedly should have killed the entire convoy. In fact, the ambush actually happened this way; Nathan Fick's own book One Bullet Away not only corroborated the story, but it even pointed out that the real-life ambush was even more destructive than it was in the series: they were being attacked by an AA gun with high explosive rounds and mortars at the same time. Even so, no Marines were killed and the convoy wasn't seriously damaged.
- Obfuscating Stupidity or Genius Ditz:
- Cpl. Josh Ray Person comes off as either or both of these.
- Turns out that Person was on Ripped Fuel (heavily laced with stimulants and technically banned in the Marine Corps) for the entire invasion, making him a weeeeee bit crazy. When they eventually settle in Baghdad and Person crashes from going cold turkey, Wright specifically points out that he's a completely different person, and even more competent.
- In the novel's new afterword after the HBO series, he was completely polite after the actors took him out to dinner... and then, shortly after they left, reverted to his old persona and called them pussies and morons for "getting PTSD from filming."note
- When Encino Man asks Baptista for his opinion, Baptista gets out of having to offer one by babbling in a bizarre mixture of Portugese and heavily-accented English, mixed with dumb-looking grins. It works.
- Officer and a Gentleman: Lt. Nathaniel Fick is easily the most put together officer in First Recon. Captain Bryan Patterson might also qualify.
- Power Trio: First Recon's command staff, consisting of Lt. Col. Ferrando, Sgt. Maj. Sixta, and Maj. Todd Eckloff.
- Pretty Fly for a White Guy: Stafford.
- Rant Inducing Slight: The "little wine-sipping Communist dick suck tree-loving bisexual" Frederick's letter.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: They toned down "Captain America"'s antics, because they thought that people would think they were too fake.
- Real Men Wear Pink: Reyes is very metrosexual and looks like a GQ model, but he's also a very competent soldier and fist fighter.
- Real Person Cameo: According to the commentary on the DVD, in the video the Marines watch at the end, the man briefly seen goofing around with the donkey is the real Brad Colbert.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: General Mattis delivers a withering one to Colonel Dowdy:
Col. Dowdy: With the resistance we're seeing, I'm concerned that initiating movement too hastily-
General Mattis: The question is why the fuck am I standing here looking at a fucking bridge that doesn't have my Marines rolling across it.
Dowdy: Sir, we're 30 mikes from initiating the armored assault to engage the enemy along the MSR through the city. Our problem has been refueling the tanks.
Mattis: Not only "no", Colonel, but "fuck no". Okay? I don't give a rat's ass about the resistance in this city. Your mission is to punch through this city, put RCT One north of it where our objectives are. This is just a fucking sideshow. You have 7,000 Marine riflemen who have been ready to go for the past 24 hours, and you're standing here with your foot on your dick. No, check that, not your dick, my dick.
- Red Shirt: Mostly averted. Out of the main group, you get to know everyone to a certain degree, and the only people hurt were Sgt. Larry Shawn "Pappy" Patrick and Corporal Evan "Q-tip" Stafford, both of whom we got to know fairly well. Both survived, and Stafford's injury was so minor that he wasn't even medevac'ed out. Pappy returned to combat after the events of the book. Played straight in the miniseries with Gunnery Sergeant David Dill and Staff Sergeant Ray Valdez, who were injured in a minefield. We get to know them a bit better in the book, though.
- Road Movie: The book even compares the humvee Wright rode in to having the dynamic of a family on a road trip, with Colbert the stern father, Person the mother, and Trombley and Wright being the kids messing around in the back seat.
- Rousing Speech: Subverted.
"Yo President! Is watchin'! Amerikee! Is watchin'! But more important! Godfather!
Is watchin'. Make no mistake! THERE! WILL! BE! NO! FUCK! UPS!"
"It was the enemy who stole your food from you, and you should be really, really mad at them. Before we step off on this next mission, I'm reminding you of who your enemy is. The enemy."
- Running Gag:
- The fate of Evan Wright's girl-back-home picture, passed around between the lonely Marines for the whole series.
"You know that picture of Rolling Stone's girlfriend?"
"I think it's safe to say we all know her intimately at this point."
- Which Person later "pimped out" to someone in Bravo Three for some PEQ-4 Batteries before he got a chance to give it back to said reporter.
- Semper Fi: Subverted to some degree. Although there is an amount of "motto" chest thumping, the series does subvert parts of the Marine Corps myth. Examples: "Captain America," "Encino Man," "Casey Kasem," and who could forget the genius idea of re-purposing a reconnaissance unit as a light assault unit in light armored Humvees?
Person: I hate that cheesy motto bullshit.
Person: You know what happens when you get out of the Marine Corps? You get your brains back.
- Sergeant Rock: Too many to count. Obvious choices are Sgt. Brad "Iceman" Colbert, Sgt. Eric Kocher and Sgt. Antonio "Poke" Espera. "Casey Kasem" would become this after the events of the novel/TV series.
- Sociopathic Hero:
- Lance Corporal Harold James Trombley, who joined the Marines specifically to shoot people, showed an unnatural desire to see the results of his kills even from a civilian boy he accidentally shot, and who said that combat was far less nerve-wracking to him than watching game shows at home.
Person: "That's 'cause he's a psycho. But at least he's our psycho."
- In the new afterward for the novel, Evan Wright specifically talked about how various media outlets leapt to conclusions and believed all the Marines featured were violent thugs, thanks to Trombley and Person's "colorful" quotes.
- Southern-Fried Private: Played straight with Lance Cpl. Harold James Trombley. Subverted in Cpl. Josh Ray Person; he seems this way at first due to a big mouth and a Missouri accent, but he only fires his weapon once on-screen and not at anything specific, even going so far as to hand his weapon to the reporter. Somewhat justified in that he's 2-1's driver and thus has his hands literally full most of the time, but is still unarmed when he otherwise should be. He's also the most talented radio technician in all of Bravo Company; see Obfuscating Stupidity above.
- Shaggy Dog Story: ...but only from the perspective of First Recon. Recon fought valiantly all the way up to the bridge at Al-Kut, only to turn around and roll into Baghdad after it had already fallen. Unbeknownst to them, the entire campaign had been a feint. On the other hand, from the perspective of high command, the feint was a smashing success. The enemy bought it hook, line and sinker, and Baghdad was taken with astonishingly low casualties.
- Sherlock Scan: Sgt. Colbert immediately recognizes a "civilian" as a military deserter from his military-style belt.
- Stay Frosty: Colbert's catch phrase, used to remind people to stay attentive. Kocher quotes him once for the same purpose.
- Tank Goodness: They rarely show in the book, and only 3 times in the series-one destroyed one in a city, one brief shot of one firing after the night ambush and once when Person is telling Wright how to 'enjoy' a passing tank.
Cpl. Josh Ray Person "Hey, reporter! If you lay with your cock against the ground when a tank goes by, it feels fuckin' great!"
- Third-Person Person: Lt. Col. "Godfather" Ferrando at times, sometimes with his surname and sometimes his nickname.
- Those Two Guys: Bravo Company commander Captain Craig "Encino Man" Schwetje, and his senior enlisted man Gunnery Sergeant Ray "Casey Kasem" Griego. Note that despite the show's assertion, Casey Kasem could have been either Ray Griego, or his brother Gunnery Sergeant Daniel J. Griego. Wright specifically avoided naming the "incompetent" commanding officers in his book, specifically because he didn't think that most of them deserved the criticism that would be thrown their way for their actions.
- Trope Codifier: The miniseries reasonably shares the title of defining the 21st military in media with Blackhawk Down.
- True Companions: The men of First Recon seem to be this, even accepting the reporter as part of their team. The reporter is a subversion; this type of character is usually the Butt Monkey to the far more badass troops he's around. This is how it starts, but it quickly switches around when he mentions having written for Hustler, and his status in the close-knit group is further cemented when he stays after his first time being shot at instead of leaving immediately thereafter. In the book, Wright notes that he thought everyone hated him as early as Camp Matilda when Marines would start ambushing him around corners and poking him in the side with their knives; when he saw them doing it to each other as a way of passing the time, he realized it meant they were actually starting to like him.
- War Is Hell: An ongoing theme, and only made worse by many of the Marines being unable to see any clear method or goal to their actions.
- The War on Terror: Alert Level Red; the book and show are set during the invasion of Iraq, about military personnel at the war front.
- The Watson: Wright. "What's a POG?"note ; "Why is your voice like that?"
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: At the end of the book. Colbert eventually served as an exchange NCO with the Royal Marines. Fick and some of the other Marines (including Person and Trombley) got out, and some of those would eventually return to Iraq as Private Military Contractors. Some were killed during the Insurgency that followed.
- Worthy Opponent: The Marines acknowledge the fact that many of the Iraqi, feyadeen, and foreign troops who do stand and fight them have to be brave and disciplined men.
Espera: (gestures to dead RPG soldier still holding his weapon) "Motherfucker died trying to get a round off. Combat discipline."
- Written by the Winners: A cynical allusion.
Sgt. Eric Kocher
: If something happens to me
, I want my wife to know the truth. If they say we fought valiantly here, I want her to know we fought retarded."
- You Look Familiar: Sort of. Eric Kocher played Gunnery Sgt. Rich Barrett. Simultaneously, Owain Yeoman played Sgt. Eric Kocher. David Simon just has a thing for this on varying levels: Jeff Carisalez is also in the series, though he doesn't play himself ala Rudy Reyes, and, humorously, plays an invented character. Inversely, the real Ray Person read for himself, but being five years older, out of the Marines, settled down in life and not on Ripped Fuel, he was far too calm and sane to play the 2003 version of himself.
- You Need to Get Laid: Cpl. Person blames the entire war on this, claiming that the Iraqis wouldn't need Marines to come in and save them if they just had more sex.