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Literature / Generation Kill

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It's not exactly Gomer Pyle.

"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 on the front lines of the The War on Terror as well as the command decisions that put them where they were. Wright compiled these articles into Generation Kill, which was later made into a seven-part miniseries by David Simon and Ed Burns on HBO.

The series and book are notable for their unvarnished depictions of the grunts' culture, including their views on the Marine Corps, the war, and their place in it. Marines espouse a wide variety of irreverent opinions using spectacularly coarse language and often revel in the opportunity to kill for their country. Many also grapple with the complicated moral footing they find themselves on as trained killers fighting a dubiously justified war surrounded by civilians who may or may not be the enemy. The command staff are frequently depicted as too incompetent or preoccupied with earning promotions to fight the war effectively.

All of this is a far cry from the noble, patriotic heroes audiences usually expect in American war media. This triggered accusations that Wright's depictions were heavily embellished, but the Marines themselves have backed up their own depictions as mostly accurate.

As this pertains to a military operation, expect a lot of military tropes.

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, particularly during this portion of the attack on the airfield, which nets some choice responses considering the airfield is empty.
    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 an 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. At one point Godfather jokingly informs his officers that some of them are riding in the same humvees used by the Marines during their march on Tripoli.
  • Armed Farces: Incompetent officers, bizarre rants, idiosyncrasies of military culture, "new tactics" that amount to idiotic tactics and pencilpushers leading combat, and all sorts of other buffoonery are all on display, even if it wasn't meant to be satire.
  • Autobiographical Role: In the miniseries, Rudy Reyes wound up playing himself after the original actor had to drop out.
  • 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 telling him that 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 attempts to bayonet a restrained detainee before claiming that he thought the man was attacking a fellow marine. Later, he jabs his bayonet at another restrained detainee purely out of malice.
  • 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: In general, the marines are eager for an opportunity to use their training in real combat. Some specific examples include:
    • Lance Corporal Harold James Trombley only seems to be interested in killing people, even civilians. He later admits that he has an irrational desire to get shot.
    • Cpl. Person gives this memorable rant in response to a child's letter from back home.
      Person: Dear Frederick, thank you for your nice letter. But I'm actually a US 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.
    • In episode 6, Colbert talks about how disappointed he is to not have been on a single recon mission, stating that he is a "hunter" by nature. When Godfather assures him that a new mission will be forthcoming, Colbert smiles in anticipation.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Cpl. Josh Ray Person, constantly yelling about the Marines' battle prowess through the ages. And his own, of course.
  • 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.
    I'm doing my best.
    Sir, it's just not good enough.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Person again.
    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.
  • 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 please back the fuck up while bullets whiz over his head. 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.
    • Defied on the way to Bagdad, when Person tries to strike up more casual dialogue only to be shushed by Colbert and told to focus.
  • Catchphrase: "Stay Frosty" for Colbert (albeit only in the show; Evan Wright mentions that all in all, he heard the real Colbert utter this maybe twice). "Screwby" for Stafford. Fick is assured that he does not have a catchphrase. 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.
  • Code Name: Done realistically, code names are only at the company level and numbers added on refer to specific groups. For the focal Bravo company it's Hitman, for Alpha it's Assassin, and for the rarely mentioned Charlie, it's Raptor.
  • 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 sniper team. 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.
  • 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".
  • Combat Medic: Navy Hospitalman Second Class Robert Timothy "Doc" Bryannote , who fights and saves lives with equal passion.
  • 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?"
  • Cultural Posturing: A lot of the playful ribbing that goes on between marines is of this sort. We see it a lot between Colbert and Person. Person at one point describes Colbert as an unrepentant Christ-killer for being Jewish. Later, Colbert says that while he was adopted into a millennia-old culture of Talmudic wisdom, Person was born in a trailer to ignorant, inbred white trash. They both chuckle about it. Given Colbert's earlier remarks disparaging all religion, it's unlikely that he's all that precious about his own Jewish background.
  • 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.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Wright's style of writing in the book certainly suggests this. Observe:
    Wright: 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.
  • Do-Anything Soldier: Forced upon the battalion. As recon marines, they were trained to move ahead of the main force, working in small teams to gather intelligence. They thought they were being provided with vehicles to help in that regard. Instead, they were utilized as mounted infantry for company and battalion-sized hit-and-run attacks in a feinting maneuver, which they were untrained and unequipped for and had to figure out as they went along.
  • 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.
  • Dumb Jock: Encino Man is a giant, lumbering moron who speaks in nothing but football metaphors, making it painfully clear what his background is. In the final episode, he serves as quarterback for the skins team during the football game and dominates the shirts team.
  • 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 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 and slip unnoticed past a sniper team implied to be part of the spec ops that play this trope straight, all for shits and giggles.
  • 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 wife back home. It gets lampshaded at one point when the Marines try to invert it by telling the reporter, "It doesn't make you gay if you think Rudy's hot. We all think he's hot. Jesus, you're beautiful."
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": In the series adaptation, Evan Wright is only referred to by nicknames related to his assignment, eg: "Rolling Stone", "Writer", and "Scribe".
  • Everyone Has Standards: Marines frequently voice the opinion that they should be killing any "hajji" they lay eyes on yet the whole platoon is disgusted when Trombley opens fire on children. But even then, their ire lasts until Trombley's eerie sociopathy comes in handy in a pinch. Then they give him an affectionate nickname referencing his "baby killing" and accept him back into the fold.
  • 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 keys 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 releases 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. The book mentions an incident when Trombley quickly and surreptitiously eats a bag of Charms candy, telling the reporter not to tell anyone. Nothing bad happens.
  • 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, as did one of the Marines in Fick's Humvee (Christeson, from PFC to Lance Corporal).
  • 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.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Delta Company (which consists of reservists) are disliked by the rest of the battalion, including Godfather, who spent most of the invasion ducking Delta on the comms and trying to avoid them. The viewers later gets to see Delta in action and understands why they are disliked.
  • 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".
    • After Ray and Rudy's tussle at the football game is broken up, as Ray is walking off, a Marine can be heard telling Rudy "Goddammit Rudy, go to your little quiet place and chant, motherfucker."
    • During Person's unhinged rant about wars being about "lack of pussy", the camera focuses on an incredulous Evan Wright, who can only silently mouth "Wow" at the insanity he is witnessing.
  • 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.
    • Encino Man clumsily attempts to do damage control after the command staff got the company's vital supplies stolen by trying to redirect the men's anger back at the Iraqi military. "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."
  • The Ghost: Charlie Company. They have a short scene in one episode, but otherwise they're only mentioned on radio.
  • Gilligan Cut: In "The Cradle of Civilization", Lt. Fick assures his men that they will be crossing a hostile bridge under cover of darkness. The next shot shows them driving over it in the bright morning sunlight.
  • Going Native: The culture clash between the writer and the marines is quite wide in the beginning of the series, but as the series goes on, he can be increasingly seen smirking and laughing along with some of their very extreme behavior, showing that he is internalizing their culture.
  • 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?
  • Groin Attack: Rolling Stone suffers a self-inflicted one when he attempts to donn his too-small chem gear, the elastic crotch strap crushing his nuts badly enough that he can hardly walk, let alone run to cover with the Marines.
  • Handicapped Badass: Sgt. Sutherby, the sniper, is hearing impaired.
  • Heroic BSoD: This show loves this trope.
    • Brad after Trombley shoots civilians with his okay. 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.
  • Hidden Depths: Zig-zagged with a Hell of a lot Sophisticated as Hell and actually one maybe shouldn't be surprised that an elite unit of the Marines is smarter than the average grunt.
  • Highly-Conspicuous Uniform: The Recon Marines are issued woodland MOPP suits, prompting disbelief and snark since they're fighting in the desert. Only Wright receives a desert MOPP suitnote .
  • Hyper-Competent Sidekick: Kocher saves untold numbers of lives by secretly contravening most of the orders of his superior officer, Captain America.
  • 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: The recon marines are occasionally shown to be almost frighteningly accurate with their fire.
    • Everyone in the platoon feels 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.
    • When a marine fires a short burst at a car approaching a roadblock, he manages to strike the driver right through the eye. Colbert is dismayed by his action and a little creeped out by his accuracy.
  • 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.
  • 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: People talk about how attractive Rudy Reyes is. In fact, he got a modeling contract.
  • 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, or "Person Other than a Grunt"). 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.
    • The Marines often make fun of the Army, saying how they have it easy due to being more well-equipped and well-funded. In one instance, a Marine mistakes an incoming Marine convoy for an army one and remarks that said convoy is returning to the AAFES to get more tampons.
    • In another scene, the Marines are looking to rest in a building after arriving in Baghdad. One Marine from 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment (1/4) tells the Recon Marines that they have occupied the building first and tells them to leave. The Recon Marines, not wanting to admit defeat, break in through the roof instead, and spot a Navy SEAL sniper team on the roof picking off enemies as they do.
  • 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:
    Lt. Fick: We don't have anything to worry about. [Encino Man] is using the wrong authorization codes and the wrong grid coordinates.
  • Jabba Table Manners: Person is frequently shown making a mess with his food and chewing tobacco.
  • Kicked Upstairs:
    • Sort of happens to Encino Man and Captain America, the resident Neidermeyers, though in a roundabout sort of way. They were originally intelligence officers assigned to combat leadership positions; they eventually get removed from frontline duty and placed back into desk jobs so that the Marines can get competent officers who are actually good at commanding troops in battle.
    • Inverted 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.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: More than a few of the Marines qualify. As Wright points out, not only are these men generally unsurprised by the idea that their leaders might be corrupt or incompetent, but they have grown to expect it, having all grown up in the post-Watergate era. Their motivations for serving range from purely practical (getting out of bad neighborhoods, for example) to more idealistic (trying to make a Crapsack World a slightly better place, or at least prevent it from getting worse). Even the most idealistic member of the battalion, Lieutenant Fick, isn't immune from a growing degree of cynicism while pressing on with his duties.
  • Large Ham: Sergeant Major Sixta, who deliberately crafts a combination of this and a Jerkass facade to give the Marines someone to direct their anger and frustration toward, in order to keep morale up.
  • Lighter and Softer: The book and series are supposed to be deconstructing the idea of noble soldiers through real life accounts. At the same time the events and the irreverence of a lot of the characters make it seem a lot lighter than your typical War Is Hell piece.
  • 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's 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.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Some of the marines who are wounded react very calmly. Such as when Pappy gets shot, he simply calls out that his vehicle has a man down over the radio and says nothing more than "Oh, it's just my foot" when Rudy asks for more information.
  • 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.
  • 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! okay?
  • Must Have Caffeine: Cpl. Person, whose bizarre behavior is caused solely by a legal stimulant addiction. Careful with that Ripped Fuel, man.
  • The Napoleon: The Delta unit of reservists is said to be commanded by a tiny corporal who tied bull horns to the front of his humvee. When we see the man, he's parading arrogantly past the company in his decorated vehicle. Bonus points for the real Napoleon's nickname being "the little corporal."
  • The Neidermeyer: First Recon ends up with a few. According to Fick's book, it was because they were never expected to command in the field, but Recon was being used for something completely different than their original purpose.
    • "Captain America", whose activities include hoarding Iraqi fallen goods (particularly carrying a stolen AK with him into combat, which he gets chewed out for at one point), 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, ordering his soldiers to mark a minefield at night, 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 (but failing to do so because he didn't have the right protocols or coordinates), 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 this 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.
  • Nerves of Steel:
    • Trombley in episode 4. When under fire from a self-propelled AA gun, he calmly spots the distance to the enemy vehicle for air support while bullets land inches away from him. He seems fascinated by the volume of fire that AA gun dishes out and has to be pulled away. Rather than being heroically calm, however, it's implied that Trombley is simply too stupid (or at least detached and dissociated) to feel rational fear.
    • 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. In the book, during the bridge ambush, Colbert calmly sings while coolly opening up in one of the largest ambushes Evan witnessed. 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: When Encino Man asks Baptista for his opinion, Baptista gets out of having to offer one by calling him incompetent in a bizarre mixture of Portuguese and heavily-accented English, mixed with dumb-looking grins to look like he's giving him compliments. 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.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: The mild-mannered Fick angrily intimidates and threatens Casey Kasem after realizing that the men has given orders to his men.
  • The Peter Principle: It's pointed out in the book that many of 1st Force Recon's officers were composed of logistical staff and experienced NCOs of at highest the rank of Sergeant; as such, the decision to deploy all of 1st Force Recon to Iraq meant that a large group of officers who were highly skilled at technical and administrative positions were suddenly forced into combat ones they were most assuredly not very competent in. Wright made a point not to name names because he felt it was unfair to these officers.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Fick must walk a fine line between pushing back on the idiocy of the brass and falling in line with the chain of command.
    • Godfather actually has a rare moment when a group of his men appeal to him to provide medical support for a civilian wounded by Americans. Seeing that he has a serious moral issue brewing, he calmly explains that his refusal of aid was not motivated by callousness but by a range of practical concerns and limitations that the men do not fully appreciate. He then acquiesces to provide the medical support.
  • "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.
  • Recruiters Always Lie: In one of his rants, Ray says that Trombley was told by his recruiting officer that he would get to shoot people, Ray was told he would get to go to Thailand and get all kinds of strange and Colbert joined after seeing the Dress Blues commercial. Ray then notes that Trombley hasn't killed anybody yet, Ray is half a world away from good Thai pussy and Colbert is in a MOPP suit that smells like four days of piss and ballsweat.
  • Road Trip Plot: Discussed. The book 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: In accordance with the theme, these exist but they are not as...elegant as some other examples.
    "Yo President! Is watchin'! Amerikee! Is watchin'! But more important! Godfather! Is watchin'. Make no mistake! THERE! WILL! BE! NO! FUCK! UPS!"
  • 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.
    • Lt. Fick being 'assured' that something will happen by his superiors, followed by the exact opposite happening.
    • Anytime the Marines are performing actual recon, it's shortly ended by the US military blowing it up for one reason or another with the series' largest explosions.
    • Various characters tics, such as Captain America freaking out whenever they're under the slightest bit of danger, Baptista speaking Portuguese into the comms, and Encino Man's incessant football metaphors.
  • Sex Is Good: In the opinion of Marine Person, good sex makes people good.
    Cpl. Ray Person: Look at this shit. How come we can't ever invade a cool country, with like chicks in bikinis, you know? How come countries like that don't ever need Marines? I'll tell you why, it's lack of pussy that fucks countries up. Lack of pussy is the root fucking cause of all global instability. If more hajis were getting quality pussy, there'd be no reason for us to come over here and fuck 'em up like this, cause a nutbusting haji, is a happy haji. [...] You know what, you should definitely quote me on it. This whole fuckin' thing, it comes down to pussy! Look, if you took the Republican Guard and comped their asses in Vegas for a weekend, no fucking war!
    Evan Wright: So the war's not about oil, or WMDs?
    Person: No, in the opinion of this Marine, it's about pussy.
    Evan Wright: And it's not about Saddam?
    Person: No, Saddam is just part of the problem, look, if Saddam invested more in the pussy infrastructure of Iraq than he did in his fucking gay ass army, then this country would be no more fucked up than say, Mexico.
  • Skewed Priorities: A major theme in the series.
    • Godfather is constantly shown to be far more interested in winning commendations and promotions than in fighting the war in a way that is best for everyone. He considers allied units to be competition and subjects his men to unnecessary risks so that they, and he, will get more glory. This is a continuation of the central theme of The Wire.
    • In the first several episodes, officers constantly harp on the marines' mustaches seemingly at the expense of more pressing matters pertaining to final preparations of going into combat. Sixta states that rigidly enforcing grooming standards helps prevent other, more important standards from slipping. He also later says that it's all part of a Genghis Gambit.
    • After the unit watches in horror as a hamlet of women and children is bombed to powder, Person gripes that the explosions made him ruin the "cookie" he was making from MRE scraps.
  • Semper Fi: Although there is an amount of "moto" chest thumping, the series does not use parts of the Marine Corps myth, mocks others, and parodies some.
    • 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 moto bullshit.
      Person: You know what happens when you get out of the Marine Corps? You get your brains back.
    • Also hilariously parodied when the Marines are told to be flexible. One Marine mocks the command, saying, "Yeah, Semper Gumby. Always flexible."
  • Sergeant Rock: Too many to count. Obvious choices are Sgt. Brad "Iceman" Colbert, Sgt. Eric Kocher and Sgt. Antonio "Poke" Espera. In the book, Casey Kasem turns out to be a capable leader who "knew his shit", instead of the kiss-ass he was in the initial operations.
  • Shaped Like Itself: Encino Man's woeful attempt at a Rousing Speech ends with him proclaiming: "I'm reminding you of who your enemy is: The enemy."
  • 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. At the end of the series, he's the only Marine to watch the montage to its end, having no reaction to the various scenes of horror interspersed with the joshing around.
    • In the new afterward for the novel, Evan Wright specifically talked about how various media outlets leaped to conclusions and believed all the Marines featured were violent thugs, thanks to Trombley and Person's "colorful" quotes.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Trombley is frequently called a psychopath even by his fellow hard-charging marines. While his fellow marines are disgusted by him shooting children during an assault, they are also impressed by the accuracy it required and eventually jokingly nickname him Whopper Jr.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: A great many of the Marines have a tendency toward having surprisingly intelligent discourse over the war and society laced with profanity and slang.
  • Southern-Fried Private: Played straight with Lance Cpl. Harold James Trombley and 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.
  • Shout-Out: In-universe. Brad Colbert shares his Iceman nickname with the equally cool-headed, blond and sarcastic pilot Tom Kazansky from Top Gun. For bonus points, the real Colbert admitted in an interview that he joined the Marines because he dreamed of being a pilot, and has a lifelong passion for flying.
  • Spiritual Successor: While it's the second HBO miniseries about the real exploits of a US military company and actually does a good job of dismantling the image of soldiers created in that show, it's more closely a successor of The Wire. Both feature David Simon and Ed Burns as main writers and explore the same theme of systems breaking down due to the incompetence and ambition of their leaders.
  • Stay Frosty: Colbert's catch phrase, used to remind people to stay attentive. Kocher and Col. Ferrando both quote 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: Encino Man and his lickspittle Casey Kasem, who are depicted as causing quite a few problems for First Recon.
  • True Companions: The men of First Recon seem to be this, even accepting the reporter as part of their team. 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.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Something of a David Simon trademark. The show places a premium on authenticity, resulting in the use of a lot of military slang and jargon. Viewers without a background in the U.S. military must often pick up the meaning of an exchange purely through context.
  • 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.
    Reyes: It all feels so random, what we're doing. Running here, shooting. Running there, bombing. That might be a legit target burning over there, but it might be a school, Pap. I hope it's legit. I hope this is good karma.
  • The Watson: Wright. As a reporter, it's both his job and his role in the story to have things explained to him.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Godfather speaks of General Mattis in glowing terms and seems purely motivated to seek his approval.
  • "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 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.