KILLEEN — With rounds flying so close that they sounded like bees buzzing, a severely wounded medic shouts orders on how to care for other wounded troops and then apologizes to his buddies for dying.
This is just one scene from the powerful and moving documentary “The Hornet’s Nest” shown to a crowd of about 50 people at its Killeen premiere at Regal Killeen Stadium theaters last week.
“The Hornet’s Nest” is about the war in Afghanistan with combat footage shot by ABC correspondent Mike Boettcher and his son, Carlos Boettcher, from 2009 to 2011. After Sept. 11, 2001, Boettcher, a 34-year news veteran, felt a responsibility to tell the soldiers’ story the right way, as his hero Ernie Pyle did in World War II.
“The film has no political agenda, but its intent is to connect 99 percent of the American public that doesn’t feel the pain of this war to the 1 percent that does,” Mike Boettcher said.
Working together for the first time, the Boettchers spent two years with two units from the 101st Airborne Division and a Marine battalion, getting an up-close view of life and death on the front lines.
Josh Arbarez, now a police officer in Buda, south of Austin, served in 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.
“Mike did a great job putting it together, and I think it is a great way to help people understand the war better,” Abrarez said.
In the film, a one-day planned operation turned into nine days of combat with soldiers pinned down by Taliban fighters. When a soldier died, the film stopped the action and showed personal photos and videos to reflect on who the soldier was as a person.
Staff Sgt. John Nesse, currently stationed with 3rd Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood, was part of the mission shown in the movie. Six soldiers in his air assault unit were killed.
As Nesse watched raw footage of the battle captured in the documentary, the realities of combat flooded back to him.
“It was hard. It really kind of hits you in the chest like a sledgehammer,” Nesse said. “When we first got back, it was just a lot of emotions running around and the longer and the more time that went by, I thought about this mission less and less and less. Then when I watched this, it all came rushing back to me.”
The real footage is intense, Nesse said.
“When you see scenes like the beach scene in ‘Saving Private Ryan’ … you’re like, ‘wow, that’s intense,’” he said. “But then when you watch this, you realize that this is filmed in real life. There’s somebody that has a camera and all these bullets flying by, these aren’t movie special effects, they’re not sound effects. This is actually some idiot with a rifle trying to kill you.”
Covering the war
To date, 22 journalists died covering the war in Afghanistan. Armed only with camera equipment, the Boettchers were exposed to the same dangers as the troops. At one point in the film, Carlos Boettcher insisted on going on a mission so his exhausted father could rest. Mike Boettcher didn’t know if his son would return alive.
After the viewing, the crowd sat silent, some weeping and most numbed, but their reaction didn’t surprise Boettcher.
“I hope when people see the film, they not only thank a soldier, but hug them too,” he said.
“This is a very powerful film to let the public know what soldiers go through and why they fight, and the kind of valor, courage and humor that soldiers have in situations that are more terrifying than anyone can possibly imagine,” said Mike Williams, an audience member.
Carol Brown traveled from Moody to see the film because her nephew served in the war.
“It’s so difficult to say you like the movie, but it’s important for anyone to see regardless of your political affiliation,” she said.
Seeing the film for the first time at the Killeen premiere, Lt. Col. William “Andy” Rockefeller, who served as executive officer of 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, during the shoot, said he appreciated that the film was truly about the soldiers.
“It’s amazing what an 18-year-old can do, and coming out of the X-Box generation, many people don’t think they have it in them but they do have it in them,” said Rockefeller, who currently serves with the 1st Cavalry Division.
The film opens in theaters nationwide June 6, but will be released early in Killeen theaters May 16.
Herald reporter Sarah Rafique contributed to this report.