– Special Explores Afghanistan Tour of Duty of U.S. Army Reserve Helicopter Unit –
One of a series of specials commissioned by AMERICA AT A CROSSROADS, “Kansas to Kandahar” is a documentary exploring the response of the U.S. military in the war on terror by chronicling the service of army reservists called for an extended tour of duty in Afghanistan. Viewers follow the experiences and emotions of a Chinook helicopter unit from suburban Kansas City during its one-year deployment, serving first in Pakistan — providing humanitarian relief following the devastating 2005 earthquake — and then in the war zone in Afghanistan. Illustrative of the personnel and logistical strains on the American military, the film’s core remains the personal insights and attitudes of these citizen soldiers as they fulfill their duties while their families strive for normalcy on the homefront. “Kansas to Kandahar” airs Monday, June 11, 2007, 9:00-10:30 p.m. ET on PBS. Distinguished journalist Robert MacNeil hosts.
“Kansas to Kandahar” telescopes 15 months into 90 compelling minutes, and introduces viewers to some remarkable characters. Among these are Lt. Col. Walter Bradley, the unit’s silver-haired commander, whose leadership qualities shine through; second in command Major Doyle Riley, a man of straight talk and strong values who also proves to be a man of great wisdom; and First Lieutenant Betty Pina, who faces both the challenges of being a helicopter pilot in a combat zone and of being a woman in what is still very much a man’s world.
Shot in high-definition (HDTV), “Kansas to Kandahar” includes some remarkable footage, as the unit flies high in the Himalayas in Pakistan and into the ruggedly remote regions of Afghanistan.
“Kansas to Kandahar” opens in August 2005 as the men and women of Bravo Company, 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, U.S. Army Reserves, prepare to deploy to Afghanistan. Lt. Col. Bradley, the unit’s commander, puts his corps of reservists through their paces, as the troops — average citizens called to duty in the war on terror — maintain their professionalism while struggling to control their emotional goodbyes to families and loved ones. As departure day nears, the unit’s orders suddenly change. They are diverted to Pakistan, where their Chinook helicopters ferry invaluable humanitarian supplies to some of the country’s remotest Himalayan villages devastated following the massive earthquake in October 2005.
The welcome reception — and resultant gratification, even joy — the soldiers experience in Pakistan quickly changes when they reach Afghanistan. There Bradley and his troops are thrown into the war against the Taliban, regularly transporting troops and supplies into combat zones. As the tour of duty drags on, the strain on Bravo Company’s human and technical assets begins to show. The unit’s mechanics, who keep the choppers in working order, labor around the clock to keep up with the multiple missions and the wear and tear on the equipment. Likewise, the pilots and other personnel battle fatigue, war weariness and a longing for home as Bradley rallies his charges to keep their focus.
The stress of an extended deployment is borne not only by the soldiers but also by their families. “Kansas to Kandahar” provides a glimpse into the sacrifices of those on the homefront, as it also tracks the tensions and tribulations experienced by those left behind.
The personal and logistical trials of Bravo Company reflect those confronting the U.S. military as a whole, as it seeks to conduct two wars and maintain a global strategic presence with an all-volunteer force. This unit alone logged more than 7,700 flight hours and carried more than 25 million tons of men and materiel during its deployment. With minimal narration, “Kansas to Kandahar” lets the citizen soldiers tell their own stories, and as the months pass,the drain on the unit is palpable. Some come to question the policy that sent them there; others decide that, once the deployment is completed, they will leave the military. The buoying thoughts throughout are those of home, and “Kansas to Kandahar” concludes with the quiet power of the unit’s poignant homecoming, as they return to Kansas, their mission complete.
“Kansas to Kandahar” is one of the wide array of documentaries commissioned as part of the celebrated AMERICA AT A CROSSROADS series. This initiative, created by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and produced under the aegis of WETA Washington, DC, was designed to create an in-depth, provocative series of films exploring the challenges confronting the world post-9/11. The first 11 films in the series aired April 15-20, 2007, on PBS, generating a strong audience response and critical acclaim. Robert MacNeil hosted the series.
CPB developed the initial concept for AMERICA AT A CROSSROADS in 2004 with an open call for film projects. More than 400 proposals were submitted from public television stations and independent documentary filmmakers around the world. In 2006, CPB named WETA the producing station to oversee all films throughout production. “Kansas to Kandahar” is the first in an anticipated series of specials following the premiere week of AMERICA AT A CROSSROADS.
Underwriter: Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Producer: Lumiere Productions. Producer/director: Cal Skaggs. Editor: Jay Freund. Director of photography: Tom Hurwitz. Series executive producers: Jeff Bieber and Dalton Delan. Series producer: Leo Eaton. Associate producer: Marjolaine Souquet. Format: CC Stereo DVI Letterbox/HD where available. Online: pbs.org
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■ AMERICA AT A CROSSROADS’ interactive Web site is located at pbs.org/crossroads.