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FRONTLINE/World Rough Cut
Soldier aboard a U.S. military tank in the desert. Members of the U.S. military relax in the swimming pool on base. A member of the band Hello Dave plays guitar on stage. Soldier takes aim with a machine gun.

Rough Cut
Vacation From War
Life on base in the Persian Gulf


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Length: 15:15

Cerissa Tanner and Aliza Nadi

Producers Cerissa Tanner (left) and Aliza Nadi (right) each recently earned a master's degree from the University of California at Berkeley's graduate school of journalism. Nadi, who is the winner of a Student Emmy, has worked on television projects in Afghanistan, Mexico City and in the U.S.-Mexican border region. She currently works at NBC News in New York. Tanner works for Current TV in San Francisco.

In this week's Rough Cut, we head to the Persian Gulf on a military tour with Chicago rock band Hello Dave. It's the eighth tour taken by the band to entertain U.S. troops overseas. Traveling with the group to six bases in five Muslim countries over 11 days, filmmakers Aliza Nadi and Cerissa Tanner capture an intimate and unstructured portrayal of soldiers snatching a few days' R&R before returning to duty in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Our goal was to show an honest portrayal of what the men and women in the military are really like," Nadi says. "We wanted to tell the story of the war in Iraq from outside Iraq."

For the soldiers, these bases are desert oases. They're loaded with American culture, offering a soft landing from the war zone. Soldiers come here to relax, party and hang out with friends. "It's a piece of America transplanted into the desert," Nadi says.

With Hello Dave's classic American rock playing in the background, soldiers open up about their experiences of war, talking about injuries, surviving sniper attacks and losing friends. One young soldier, who must return to Afghanistan before the band performs, sits in on a sound check and sings along. "This is my own personal concert before I go back to hell," he says.

Even though there's a party atmosphere, with soldiers belting out classics from Pink Floyd, relaxing by the pool and happily breaking the three-beer limit rule, a nervous anxiety hangs over many of the scenes. The more the camera settles in on the normality of life for soldiers there, the more you sense the enormity of what they must return to.

The story was produced as part of News21, a semester-long television journalism course taught by Bob Calo at the University of California at Berkeley's graduate school of journalism. The aim of the project was to send eight students overseas to document the transformation of U.S. military bases abroad.

"It was Calo's idea to give the camera to sources, break down the wall between reporter and producer, and talk to real people," says Tanner. "He pushed us to leave polemics about the military out of our stories and to not sit in judgment of the people we talked to."

CNN aired all four of the films produced in the series earlier this month.


Kathy Blackwood - woburn, MA
I remember the Vietnam "conflict" unsuitably titled as it were. Our boys then did not have the American people's support as individual Americans - being drafted and "doing their duty". It is refreshing to see someone like these two filmmakers "humanize" our troops fighting - whether we agree on the war itself. Kudos to you both and PBS for allowing us to see this. All Americans should see "Rough Cuts" before too long. Thank you.

Dave Farra - Chicago, IL
Sitting here safe and sound after Thanksgiving with my kids, not missing a minute of time or changes in their lives, I am proud of the men and women I have just watched. Well done Cerissa and Aliza.

Keith Lorenz - Honolulu, HI
A good glimpse...Vietnam all over again...R&R and back to war...same old story, but where are the strippers?..oops, forgot, it's Muslim territory...what a boring place to get blown up filmed a good subject: should make a few viewers consider the difference between fighting from a freezing cave and fighting from an airconditioned beer hall attached to a swimming pool...helps for comprehending a war of total opposites...and again to wonder if it isn't the wrong place at he wrong time...good work!

Atlanta, GA
I appreciate what was said in this work about the conflicts inside some of the individuals who are confronting their experiences in theater. The last statement in which the narrator acknowledges Cody's advice is a powerful statement that I think shows the respect that military personnel deserve for the services that they provide for America.Tim Johnson

Marcella Wiggins - Little Rock, AR
Thank you for letting us see inside the soldier, you did an excellent job! And thank you for the tribute to my nephew, Bobby West.

Ted Mudgett - Clovis, NM
This documentary is very informative. I saw the orginal program and was impressed. I will be sure to view this program when it is shown on our local PBS station. Thanks
Ted Mudgett

FRONTLINE/World's editors respond:
For now, "Vacation from War" will only appear on our web site, but if it ever airs on PBS, we will let everyone know. Currently, FRONTLINE/World airs 4 to 5 times a year on PBS. Our next episode is October 31. In the meantime, keep watching our web site where we can post many more videos. That's why we started our "Rough
Cut" series.

Blake Gilmore - Oakland, CA
Brilliant. Insightful. Revealing. Objective.... make up your own minds. The future of journalism is looking better all the time if these two women are representative of what's to come.