Bad Voodoo's War


Bad Voodoo's War

Deborah Scranton

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE: They call themselves the Bad Voodoo platoon.


ANNOUNCER: And they're being sent back to Iraq to be part of the surge.

Spc. JASON SHAW: A lot of these new guys don't know what they're getting into.

ANNOUNCER: They will discover that the war has changed.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN, Platoon Leader: We're used to kicking in doors, taking the fight to the enemy.

ANNOUNCER: And they must fight new frustrations-

RADIO: Just got hit by an IED.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: We're waiting to get blown up, and we're not allowed to fight back.

ANNOUNCER: -battle through their fatigue-

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: Tonight's going to be a heavy night.

We're just running ourselves into the ground.

REV: Dear Heavenly Father-

ANNOUNCER: -and conquer their fears.

REV: -we come to you to watch over us and all these convoys.



ANNOUNCER: -the inside story-

SOLDIER: Pull up! Pull up!

ANNOUNCER: -of Bad Voodoo's War.

RADIO: Handcuff Charlie Bravo 2-3. We have an IED det!

DEBORAH SCRANTON, Director: [voice-over] This is the U.S. military's Joint Forces Training Center, Camp Shelby, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. I came here to meet a platoon of National Guard soldiers-


DEBORAH SCRANTON: -who were getting ready to be deployed to Iraq.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN, Platoon Sergeant: Three, jab, one, right? Power cross, two. Three is going to be a hook.

DEBORAH SCRANTON: The first person I met was the acting platoon leader, Sergeant Toby Nunn.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: And then sprawl, you get down. And then you get back up. The whole time, you run in place.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: The platoon sergeant is the father figure. I'm responsible for the care and welfare of, you know, the 30 guys underneath me.

One, two, sprawl! One, two!


Sfc. TOBY NUNN: One! One! One, two!

DEBORAH SCRANTON: In just a few weeks, Sergeant Nunn must have the 30 men in his platoon ready for combat.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: One, two, sprawl!

DEBORAH SCRANTON: They'll be going in at the peak of the surge.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: One, two, sprawl!

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: This is going to be my third real combat deployment, my ninth overall deployment. But I [unintelligible] thought of myself as a warrior, just a kid from the bush up in Canada. I grew up in a large logging center. I'm a little guy. I wanted to do something with my mind more than with my hands. So I came to the United States hoping to get a little break on college. And somewhere along the way, I realized that paying for college by yourself is expensive!

So I joined the Army, started off as a young private and joined the infantry. Kosovo kicked off. I got sent to the Balkans, the right place to learn about what humanity really has to hold, both good and evil. And then I joined the Strykers. And that's where I went to Operation Iraqi Freedom I and II with the Tomahawks.

Then I came to California. And shortly thereafter, I got a letter in the mail. Going back.

DEBORAH SCRANTON: Toby's platoon calls itself the "Bad Voodoo" platoon.

SOLDIERS: Bad Voodoo!

DEBORAH SCRANTON: And they are not typical National Guard soldiers.

SOLDIER: Hoo-ah, hoo-ah, hoo-ah!

DEBORAH SCRANTON: Almost all of the men are prior active duty. They're not weekend warriors.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: What they're looking for is distance and direction, all right, so yell out the three Ds, I'll yell them back to you. Mainly, just shoot [expletive deleted].

Spc. JASON SHAW: I'm going to [expletive deleted] some [expletive deleted] up, Sarge.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: All right. We got to watch our cussing. How about, "We're going to decisively engage and destroy enemy targets and combatants."

Spc. JASON SHAW: That sounds like a plan!

DEBORAH SCRANTON: Most are highly trained infantrymen.

Spc. JASON SHAW: We're going to decisively engage enemy targets and combatants.

DEBORAH SCRANTON: And many have already served multiple tours to Iraq.

[ Explore the soldiers' stories]

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: Specialist Shaw found out that some of us had been selected to go. He wasn't. And he called me up and he was, like, "Hey, Sergeant," you know, "do you think I could come along?"

Spc. JASON SHAW: I'm going to show you how it's done. Ha!

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: He explained that some of these guys are his friends. He's, like, "They're my brothers. I want to go."

DEBORAH SCRANTON: So Jason Shaw volunteered to go back to Iraq.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: Enemy 9:00 o'clock, 100 meters!

Spc. JASON SHAW: This is my third tour to Iraq. In 2003, we did the initial push into Iraq from Kuwait, all the way up into Baghdad. We stayed there for a while. We called it Hotel Hell. In 2005, we went back, did personal security detachment in Baji, Balad, Tikrit and Samarra- five cities. There's been a lot that's happened, a lot to deal with. It makes you not care about anything.

You're dead, son! You're dead, son!

I did counseling at the VA. I saw a psychiatrist and a psychologist, and they said I had PTSD. Obviously, a lot of people have.

I'm the best gunner there is, son!

A lot of these new guys who've never been over there before don't know what they're getting into. So I figure if I've been there one, two, three times before, you know, there's something I can do for the good of the cause, so I'd like to go back again and maybe do one more tour. This is it, so-

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: Hey, make sure when you get that first trace on target, you're shooting a little low.

Spc. JASON SHAW: Sergeant Nunn's the smartest guy I know. I feel really safe going with him, more than anybody I've ever been with or wanted to go with.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: There you go! There you go! Stop shooting the lift and start hitting the targets!

Spc. JASON SHAW: He gets things done the way they need to be done. He's Bad Voodoo, you know? You can't really mess with Voodoo, so-

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: I got a nickname back in the Balkans, through an event where a Muslim and a Christian were arguing and they felt like I might not be neutral. And I told them I didn't care either way what religion they were and it had nothing to do with mine. I told them I was Voodoo. So since then, this nickname has kind of followed me. And when the guys were voting on what they wanted to name the platoon, someone nominated Bad Voodoo. It was real nice that they chose that and real flattering for me. But they really are. They live up to it.

What are you watching, bud?

SOLDIER: The Lion King. [laughs] Miss the kids, so I have to watch The Lion King.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: It's kind of hard not to care about these guys.

It's actually a good movie.

I got this wonderful family of 32 guys.

SOLDIER: C'mon, honey. Let's go. Get to the safety briefing.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: I'm excited to be part of their experience, but I'm also a little disappointed that that's coming at the expense of my own family.

REAGAN NUNN, Wife: Get in there, Jeffrey!

DEBORAH SCRANTON: Toby's family back in California was growing just as he was being sent to Iraq. His wife, Reagan, was four months pregnant.

REAGAN NUNN: What's in there?


Sfc. TOBY NUNN: There's a lot of excitement with that, you know, and I feel like I'm being negligent in my duties. Last time I came back, my son, he asked me not to go anymore.

TRISTIAN NUNN, Son: How's that?

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: Not bad. You got up there pretty quick.

He told me, "I'm right here. Focus. We got stuff to do." So I was, like, "Right, you are my focus and I will stay right here." And then I made a liar out of myself.

When my son was just a baby, I got a Tickle Me Elmo. That is my little piece of home.

That little Elmo's been in more countries than the majority of the guys in the platoon can spell.

OFFICER: I am an American soldier!

SOLDIERS: I am an American soldier!

OFFICER: I am a warrior and a member of a team!

SOLDIERS: I am a warrior and a member of a team!

DEBORAH SCRANTON: Training was over, and the men were headed to Iraq.

OFFICER: I stand ready to deploy!

SOLDIERS: I stand ready to deploy!

DEBORAH SCRANTON: They asked me if we could work together to capture their experiences.

OFFICER: The enemies of the United States of America-

SOLDIERS: The enemies of the United States of America-

DEBORAH SCRANTON: [on camera] You should record that.


DEBORAH SCRANTON: You're not recording.

[voice-over] As I did on an earlier film, I set up a virtual embed-

[on camera] So you can mount it on the dashboard, to the side, on the- I mean, you can mount this thing anywhere.

[voice-over] -which involved giving cameras to the soldiers-

[on camera] It's up to you to tell me what's working for you.

[voice-over] -and establishing a close, two-way working relationship while they're in Iraq.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: Cam control manual, night shot on-

DEBORAH SCRANTON: [on camera] Yeah, there we go.

[voice-over] The soldiers would be the storytellers, not just subjects. I told them we would tell the story of their war through their eyes, wherever it took them.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: There it is, the silver and white bird of destiny.

Sgt. JOHN-PAUL BORDA: Tell me about your going away at the first time on block leave. Block leave, by the way, is when you get to go home before you go overseas. You get to spend nine days at home. So did Veronica come down and spend time with you?

Spc. JASON SHAW: Yes, she did. I saw her at the airport. She almost knocked me out by jumping on me. The happiest day of my life. And leaving, I cried. I cried. It was very sad.

Sgt. JOHN-PAUL BORDA: Hey, you didn't cry yesterday too much.

Spc. JASON SHAW: I actually did.

Sgt. JOHN-PAUL BORDA: Oh, you did?

Spc. JASON SHAW: I left and went beside the building, as y'all went outside.

Sgt. JOHN-PAUL BORDA: Are you serious? Is that when you went outside?

Spc. JASON SHAW: Yeah, dude. I was upset. It's hard. It's the hardest deployment I've ever had to do.

Pvt. JAKE SIDWA: I'm not really looking forward to this. Just don't want to do it again, man. You wonder how many times you're going to- you know, luck's going to be on your side.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: It's an awesome responsibility that I'm being charged with. I got 30 guys. The smallest thing that ever happens, you know, it's- it's going to be hard.

DEBORAH SCRANTON: By mid-summer, tapes from Iraq were streaming in. Toby and his guys were a couple of weeks into their tour.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: That's the north end of Tikrit right there.

DEBORAH SCRANTON: And they had their cameras up and running.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: Saddam Hussein's hometown. Believe it or not, this is farmland. Not quite the irrigated, green pastures of America, but still pretty good. An Iraqi checkpoint compound. There's my dash cam, which is filming me inside the cab. There's my POV cam, filming the road in front of me.

DEBORAH SCRANTON: The Bad Voodoo Platoon was spending a lot of time on these roads. The Army had based them at Camp Virginia in Kuwait, just south of Iraq, and assigned them a primary mission of convoy security.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: The mission of our platoon is to secure military and non-military elements to go into Iraq. We pick them up in Kuwait and we escort them to their destination within the theater of Iraq.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: All right, so here we are, getting ready to cross this border, leaving the wire.

Wherever that equipment/personnel need to go, that's where we take it.

Today, we are taking a convoy of tankers.

The surge has brought so many forces and so much equipment back into the theater.

RADIO: Voodoo 7, this is 3. Over.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: It takes a lot to get it to where it needs to be.

RADIO: Roger. On out. Looks like there's a south-bound convoy coming down. Over.

DEBORAH SCRANTON: The convoy missions that Bad Voodoo leads take them all over Iraq, all the way from Kuwait up towards the Turkish border. They can be on the road for weeks at a time.

RADIO: Go ahead and pick up convoy speed to 45. Copy.

DEBORAH SCRANTON: For combat infantrymen like these, being stuck in vehicles was frustrating.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: A lot of our guys don't like this mission. I'm one of them. We're used to having our boots on the ground, kicking in doors, taking the fight to the enemy, as opposed to having the fight brought to us and just kind of dealing with it.

He's got [expletive deleted] nothing but gas tanks. Yeah. Push him off the road. Push him off the road! Get off the [expletive deleted] road!

The guys have been joking, you know, this is not convoy security, it's convoy survival.

It's hotter than before.

RADIO: Get on the hard ball. Get on the hard ball. Slow down. Slow down. Slow down.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: We're taking a lot more action. We're being attacked more. The focus of the enemy is to shut down some of these logistical lines.

Oh, [expletive deleted]! It's blowing. It's blowing. Hey, Meier, OK, force people back. Force people back.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: It doesn't take much to slow us down. We're very limited by our avenues of movement. The government that is within, you know, Iraq itself has been able to dictate things to us, that we don't have the freedom of movement that we had before, when, you know, we were calling the shots.

DEBORAH SCRANTON: Among the Iraqis the Bad Voodoo soldiers must work with are the police and highway patrol. The roads that they travel every day are strewn with checkpoints manned by Iraqis. Toby and his men count on these Iraqis to help keep them safe.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: We're from Bravo Company 160th. We're a small element that represents a large element, and you know, we're here to have this dialogue so that, you know, we can better the relationship.

I told myself last time I wanted to train the Iraqis the best that I possibly could because it was my ticket home-

IRAQI POLICE OFFICER: [subtitles] I want to ask, if the police have a situation with the convoys, who do we complain to?

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: -that we could turn this over to them and that we could allow them to do it.

[to police officer] It is important that, you know, we have a better relationship.

But here I am three years later, saying, "Will the Iraqi security forces enforce anything out there?"

[to police officer] When you have an IED and you're trying to cordon it off to block-

Every time I talk to these guys, you know, my trust meter isn't reading in the green all the time. You know, you go through these checkpoints, how many of these guys are counting the vehicles, taking notations of, you know, how we're doing things? It's not that I think you're the enemy, I think you just might have some unsavory elements within you.

RADIO: One Bravo, be advised I have spotted a black Mercedes. He is going northbound on the southbound lane. He was hiding behind a truck.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: Keep your eyes on him.

It's a different military climate.

This ROE [rules of engagement] is so [expletive deleted], man! Back in the day, if we get intel, "Black Mercedes, pacing people, gathering intelligence," if that dude rolled up on us, we'd just [expletive deleted] cap him. Bam! Problem solved.

We're rolling around in armored vehicles, waiting to get blown up and not allowed to fight back. We're here to do a job and we just want to do it. When we're getting blown up and they're not doing anything about it, it kind of asses us up.

DEBORAH SCRANTON: The tapes take about a week to get from Iraq to our office here in New Hampshire.

[typing] So where on the outskirts of Baghdad-

With IM and phone calls, though, I'm typically aware of what's happening to them as it unfolds over there.

[ More on the making of this film]

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: What's something that's now weighing on you more than-

DEBORAH SCRANTON: We're always talking about what's going on and how they can capture it on tape.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: What about being on the road all the time, and like, our non-stop missions, like-

DEBORAH SCRANTON: Not just what's happening in the field, but what they are thinking and feeling.

Spc. JASON SHAW: This mission's by far a lot different than any other one I've had, in different ways. It's not combat anymore. It's, like, I want to say, a game. 2003 was totally different.

NEWSCASTER: We just received some of these pictures. This shows the height of the combat.

Spc. JASON SHAW: 2003 was all-out, you saw on the news, combat.

NEWSCASTER: Again, we have some fresh pictures of the fighting for the Baghdad airport and-

DEBORAH SCRANTON: During the Invasion of Iraq, Jason Shaw was part of the battle for the Baghdad airport.

NEWSCASTER: -the hangars that they had to take one by one-

Spc. JASON SHAW: Our Bradley got hit by a tank over there.

NEWSCASTER: -but it is clear this is about as much activity as we have seen-

Spc. JASON SHAW: So we pulled out the Javelin gunners and we started getting shot at by the tanks from both sides of the overpass. And we blew up all three.

DEBORAH SCRANTON: For his actions, Shaw was awarded the Silver Star, the military's third highest award for valor.

Correction: FRONTLINE mistakenly reported that Spc. Jason Shaw received a Silver Star for his role in the battle at the Baghdad Airport during the invasion of Iraq. We regret the error.

Spc. JASON SHAW: I'd just turned 18. I'm 22 now, so I was young.

I've had six of my good friends die. One of my really good friends passed away, had a baby about three months before he died and got to see her once. And now I'm Uncle Jason, so I moved to California just to pretty much help out and try to get everything back together. So I don't want to have to go through that again, though. It's really hard to deal with, so- it's not going to happen this time. I won't let it happen this time.

When I lost all my buddies, I just kind of lost hope. I used to be kind of religious. My last deployment totally made me think otherwise. You know, you pray all the time to keep everybody safe, and then something happens like that. I don't know. I really think it's pointless, in my mind. So it's kind of sad, but it's the way it goes.

Everybody else noticed a big change in my personality. I have a really bad temper with things. I get angry very, very easily. Just hoping that when I come back from this deployment, I don't do that to my girlfriend or friends or anything like that.

But going out every single day, it gets really stressful. You could have five missions or so, six, nothing happened. Go a month without anything happening, and all of sudden-

Hey, get in the truck! In the truck!

RADIO: Just got hit by an IED.

Spc. JASON SHAW: Where they at? Where they at?

We were on a regular mission. Came over the radio, IED, IED! Looked over in front of us, a huge cloud of smoke.

Right there. All right. Hurry up!

Fire covering the road.

Here's where it was right there. Go through it.

First thing I thought is nobody made it out of that. I thought for sure everybody was burning up. I thought it was the vehicle.

Go right. The trunk flew off.

But as we got closer, we noticed it was just the trunk.

Blew off the whole back end of his trunk. Thank God everybody's all right.

SOLDIER: Look at this [expletive deleted] .

SOLDIER: [expletive deleted]

SOLDIER: Blew straight through the [expletive deleted] back, not a scratch on one of these Joes.

SOLDIER: [expletive deleted]!

SOLDIER: These guys are [expletive deleted] lucky.

DEBORAH SCRANTON: With one of their vehicles disabled, the soldiers are under orders to sit and wait for KBR, Kellogg Brown and Root, a private contracting firm, to arrive and recover them.

Spc. JASON SHAW: Right now, we're waiting for KBR pick-up. It's a nice hot day. It's about 130 right now and it's only, like, 10:30 AM. It's hot as heck. Sit and wait game now.

We've been here now eight-and-a-half hours. KBR has still not shown up, so we took it on our own selves to get ourselves out of here. After eight-and-a-half hours of standing out here in the sun, it's now almost dark.

DEBORAH SCRANTON: They had waited all day for KBR until a passing U.S. military convoy came to their rescue.

Spc. JASON SHAW: Luckily, this convoy came by. It's helping us out.

That would be the old tire. Done. Gone. We're ready to roll. We are rolling with half of a Humvee. That's awesome!

It was a pretty scary day. It's kind of scary to know that all your friends could be up there, you know, getting blown up by an IED or EFP.

I can't tell you guys how much I really thought I was done with this crap. I was the sucker that came back.

It's really scary not knowing what going on, so, you know, take every day like it's your last and try to make it as it is.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: When I was in Iraq last time, we had a soldier named Sergeant Jake Demand, great guy, father of two of his own boys and then a little girl that he had adopted. He was one of my friends. He cared for people in a way that, you know, not many people ever have, especially with what it took for him to leave this earth for some of us to stay. I haven't talked about that very often, so-

The guy took 18 rounds on the ramp of a Stryker, bled out on the scene so everybody else could get on the Stryker. Not many people do stuff like that- 90 seconds, eight magazines. He's a real hero. Not many people know that, you know?

I couldn't help but think about these two little boys and this little girl that will never really know what their father experienced over there. And I don't mean the harshness, I mean the sweetness, how he cared for his guys and was always good for a laugh and a great broiled salmon. And you know, these are the stories that are important. The guys, the face that actually goes out and does what people can't imagine is just a regular guy. We are people. And people forget that.

SOLDIER: So what are you going to do for your birthday today, Sergeant?

SERGEANT: I'm going to drink this, the whole thing. I'm going to celebrate. I'll talk to you later, all right? I need privacy.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: Combat's just kind of something that happens on the battlefield.

SOLDIER: Sidwa wants to know what you get somebody for their 75th birthday! [laughter]

SERGEANT: Who said that? [expletive deleted]

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: The fellowship with the other guys, that's really what the experience is.

SOLDIER: Happy birthday. I came back just for your birthday.

SERGEANT: Whatever, dude! [laughter]

SOLDIER: We're just worried about you!

Spc. JASON SHAW: You'll never find friends like you've been to war with.

SOLDIER: This is you last night- let me have a drink! You guys left me! I'm going to go to chow without you guys! I hate you guys!

Spc. JASON SHAW: Somebody you trust with everything, your life, which is the biggest thing there is.

Oh, ho, ho, ho! Look at me! I'm the American fun boy! I see Sergeant Baker Schnitzel von Haufen Dorfen! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

It's why I volunteered to go this time. I do it for the guys I'm with, you know, not for anybody else, you know? Now it's getting old. Everybody needs to come home.

We're having an awesome time. It's great.

I don't like the whole reason that we're over here.

I love Iraq. There's not much going on out here again. Nothing goes on here, except for when we blow up. That's about it.

It's ridiculous. I hate it. You know, when are they going to start bringing guys home, you know? I think it's totally pointless.

DEBORAH SCRANTON: As the weeks and months rolled on, it became obvious how much the grind of their mission was wearing down Toby and his men.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: It's about 5:00 in the morning, and we are getting ready to go out on what we like to call a "lettuce and tomato run." That's our smartass way of saying, you know, carrying nothing of military significance.

You know, a lot of times you're taking stuff that you know an American soldier will never touch or see. And you're just doing it to hook up some, you know, private contractor.

It's frustrating at times to constantly be doing this stuff. The leadership above us, they don't grasp, you know, the big picture. All they see is we've got to get this many trucks from point A to point B. And they don't think about, you know, what effect it has on the vehicles, what effects that has on the soldiers.

[ Map of convoy security missions]

You're driving on the road for hours and hours and hours and days. It's very monotonous. You try to be hyper-aware.

Hey, tell your tailgun truck and advise the rest of your gun trucks that a black Mercedes pulled in at the southbound lane and it's been kind of following us up a little bit. We're going to battle hand them off to you so we can maintain eyes on.

Constantly looking at every possible little thing.

RADIO: Hey, Roger, Roger. Once you get up there, you've got a southbound-facing small pick-up truck. He's going southbound in a northbound lane.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: Is this guy trying to kill me? Is this guy pacing me? Is he counting how many men I got?

There's that white Toyota truck!

It takes a toll on you. When I get done, I just want to close my eyes. My body's not physically fatigued, but my eyes are fatigued. And when you're moving large numbers of personnel and equipment around, you don't get a lot of rest.

The people that are planning the mission, they look at a map of what it's going to take to get from point A to point B and how long it's going to be. But they don't take in consideration what could happen on the road.

DEBORAH SCRANTON: It was clear what was making Bad Voodoo's missions so long. Attacks like this one at a base in Kirkuk, where the convoy was briefly resting and refueling, could keep them trapped in place for hours.

Sgt. JOHN-PAUL BORDA: It's Code Red right now. As soon as we were leaving the tent, an explosion went off, which means probably indirect fire. Then the alarms went off. Code Red means everyone needs to get inside and take cover. Unless it goes down to Yellow, then we're not going to be leaving.

LOUDSPEAKER: Alarm black. Alarm black.

Sgt. JOHN-PAUL BORDA: It's getting worse!

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: What should take a couple of hours ends up being an entire day.

So we eat when we can, sleep when we can, drink fluids by the gallon and hope to say awake. There's a challenge, though, to drinking fluids by the gallon. Guys come down with urinary tract infections because they've been holding it in for so long, kidney stones because they've been drinking too much Red Bull.

We're just running ourselves into the ground. For me, that's been the hardest part to manage. I'm worried about my guys, and I'm always constantly looking at what they're doing and making sure that they're getting rest and eating well. And right now, I'm out here talking to you while they're inside sleeping because I can't sleep, can't rest, you know? This time is a lot different for me. You know, last time I had a battle, a guy I could look to and share and confide in. And this time, I got you, I guess, the camera.

Folks at home, maybe they'll understand, but I won't feel your compassion and sympathy and empathy.

DEBORAH SCRANTON: By the fall, messages from Toby were getting a bit more sporadic and unpredictable. Their missions were getting longer. In late September, Toby sent word that they were heading north again. He said that things were only getting hotter and that their odds of getting hit were getting worse.

[ Read a Q&A with the producer]

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: Well, here we are. It's about 2:30 in the morning on the 2nd of October. We have been on the road for a while. We are currently at Anaconda, or other known as the Balad Airbase, a long ways away from home. We just got another change of mission and we are going to go even further north. We're going to go into the Tikrit region.

I wasn't too excited to get this change of mission. The stretch of road between Anaconda and Speicher's known as "IED Alley." It's probably one of the worst stretches of road in theater.

8 Ball, Voodoo 7.

Every time that we've taken it, the people in front of us and the people behind us have both been struck, and always with casualties.

RADIO: Go ahead 7.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: Roger. I took a good look at the FLIR [Forward Looking Infrared Radar] all the way down Milton. The good news is the route clearance team did go north. The bad news is it was seven hours ago, and we're the only people going north tonight. So make sure all your people understand that we really need to pay very, very close attention tonight.

Well here, we are. It's about 1:30 in the morning. We're all the way in Tikrit right now. We'll be leaving here in a little bit, and it looks like we're going to be going this route alone again.

8 Ball, Voodoo 7. Who's Rev driving for?

RADIO: Bird Dog.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: There are two Air Force airmen driving the vehicle in front of me-

Bird Dog, Voodoo 7.

-Bird Dog and this kid named Rev.

Hey, tell Rev we really need him to pray a little more, all right?

RADIO: That's good. Copy.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: Rev, the kid that is actually driving, is very spiritual, very religious, leads us in prayer before each mission that we go on.

RADIO: Is he a reverend back home or-

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: I don't know what he is.

RADIO: Guy is scared.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: Here we are. It's 4:30 in the afternoon. We drove down from Tikrit early this morning. We're just north of Baghdad, FOB called Taji. We're very fortunate we were the only people on the road last night, other than a route clearance team. And they got hit, we didn't. You know, we've been real lucky the last three days. The last three days, you know, mentally and emotionally prepared for the worst. So when we got into our tents, you know, this morning, I just- you know, you don't want to show too much emotion in front of the guys, but it's- I could go hug each one of them, really, "Made it!," you know?

Well, all right, I'm going to get some rest. I'm tired. I got to go out in a couple more hours. And tonight's probably going to be a tough haul, so I'll sign off with that and see you guys soon.

Tonight's going to be a heavy night. Tonight's going to be one of those nights that you guys are going to earn your money over here. The potential is 10 times higher than it normally is. And it's already pretty high, right? All right. Who here has an extra CAT, combat action tourniquet. Who has an extra one?


Sfc. TOBY NUNN: Everybody should, right? Theater requirement. All right, you got one in your IFAK and you have an extra. Go ahead and take that extra one out now and put it on your door-side appendage. Put it on your leg, all right? Put it above the knee, below the hip. All right? Don't tighten it down, right? That way, if we come to you- chances are, if you're going to hit in your truck, it's going to be on your door side, right? It's going to be hitting that lower appendage and it's going to be knocking you off. The sooner you can get that tourniquet tight, the sooner you are to saving your life from, A, a femoral bleed-out, and B, saving the chances for a better quality life when we get you out of there to safety, check? I'm not saying this to scare you guys, I'm just trying to keep it real with you, all right?

REV: Come on in. Put your hands on your fellow brother. Dear Heavenly Father, we come to you this evening, especially tonight to watch over us and all these convoys, no matter where they travel, to watch over us. We ask you to keep your hand over us. Keep us protected. Keep us awake. Don't let us get complacent. Keep our eyes out there. Let us see everything that you see. Lord, give your strength to the C2s and the gun trucks for everything they do is good. And all good comes through you. Lord, we ask you to be with us as we travel these roads and as we push up north. So we ask you to just keep your kind hand over our families back home. Make sure they know that we're OK and just to keep their worries away. Just wash them away, Lord. And we ask you just to keep your eye, just to keep over us. In your most heavenly name we pray. Amen.


[ Watch this film on line]

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: Hey, Bird Dog, don't forget we got a bridge coming up we got to downshift for.

There had been some damage to a bridge.

RADIO: Rog. We're going to cross over to the northbound lane. We may have to wait for this convoy to clear.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: We had a temporary bridge in place, but we only had it over one lane.

Go left.

We had to share the- you know, the northbound lane. We were southbound.

Let's see what we got here. Let's see what we got here!

A group passed in the opposite direction, and we waited for them to come over.

Bird Dog, you see that median?

RADIO: Rog. It's looking a little steep, but we have to take it.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: We jumped over to the northbound lane.

RADIO: 8 Ball, Bird Dog.

RADIO: Send it.

RADIO: Iraqi Army vehicle just after the bridge. Right side.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: And we were just coming off that bridge and getting ready to come up to speed when-

IED! We have an IED det LVC. Let's go. Slow down. Slow down! Slow down!

Bird Dog, give me status. Pull up left. Pull up left!

RADIO: Voodoo 7. Voodoo 7. Bird Dog. IED left.

RADIO: Can you roll still?

RADIO: Negative! This is not rolling.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: I can't see [expletive deleted] .

The smoke is heavy. The vehicle's burning.

RADIO: We had an IED det.

RADIO: 8 Ball, it's Bird Dog.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: Look for a secondary. Stop. Stop. Look for a secondary.

Viper 6-1, this is Bravo 2-7. Be advised I just had an IED det. I'm about 10 meters short of 3-2 Alpha.

RADIO: Seven, this is 1-Alpha. I'm coming up on your six.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: Roger. See if you can go right.

RADIO: Bravo, this is Viper. I understand you had an IED. I believe I witnessed it. Do you need medevac support at this time?

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: Negative. Not at this time. We have no injuries to report.

Bird Dog and Rev, they made it through, luckily.

RADIO: Hey, Bird Dog, it's 1-Alpha.

RADIO: How am I looking to the right?

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: It went off right underneath them.

OK, get the lights going again, Bird Dog, so we can advance.

Blew the whole ass of their vehicle off.

RADIO: All right, on the right, right where my go-light is, is the only thing that- I don't see any wires coming from it. Just try to check it out from your angle.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: You're trying to figure out what's debris, shrapnel, what's not, because an IED is typically an initiator for a greater action.

Bird Dog, get them lights back on that thing you were showing me on the bridge.

It's to sucker us into another event.

SOLDIER: They're coming.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: What the [expletive deleted] is that?

-be it a complex attack, a secondary device-

Keep looking at that and tell me what you think it is, bud.

The biggest thing is you want to maintain that calm. You got to look for them shooting, as well as scan every inch of ground that I possibly can to find out if there is secondary devices.

SOLDIER: That looks like- I want to say, like, two PVC pipes sticking up.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: Yeah.

SOLDIER: They are about- it looks like two or three feet apart.

Sfc. TOBY: Yeah, but what could it be?

RADIO: Hey, Voodoo 7. You still want the go-lights on?

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: Yeah, bud. I think that's a secondary.

RADIO: Where is the current location of your secondary device?

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: It's about 10 feet in front of me.

They didn't just put one bomb, they put many. But we knew where they had come from. The bomb had been placed in the road, in a pothole, and someone had just put that out-

Bird Dog, you see that median?

-because the time from that element coming northbound and us getting across that single-lane bridge going southbound was 10 to 15 minutes, at the most.

RADIO: Iraqi army vehicle just after the bridge.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: The bomb had blown up right at an Iraqi police checkpoint, meaning that the people at the checkpoint are the ones that emplaced it.

Here we are, 4 October. We just got hit by an IED. I want to point out the blast hole. And if I could get you to come at this angle, I want you to see that there's an Iraqi checkpoint right behind us.

Look at this, parts of an old artillery round.

They put shrapnel in the ground, in this pothole. People don't understand what shrapnel really is. This is like a spearhead coming through you, coming at you 50 miles an hour. And you know, when it hits your vehicle in an explosion, you know, it just showers and sprays. It's like going through a hailstorm.

That's probably the [expletive deleted] right there that blew it up.

The warrior in you is telling you, "Go over there and whack every single one of them. Engage them. Let them know that you know that they're the enemy." But then, you know, the leader and politician in you is saying, "This is not going to help the cause. This is not going to win their hearts and minds." You know, I understand. You know, this is their country. They don't want to see Sergeant Nunn and his Bad Voodoo wheels of death rolling through their backyard every day. I got it.

RADIO: Viper 6-1. Be advised we've cleared the roads east and west. Did not see trigger man or any possible complex attacks.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: The secondary devices did not go off. So we were very fortunate. And instead of shooting at the Iraqi checkpoint that blew us up, I gave them a little smile and a wave. And I even saluted them, you know, so that perhaps they knew that I knew, and it didn't work, so touche.

MALE RELATIVE: I see him. Yeah, there he is!

REAGAN NUNN, Wife of Toby Nunn: Where? There he is! There he is!

LAUREN, Reagan's Sister: Hey, Toby!

DEBORAH SCRANTON: In late October of 2007, Toby came home to California on a 15-day leave for the birth of his baby daughter.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: For me to come home to be with my wife as we have our little girl, you know, is just amazing.

DEBORAH SCRANTON: But in the days we spent filming him, Toby had a hard time relaxing.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: All this joy, and you know, overwhelming sensation is going to end abruptly because I have to go back.

LAUREN: Did you throw up a little bit?

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: It's too much of that mama's milk.

LAUREN: You know, I'm a baby. I'm going to do that.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: There is guilt. You know, I have two sons and a daughter here. I have 34 sons there.

Oh, that's my little girl right here! Oh, little baby girl!

It's such a double-edged sword.

Oh, you having a hard time with the milk there, wild child?

It really pulls at you and separates you. Trying to flip that switch is very, very hard because they're still in danger, I'm still responsible, you know, and that's not going to end until everyone's back here and it's over.

Spc. JASON SHAW: So what'd you do on leave, Sergeant Nunn?

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: Well, you know, I hung out with the boys, just kind of had some nice quiet family time.

DEBORAH SCRANTON: Toby and Jason Shaw both returned from leave in mid-November.

Spc. JASON SHAW: My leave was good, got to see the girlfriend for a while. Everything was real rocky. Everything was getting real rocky before I went home, so-

This deployment's had a big impact on our- my relationship.

She's not liking it at all. At all. So-

It's hard on the both of us because I always have to worry about what's going on back at home, or at least I think I do, and she's always having to worry about if she's going to lose me the next day.

Everything's pretty much gone downhill. Right now, we're not together anymore. We're trying to take a break and take it easy, and hopefully, everything works out for the best.

DEBORAH SCRANTON: By Christmas, the Bad Voodoo platoon had been deployed for more than six months.

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: All right, stockings. There should be one for everyone, right?

Right now, we're at the halfway point. Everyone's in the mid-tour slump.

Somebody promoted you to specialist, so maybe Santa did come.

But everyone's relatively healthy. We got a bunch of bad knees and backs right now, guys are busted up and broken down, but we have all our fingers, all our toes, and we still have all our Joes.

Well, enjoy Christmas today. You guys have a down day tomorrow unless you're doing maintenance on a vehicle. And then the following day, we go to CEDAR. Check? On a platoon mission.

DEBORAH SCRANTON: The men are still running convoy security missions throughout Iraq.

RADIO: I'm going lights out!

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: Lights out. We got to get on the right-hand side.

RADIO: It was about 300, 400 meters. They're still firing at me right now!

SOLDIER: Firing!

Sfc. TOBY NUNN: Reload! Hamlin, get down in the well!

RADIO: This is Bravo 211 Gulf. We are receiving small arms fire north of checkpoint 22 Alpha-

DEBORAH SCRANTON: They are scheduled to return home this May.


Written, Produced and Directed by
Deborah Scranton

Toby Nunn
Jason Shaw
Jean-Paul Borda
Jonathan Serbellon
Bryan Hamlin
Ben Nievera
Jake Sidwa
Richard Thomson
Ramon Quezada
Jeffrey Meier
And other soldiers of Bad Voodoo

PH O'Brien

Seth Bomse

Katherine Robinson

Chetin Chabuk
Robert Peyrebrune

Leigh Roberts

Trollb�ck + Company
Jakob Trollb�ck
Christina R�egg
Marisa Fiechter
Danielle Amaral
Paul Schlacter

Jim Ferguson

Jim Sullivan

Thomas Glazer
Mary Ann Sullivan
Max Bentovim
Amy Augustine
Ben Conant
Dustin Howard

New England Transcripts
Barbara Alihosseini

Zeyad Kasim

Jessica Dennis

Reagan Nunn
Loren Hutter
Christopher Loverro
Angelica Borda
Nellie Borda
Greg Gardner
Adam Rocke
Joseph Davidson
Chuck Hodges
Richard Gano
Martin Smith
Chris Durrance

Toby Nunn
Dale Nunn
Jason Shaw
Candice Caballero
Richard Gano
ABCNEWS VideoSource

Sally Jo Fifer


Tim Mangini

Chris Fournelle

Missy Frederick

Steve Audette

Jim Ferguson
John MacGibbon
Michael H. Amundson

Ming Xue

Megan McGough

Mason Daring
Martin Brody

Diane Buxton

Alissa Rooney

Sandy St. Louis

Jessica Smith

Peter Lyons

Kito Cetrulo

Nina Hazen

Susanna Thompson

Lisa Palone

Eric Brass
Jay Fialkov
Janice Flood
Scott Kardel

Cynthia Salvatori

Mary Sullivan

Tobee Phipps

Maya Carmel

Bill Rockwood

David Kieley

Richard Parr

Sarah Moughty

Sam Bailey

Robin Parmelee

Catherine Wright

Sharon Tiller

Ken Dornstein

Raney Aronson-Rath

Marrie Campbell

Jim Bracciale

Louis Wiley Jr.

Michael Sullivan

David Fanning

A Clover And A Bee Films Production for WGBH/FRONTLINE
and the Independent Television Service (ITVS)

© 2008

FRONTLINE is a production of WGBH Boston, which is solely responsible for its content.

This story continues on FRONTLINE's Web site, where you can watch the full program again, and in the weeks ahead, follow how things are going for the men of Bad Voodoo through new video they'll be sending to us, as well as blog posts from them and producer Deborah Scranton. Plus, find out more about the making of this film, take a peek inside the world of military bloggers, and join the discussion at


RON SOLOMON, Father: Everywhere we looked, it was, "Take meds, take meds, take meds."

ANNOUNCER: Six million American children are taking psychiatric drugs.

RON SOLOMON: We had no idea how we got on as many meds as he was on.

ANNOUNCER: But most have not been tested on children.

CHRISTINA KOONTZ, Mother: I don't know what the long-term side effects are going to be for him.

ANNOUNCER: Is this good medicine or an uncontrolled experiment?

JESSICA: Taking my medication makes me more like I'm supposed to be.

ANNOUNCER: The Medicated Child.

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posted april 20, 2008; updated april 23, 2008

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