Off to War - From Rural Arkansas to Iraq

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[edit] General Information

War Documentary published by Discovery Channel in 2005 - English narration

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Image: Off-to-War-Special-Features-Cover.jpg

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From the farms and fields of Arkansas to the deadly streets of Baghdad, Off to War tracks the citizen soldiers of the Arkansas National Guard as they come face to face with the horror of war.

Never before has a single unit of soldiers been followed from the beginning to the end of their deployment at war. In April 2004, filmmakers Brent and Craig Renaud arrived in Iraq with the Arkansas National Guard during one of the bloodiest months to date. Within twenty-four hours of their arrival, one of the guardsmen lay dead. By the end of the first month, the unit had lost more soldiers than any other National Guard Brigade in Iraq.

From actual scenes of full-scale combat to a soldier's funeral, from the birth of a first child to the heartbreaking return home of a critically injured soldier, Off to War tells the story of a war in a way it has never been told before--through the eyes of the soldiers and families back home who endured it.

[edit] Episode 1

Sergeant Ronald Jackson and his stepson, Tommy Erp, leave their turkey farm, turning over control to Jackson’s wife and 63-year-old father for the year. Baptist minister Sergeant Joe Betts leaves a new church and congregation, as well as three stepchildren and a wife who is concerned about shouldering the burden of caring for their family while Joe is gone. The parents of 19-year-old Matt Hertlein are apprehensive about his deployment. Many of these soldiers have never traveled beyond the borders of Arkansas, and they face an entire year away from home. The men leave home after an emotional town gathering to see them off.

[edit] Episode 2

Training for Operation Iraqi Freedom begins for the members of the 39th Infantry Brigade of the Arkansas National Guard at an Army base in Fort Hood, Texas. Some of the guardsmen are tested by the grueling physical training, and the unit is warned that Iraqi insurgents will know the newcomers are inexperienced. The Army employs Iraqi and Kurdish-American actors to simulate actual war conditions. Back in Arkansas, their families grow more fearful that these guardsmen, who work in sales, farming and other nonmilitary jobs, could become the targets of Iraqi militia groups bent upon attacking Americans. At the end of this hour, the men leave their homeland for the first time, bound for Kuwait.

[edit] Episode 3

In Kuwait, the men prepare their vehicles for the three-day convoy to their new home north of Baghdad. With a shortage of armored vehicles, they spend their last day hammering plywood to the sides of jeeps to protect them from insurgents. Once in Baghdad, the unit was intended to engage in civil missions, but almost immediately it is deployed on combat missions. It is the first time since World War II that this many Arkansas National Guard soldiers have been deployed to a combat zone. Meanwhile, their families back home are terrified by the news that Arkansas soldiers are already dying in Iraq. By the end of the first month in Iraq, the Arkansas National Guard has lost eight men and seen many more injured. Among the injured is Sergeant Wayne Irelan, who is wounded during a mortar attack and is shipped home to an uncertain medical fate.

[edit] Episode 4

In Iraq, the Arkansas Guardsmen track and disarm roadside bombs responsible for killing many American troops. Specialists Matt Hertlein and Tommy Erp debate the Abu Ghraib scandal while Cheryl Jackson worries about the effect the scandal will have on the safety of her husband and son in Iraq. Sergeant David Short visits an Iraqi medical clinic that has no anesthesia for its patients. Back in Clarksville, the congregation Sergeant Joe Betts worked so hard to build replaces him as pastor without his consent. The families of the Engineers hold a pig roast at Wal-Mart to raise money to send to the troops in Iraq. A final surgery reveals that Sergeant Wayne Irelan’s combat wounds are too severe and he will never use his arm again.

[edit] Episode 5

The Arkansas Guardsmen are called on to help train the Iraqi National Guard as the transfer of sovereignty begins on June 28, 2004. After three months in Iraq, the Engineers begin their first civil military project — helping the Iraqi government build Abu Nuwas Park, known as the "Central Park" of Baghdad. With complaints of shoulder and neck pains, Sergeant Joe Betts is sent back to Fort Hood, Texas, for a physical evaluation. Amy Betts is relieved when the doctor determines that her husband is not fit for duty and recommends three months of physical therapy back in Arkansas. Sergeant Curtis Rohrscheib’s wife Shannon enters her final trimester of pregnancy with hope that her husband will arrive home in time for the delivery of their first son.

[edit] Episode 6

With Iraqis now in charge of the government, the Arkansas National Guard works alongside the Iraqi security forces on all of their missions. The soldiers become suspicious of corruption, then fall into an ambush and suspect the Iraqi Police. After an intense firefight caught on tape, Sergeants Curtis Rohrscheib and David Short investigate the Iraqi Police for infiltrators. Back home in Arkansas, Sergeant Joe Betts tries to save his marriage and is detailed to answering phones and taking out the trash at the Clarksville Armory while he continues physical therapy. Specialists Matt Hertlein and Tommy Erp return home to Arkansas for two weeks of R&R and tell families and friends of their frustrations with the mission in Iraq. Sergeant Curtis Rohrscheib comes home for the birth of his son Garrett, but then has to say goodbye to his heartbroken family as he returns to Iraq for the remainder of his duty.

[edit] Episode 7

The Arkansas National Guard continues to face a growing insurgency in Iraq. An increase in car bombs and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) makes every patrol potentially deadly. Back home, the country is divided by the 2004 U.S. presidential elections. With their loved ones in harm’s way, the families of the soldiers vote in what they say is the most important election of our time. During Thanksgiving, everyone struggles with the separation from family. Sergeant Curtis Rohrscheib misses his son’s first turkey dinner, and Suzanne Hertlein prays for her son’s safety as the death toll for the Arkansas National Guard rises to 26.

[edit] Episode 8

In Iraq, the soldiers get Internet access with Web cams and begin chatting with family members back home. Back in Clarksville, families celebrate Christmas without their loved ones. The Arkansas National Guard participates in an historic moment — the first free Iraqi national election. The Engineers are tasked with fortifying the polling stations in Baghdad, but tragedy strikes when a sniper kills Matt Hertlein’s best friend two days before the elections. Sergeant Curtis Rohrscheib and his men endure mortar attacks while protecting Iraqi civilians from insurgents. Grief-stricken, the men from Clarksville say goodbye to 24-year-old Lyle Rymer during a memorial service at Camp Taji, Iraq.

[edit] Episode 9

As their deployment in Iraq nears its end, the men begin to count the remaining days, as do their families on the home front. Back in Arkansas, the Hertleins and the Jacksons eagerly prepare for the return of Matt, Ronald and Tommy, but wonder how much their loved ones have changed and what the future will hold. Sergeants Curtis Rohrshceib and David Short are already plagued by nightmares of men they have lost in combat, and they worry about how their experiences will affect them later on. But the soldiers aren’t home yet, and they have to survive one more convoy to Kuwait on the most dangerous highways in Iraq. When they arrive back in the States, members of the Guard are sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to debrief, and are warned of the difficulties they will face readjusting to life as civilians. Clarksville is festooned with yellow ribbons as the men finally return to Arkansas to a heroes’ welcome back in the arms of their families.

[edit] Episode 10

After returning home from Iraq, the soldiers of the Arkansas National Guard try to settle back into their civilian lives. Sergeant Ronald Jackson rejoins his wife on the turkey farm that she managed to keep afloat in his absence. Suzanne Hertlein helps her son Matt get ready to take his high school girlfriend to the prom. Matt Hertlein and Tommy Erp left Arkansas for Iraq as teenagers almost two years ago. Now they have to figure out how to start their lives as young men changed by war. After taking three months off to get to know his wife and children again, Sergeant David Short returns to duty as a police officer. Sergeant Curtis Rohrscheib spends every day getting to know his baby boy Garrett, and continues to battle with nightmares that followed him home from Iraq. All of the citizen soldiers struggle with how different they feel now — after an 18-month deployment in a combat zone and a set of experiences to which few back home can relate.

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[edit] Technical Specs

  • Part Size (MB) .....: 450 MB
  • Number of Parts ....: 10
  • Video Codec Name ...: XviD MPEG-4 codec
  • Resolution .........: 640 x 480
  • Video Length .......: ~45 min
  • Aspect Ratio .......: 1.333 (4:3)
  • Video Bitrate ......: ~1200 KB/s
  • Framerate ..........: 29.970 FPS
  • Audio Codec Name ...: MPEG-1 Layer 3 (MP3)
  • Audio Bitrate ......: 105 KB/s (VBR)
  • Channels ...........: 2 Ch
  • Sampling Rate ......: 48000 Hz

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