What is it like to return to home soil for good after years of combat deployments? Can you feel both courage and guilt at the same time? How do you control fear?
These are just some of the questions director Sebastian Junger attempts in answer in his latest documentary, “Korengal.” With its tagline “This is what war feels like,” the film picks up where his Oscar-nominated work “Restrepo” left off. But rather than exposing the viewer to the electrifying ins and outs of being on the frontline, Junger seeks to burrow inside the psychology of a soldier and explain how one moment a soldier might feel elated after killing an enemy combatant and then soon be asking God for forgiveness.
“What is surprising to civilians is that war can be so damaging and terrible, but soldiers can miss it so much when it is over,” Junger told FOX411. “That counter-intuitive truth needs to be explained to even the soldiers who are confused by it, but certainly the wives and families. It is a crucial component of PTSD and survivor guilt, and the better the public understands those things, the more effective we can be in reintegrating combat veterans back into society.”
Six years ago, Junger and his colleague Tim Hetherington – who was later killed in Libya in April 2011 – spent the better part of a year with the Battle Company of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, as the set out to make a non-political documentary that would give civilians an opportunity to see first-hand the sacrifices being made for them by our nation’s troops. They were stationed in the desolate and extremely dangerous Korengal Valley in eastern Afghanistan, a jagged six-mile valley near the border of Pakistan. The area was deemed a fundamental communication point for Taliban fighters moving from Pakistan to Kabul, and was considered a base of operations for Al Qaeda leaders.
It was in this remote region in June, 2005 that several Navy SEALs were killed by the Taliban on the ground, before shooting down a helicopter that came to save them, later documented in Marcus Luttrell’s book “Lone Survivor.” To date, almost 50 Americans have perished in the Korengal and close to one fifth of all deaths in Afghanistan have happened in the area.
According to Junger, the film has elicited a mixed response from viewers – some have questioned why we’re still in Afghanistan, while others have expressed “a real pride in the quality of our military.” But instead of setting up or selling “Korengal” to a distributor or broadcaster, Junger chose to maintain full creative control and fund the entire production with his filmmaking team.
“There were some incredible truths and scenes in the material we shot that needed to see the light of day,” he added. “For many of the soldiers, seeing this validates their experience and helps them better understand the confusing emotions they have about war. I don’t know if it is therapeutic, but it is certainly reassuring and that goes a long way.”
“Korengal” is currently playing in select theaters and is being rolled out nationwide.
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Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay