Path Home Shows 2015 Show Archive July 2015 Show 1527 Mike Boettcher - Reporting Under Fire

Mike Boettcher - Reporting Under Fire

War correspondent Mike Boettcher lives in and works from some of the most dangerous spots in the world.
Mike Boettcher - Reporting Under Fire

Mike Boettcher - Reporting Under Fire

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Show 1527: Mike Boettcher - Reporting Under Fire
Air Date: July 5, 2015



Rob McClendon: Well Mike Boettcher is the last of a dying breed – a war correspondent who lives and works from some of the most dangerous spots in the world. During his 34-year career he’s been beaten, shot, kidnapped, even survived a suicide bombing while burying friends and witnessing unspeakable atrocities. Yet, he’s always gone back to tell the story of the young men and women fighting in our name. I was able to visit with the veteran war correspondent in the balcony lobby of the Poncan Theater where “The Hornet’s Nest” premiered.

Rob: Well Mike, you’ve been covering conflict, telling soldiers’ and marines’ stories for over three decades, why make this shift to film?

Mike Boettcher: I did television all that time. We used to joke, when you do a television story it’s broadcast and those broadcast signals go off to Pluto. If you’re not sitting there watching it – you miss it. These days you can go online, but still it’s perishable. A film is something that lives forever. It is an historical document and that’s why I felt it was important to make a picture that people could come back to again and again and again. And in the next generations could come back to and say that’s what happened in the war.

Rob: Give us some insight into the young men that you were over there with.

Boettcher: The most amazing young men and women I’ve, I’ve ever been around. You know, they volunteer; they raise their hand and say I will go out there so you can sleep tonight. And they are smart. They are committed. They love their country. They follow our orders; we’re the ones who send them there. And that’s why we made this film – in their honor.

Movie Excerpt: Roger, we’re in route at this time.

[War sounds].

Movie Excerpt: The American convoy was traveling this direction; the other way, civilian vehicles. They slowed down when the convoy passed; so did a suicide bomber and inside his car he had 600 pounds of high explosives.

Movie Excerpt: Private Richter, how long you been in the army? Exactly a year, sir. That was the first actual trauma casualty in my care, sir. Did it make you mad? Most definitely; they were just on the side of the rode just playing and it didn’t need to happen.

Boettcher: Look, this is the problem I think we have. Ninety-nine percent of the country does not feel the pain of war. Less than one percent does and it’s those young men and women in uniform we send over there. So we wanted to connect that 99 percent of the country with that one percent. Because if they become separated, we lose touch with them, it’s dangerous for a democracy.

Rob: Yeah and as a society we really do have a disconnect from those who not only serve, but maybe those who served and return.

Boettcher: Absolutely. And the real war is starting now as they come home. It’s a new battle. So as these soldiers come back and reintegrate, some are doing just fine, but we’ve got to help with education, jobs – put them at the top of list for everything because they said I pledge allegiance to the flag and to protect the freedoms that have been fought for by generations before them. So, if you’re a businessman out there hiring you should be, you know, looking first on your list looking for veterans. But, there are others who, who come back with visible wounds and wounds that are invisible – post-traumatic stress disorder. You see in the film why that could happen. And so that’s why, you know, that’s why we made this film, you know, so people would recognize the sacrifice and now that they’re home say, “we want to help you.”

Rob: In your film you’re in one of the toughest firefights in Afghanistan to date, but I’ve also heard veterans tell me that war is a lot of boredom dispersed by some abject terror. What are the soldiers like in the boring times?

Boettcher: Oh, they’re funny, you know, I mean, they’re playing pranks on each other but they’re also drilling and getting their weapons ready. You know, in Afghanistan there wasn’t a whole lot of downtime.

[Soldiers during downtime].

Rob: As a 30-year veteran, do these young men and women seem younger and younger to you?

Boettcher: You know when you’re out there, and I’ll turn 60 in one week – a week from today I turn 60 years old, I’m always the oldest guy in the battlefield. And usually have more combat experience than anyone on the battlefield. And I’m, you know, if I’m a journalist and I’m going to be out there covering them I’ve gotta be able to hump up those mountains carrying 85 pounds and shooting with my camera. Or I have to be able to walk through the desert for nine days in a 140 degree heat walking miles and miles and miles. So, you know, for an old guy I’m in pretty good shape. And, you know something, that they seem the same age as the first U.S. troops I saw in Beirut in 1982. And the ironic thing about it, I’ve been around so long that one of the soldiers, one of the marines in the film came up to me and said, “You were with my father in Beirut in 1982.” So to me, during all of my life I don’t feel like I’m, I’ve grown older or apart from them. They’re the same kids I saw in Beirut. The same kids I saw fighting for us in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Rob: You were talking about societal changes and it just struck me when you said you’re the oldest person there. You really are in many ways a dying breed of being a war correspondent. Just by the very nature of the way news works now, we drop in and we come out.

Boettcher: Yeah, you know, I’m the last of my generation still standing in the journalism business. You don’t see many old foreign correspondents. But you know, you’ve gotta believe that you’re making a difference. I’ve been given a great a gift – the gift of a ticket to front row seat in history. I watch history as it happens. And I’m there around the world in extreme circumstances. What changes history drastically is always war. And that’s why you end up covering war a lot because it makes huge differences. The war is not ugly. It shouldn’t be glorified. But it’s always gonna be fought and always has been. But we have to be sure that when we commit our young men and women to battle that we’re behind ‘em 100 percent.

Rob: You were talking earlier to a young Sergeant Morgan, and you talked about the trust that developed between being, you being embedded, the trust that developed between you and the soldiers.

Boettcher: When I come in they’ve heard stories about me that I’ve been around. But I always have to prove myself every time, that they think "Oh, this civilian. The first gunfire breaks out, you know, he’s headin’ out of here." No, I’m right up there with ‘em and I stick with ‘em. I don’t have a weapon – I have a camera. Sometimes a camera can be a weapon. But, you know, they respect that and they know that I’m gonna be there for ‘em. They’re to my right and to my left and they’re lookin’ after me and they’ve saved my life many times.

Rob: A little bit of shop talk here – I watched you with those little digital cameras, how different is that than the days of dragging a big beta cam on your shoulder? Does it make doing this job easier?

Boettcher: It makes a huge difference; couldn’t have shot this film with the old gear. Technology allowed me to carry a small camera that shot high definition, carry it thousands of feet. Sometimes it got banged around a lot, but it kept working because it was digital. And because it was light I could do this. I mean, I had to carry a lot of batteries. On most of the missions I had to carry my own food and water. I had to carry everything. And so it could not have been done with old technology.

Rob: Tell me about the promise you made to the company chaplin on that hill.

Boettcher: That chaplin, Justin Roberts, and we actually didn’t think we were comin’ out of there. And Chaplin Roberts is different from any other chaplin you ever met. He’s the guy that’s, he’s actually on the front lines, he’s not back at the chapel, he’s out there with the men. He’s there for them if they’re wounded, they’re dying, he’s right there. But he also carries a camera; and the same camera I had. So he was shooting – he was with one squad, I was with another and as the fight broke out and we got split up we made a commitment that whoever got out of there alive we’d come out and tell the story. We both made it out alive and Chaplin Roberts helped us in filming this film.

Rob: On the personal, your son went over there with you and from my own experience, my daughter’s a marine, signed up when she was 18 and I have to tell you I wasn’t exactly excited because I was scared for her. With your son going over there with you and you knowing what you know, what did that feel like?

Boettcher: I was proud when he said he wanted to come, but I was scared too because I had lost so many of my friends over 34 years of doing this job. But he was bound and determined. He was not gonna take no for an answer. And then I figured out, you know, there are 18 and 19 and 20 year olds out there who are fighting and Carlos is 22. And I said that’s why he’s doing it because he feels not connected with those people in his generation. And I was proud of him for wanting to make that connection. It was about our father and son relationship coming together, but it was about him coming together with his generation that was out there fighting and wanting to know why and then telling their story.

Rob: Final question – what are your hopes and dreams for this film?

Boettcher: I’d like every American to see it. We need to make that connection – the 99 percent that doesn’t feel the pain of war with the one percent that does. If every American sees this film, this is my dream – that when you see a serviceman or woman in an airport, and as Americans do now which is great, they say thank you for your service. The next time, after you see this film, when you say thank you you’ll know exactly what you’re thanking them for. And when you see this film you won’t just thank them, you’ll give ‘em a hug.


Rob: Well, Mike Boettcher congratulations on a great piece of work.

Boettcher: Thank you so much.

Rob: Thank you.