When the US Army Decided a Chin Strap was More Important Than the Death of One of Their Soldiers

National Geographic The Long Road Home

The US Army provided extensive support to the National Geographic film series The Long Road Home, supposedly to ensure it depicted the real-life battle of Sadr City in a ‘reasonably realistic’ way.  But Army emails that I obtained under FOIA show they were more concerned with the fact that a helmet chin strap was wrong in one scene than in the fact the series depicted the death of a soldier who actually died later in another mission.

I discovered the error buried in the 350 pages of emails, in which almost all the information on the Army’s input on the content is redacted.  The series was largely filmed on sets constructed on Fort Hood, which is home to the 1st Cavalry Division who were attacked in the battle of Sadr City in April 2004.  Feedback from 1st CAV DIV via a US Army captain includes the information that:

MAJ ███ got some input from one of his CAV POCs who was actually in 2-37 (but not on the rescue mission). He stated Mitchell didn’t die in that mission, but in a different mission later.  If the change in fact was intentional for story purposes, understandable, but we want to be sure they know that.

The series depicts a QRF comprised of Crusader tanks being sent in to try to rescue a cavalry unit that was ambushed in Sadr City.  The QRF are repelled by Sadrist forces, with the dialogue referring to the death of Sgt Mitchell.  As the series continues, the commander on the ground Col Gary Volesky is depicted asking for information about Mitchell, and even praying that he’ll be the last man to be killed in that operation.

It seems that none of this actually happened.  Mitchell survived the Black Sunday attack in Sadr City, and was killed over a year and a half later when an improvised explosive device detonated near his M1A1 Abrams tank.  But the military didn’t object to this inaccuracy, despite accuracy being their main excuse for being in Hollywood in the first place.  Instead, an email sent by Army entertainment liaison Lt Col Timothy Hyde after reviewing a rough cut of the first episode commented:

No real issues. I can’t believe we missed the chin strap not being right on one of the actors’ helmet, but that’s pretty much it so far.

So a helmet chin strap bothers them more than depicting the death of a soldier who didn’t actually die until a year and a half later.  These Romans are crazy.


US Army emails on The Long Road Home

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