Movie review: The Outpost- Best War Film Since Saving Private Ryan

Occasionally, the blog delves into non-hockey topics and this is one of those times.

On the 11th anniversary of the Battle of Kamdesh at Combat Outpost (COP) Keating in Nuristan, which cost the lives of 8 U.S. cavalrymen and resulted in the first time in 50 years which two living servicemembers were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for the same action, we’ll review a film that was supposed to be released in theaters in summer before COVID killed that plan. It has been available on Demand and on Apple TV and just dropped on Netflix.- KL

The Outpost is the best war film since 1998’s Saving Private Ryan and the definitive account to date of America’s combat operations in the Middle East since 9/11.

The movie is based on the Jake Tapper (of CNN fame) book of the same name which chronicles the U.S. military counterinsurgency (COIN) efforts in Nuristan, Afghanistan, and culminates in a pitched battle between a small 4th Infantry Division cavalry troop and hundreds of attacking Taliban on October 3, 2009. The Outpost gets a lot right about what has been going on in Afghanistan since 2001, and despite being about a specific unit and costly battle that not enough Americans know about, this movie could have depicted just about any group of U.S. soldiers in Aghanistan or even Iraq.

The film, helmed by former Army officer and West Point graduate Rod Lurie, is made by soldiers for soldiers and goes to great pains to get a lot of things right. The cast is led most notably by Scott Eastwood, Orlando Bloom and Caleb Landry Jones, but the supporting actors are superb, and include several veterans, including Daniel Rodriguez, who plays himself as a member of B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment.

The film opens to a written narrative that effectively foreshadows what is to come, explaining the background behind the outpost’s mission and ending with the words of a low-ranking, but prescient Army intelligence analyst who looked at the terrain around the outpost, assessed the enemy threat and said, “It should be called ‘Camp Custer’ because everyone at the Outpost was going to die.”

From there, the film introduces us to one of the main characters, Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha (played by Eastwood) as he and several other troops are being flown to the Outpost. Lurie adopts an effective technique to help the viewer remember who the key characters are by putting text of their names on screen when they first appear.

They arrive at night to the outpost, led by Captain Ben Keating (Bloom), and little time is wasted in the morning hours showing the precariousness of the situation, as the Taliban open fire on the new arrivals as they incredulously assess the fact that their new COP is surrounded on all sides by mountains, ceding a tremendous tactical advantage to any adversary. The opening shots are extremely effective in demonstrating to the viewer how the Taliban, over time, launched small, probing attacks to figure out the COP’s strengths and weaknesses (beyond the obvious being situated at the bottom of a valley). The COP’s mortar section provided effective indirect fires to neutralize the enemy attackers in several instances, and that was a fact that did not (tragically) go unnoticed by the enemy.

Bloom’s depiction of Keating is marred only by his attempt to adopt a backwoods Maine accent- something he would have been better off leaving alone altogether, but he does a good job of conveying the real Keating’s reputation as a smart, compassionate officer who cared for his men. His fate is tied to his moral compass- refusing to put his troops at risk on a mission he didn’t believe in- and as a result, another commander, Rob Yllescas is choppered into the COP, now named after Keating, to continue the fight.

It seems incomprehensible that the Army would continue operations with such an indefensible position, but the reality of the situation is much more gray than black and white. At the time things came to a head in Nuristan, the U.S. military was in the middle of the troop surge in Afghanistan, and despite the losses sustained by Army units operating out of the COP in Kamdesh, (some of which aren’t even depicted in the film) the belief that the COIN efforts were making positive inroads meant that new units kept rotating into COP Keating, even as the warning signs that the base was a prime and vulnerable high-payoff target for the Taliban, grew.

Ultimately, after several more troop commanders come and go, including the enigmatic Captain Broward, played superbly by Kwame Patterson, the stage is set for a taut, gripping battle of survival that compared to the final battle in the fictional town of Ramelle in Saving Private Ryan in terms of the anxiety and emotional stress it puts on the viewer as the vastly outnumbered men of 3-61 CAV are assaulted on all sides in a 21st century Alamo kind of attack.

What makes the Outpost such a quality and realistic film is the effort that goes into getting the details right. The uniforms the soldiers wear are correct, and when enemy attacks happen at COP Keating, the troops have to defend the wire, no matter how they are dressed- in full army combat uniform fatigues, or their physical training tees and shorts (with combat helmets and body armor of course).

The dialogue is also spot-on and free of the silly Hollywood bravado that screenwriters who never served a day in the military typically insert into the various scripts. A couple of examples that come to mind- when the new arrivals walk into the living quarters for the first time, one of the replacement soldiers, a young, eager private, shouts “Hooah!” and one of the veteran specialists rolls his eyes and responds with a “Hooah?” of his own, dripping with contempt. The response symbolizes the daily suck that so many of our line troops who served in the hinterlands of Afghanistan and Iraq had to endure- far away from the creature comforts of the big forward operating bases.

Another fine exchange comes between Sgt. Brad Larson (played by Army combat veteran Henry Hughes) and Specialist Ty Carter, who brought .50 caliber ammunition forward instead of the needed 7.62mm for the M240B machine gun position. After being upbraided for the mistake, he responds with a casual “Whatever,” and starts to walk away. Larson then calls him back, puts him at attention and corrects him in a fashion typical of an NCO to a junior enlisted soldier. It’s a small exchange, but it sets the tone for what Carter will do later in the film and is a subtle, but highly effective example of the leader/soldier dynamic that is so crucial to building cohesive teams who fight together when everything is on the line.

As good as it is, the Outpost is not perfect, and there are small quibbles with the film’s flow and overall accuracy. Having said that, if you really want to understand what Afghanistan and Iraq look(ed) like at the tactical level, the movie’s depiction of B/3-61 CAV and their heroism and sacrifice at the Battle of Kamdesh will give you the best window into both theaters of operations. No matter how realistic a movie may be, it can’t ever truly come close to the abject terror, stress and chaos of the real battlefield. However, recent films like 13 Hours (about the 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi) and the Outpost come reasonably close. Stay through the end of the credits for some key interviews with some of the real players in the Battle of Kamdesh- you can see the pain and survivor’s guilt many of them still struggle with despite their total heroism in the face of near-impossible odds.

The best way to pay tribute to the men who were killed defending COP Keating and in operations prior to that fateful October day 11 years ago is to make a film that honors their memory and gets it as right as right can be. Between the solid acting and details, the Outpost delivers that and more.

Reflections on Memorial Day 2020

“Boldness is the beginning of action. But fortune controls how it ends.”- Democritus

Because of everything going on in the country and world, have had more time to think and contemplate. Multiple tours overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan resulted in countless friendships and experiences, but also as is the nature of war and the profession of arms, the loss of some of those friends.

No matter how you choose to observe the Memorial Day weekend, which commemorates the fallen in our nation’s wars,  the purpose is to remember and honor those no longer with us. I captured these images a year ago when the National Memorial commemorating all military lives lost in operations conducted after 9/11 brought its mobile display to Ralston Arena, home of the Omaha Lancers. They are forever the ages depicted in the images below. They shall not grow old…

One individual in particular, Captain Joel Cahill, grew up right down the road in La Vista and graduated from La Vista High in 1989 before he embarked on a successful Army career that ultimately led him from the enlisted ranks to commissioned officer via University of Nebraska to Iraq for a second tour in 2005 with the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. He was one of my brothers on a close-knit brigade staff until duty called and he took command of Baker Company, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment- the “Audie Murphy Company.” While leading his company from the front as he always did, Joel’s life was taken by a roadside bomb on November 6. Of all I knew who did not return home to their families, Joel’s loss makes the least sense- he seemed destined to wear general’s stars and was the best Soldier of all of us.

Some of the fallen here, I knew more than others. But all of them personally touched me in some way, shape or form.

Whether it was the driver who made sure there was a cold Red Bull waiting for me on every mission we went on as his vehicle commander and who we nicknamed “McLovin” after the Superbad character, which was a popular movie during the Surge deployment.

Or the fellow Citadel graduate who was a year ahead of me in 1st Battalion. Or the good friend who I bar-hopped with in Aggieville- Manhattan, Kansas- and deployed with to Bosnia as young lieutenants/peace keepers in 1997, only for him to return to active service a decade-plus later because he felt a calling to do his part- then lost his life in that volunteer service.

Or the former ROTC Advanced Camp platoon mate who I lost touch with after Fort Bragg in 1993, only to reconnect with him…when I saw his name announced as one of the deaths in a grim fight in Fallujah in November, 2004.

Or the young Civil Affairs soldier who was killed a short time into her deployment, but whose smiling photo on the wall of honor in our brigade headquarters haunted me well after we redeployed, a life taken far too soon. A scholarship in her honor provides young people from her home state of Wisconsin with opportunities to serve others as she did.

Or the seasoned NCO who could have saved himself from his burning Bradley, but instead doomed himself to certain death to free trapped men inside. A true hero in every sense of the word. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”- John 15:13

Or the fellow Pentagon staffer who handed off a project he had been working on to me as he headed off to Afghanistan for a tour, and then likely bigger things. And because of a fluke accident on that deployment, he is forever a major.

While not all of them died under enemy direct fire or from improvised explosive devices, their loss is no less devastating to their families and those who loved and knew them best. The fallen are all sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, uncles and aunts. They are all of us.

We may not all agree about the nature of their sacrifice, but none of us should ever forget what they gave up so that we could all have the freedom and choice continue our own pursuits.

– Kirk Luedeke, Omaha, NE; May 24, 2020


Memorial Day repost- What Saving Private Ryan can teach us about Sacrifice

Editor’s note- Published this back in November for Veteran’s Day 2016, and bringing it back for Memorial Day.- KL

I had a chance to watch Saving Private Ryan again over the weekend for the first time since it came out in 1998, which might be surprising to some. The reality is- after doing multiple combat tours in Iraq (with the 3rd and 1st Infantry Divisions and 1st Cavalry Division) and another in Afghanistan (again with the 1st Cavalry Division) from 2004-2014, the movie wasn’t high on my list of things to see again because I didn’t know how I would react to some of the visceral images and a host of emotions the film was sure to evoke.

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Sunday detour: Remembering General John Buford at Gettysburg

Taking a quick break from the undrafted free agents series (will continue this week with Noel Acciari, Kevan Miller and some of the other up-and-comers in the system) to delve into my love of military history and something that happened Friday that ties it together.

So, this is a somewhat self-indulgent post, but if you stick with it, then it’ll all make sense in the end.

For those of you who may not know this about me, I am a U.S. Army veteran and armor (cavalry) officer still on active duty, now in my final year of service before retiring in mid-2017. I’ve been fortunate and honored to serve, but events a few days ago reminded me of why the profession of arms is a calling, not a task. If you’re only here for the hockey, I doubt any of this will interest you. But, for those of you interested in getting to know this blog’s author more and what makes him tick, then read on.

On July 22, 2016, I had the honor of being a part of the promotion ceremony of my best friend, Jay Miseli, who was elevated to the rank of colonel. Jay is an amazing guy who was a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 with the 3rd Infantry Division, commanding a company during the march to Baghdad. As a lieutenant colonel, he went on to command the storied 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment (Garryowen) from 2012-14 and the Army got it right- he’ll spend the next year as an Army War College fellow before taking command of a Stryker brigade in the summer of 2017. There are stars in his future and I could not be prouder of my friend and fellow Army officer. He’s not only a superb warfighter, but he’s the most humble and honorable man I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and serving with. Our Army is in great hands with people like Colonel Jay A. Miseli in its ranks, and boy- do we ever need it!

Presiding over the ceremony and promoting him was Colonel (retired) Sam W. Floca, Jr.- an old Soldier and artilleryman who received the Silver Star for heroism while serving as a fire support officer (FSO) in the 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam in 1968. I’ve read his citation (goosebumps) and to me, if he did something like that today, he’d be considered for the Medal of Honor. Col. Floca also received five…that’s not a typo…FIVE Purple Heart medals for being wounded in direct action with the enemy. He’s an amazing American and a personal mentor. Like me, he finished out his Army career as a public affairs officer, and his knowledge of the Army, military history, and old fashioned common sense has given me my own sounding board whenever I need it. Not everyone is so lucky to have a confidant like “Uncle Sammy” of Temple, Texas.

Okay- so why the need to post all of this on the blog?

Well, I have to take you back to 1993, when I was a young ROTC cadet preparing to put in my wish list for the job (we call it basic branch) I wanted to do upon being commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1994. At the time, I was torn by the calling to combat arms- deciding between the infantry and armor (tanks) branches. My dad served in the Special Forces, so if I would follow in his footsteps, infantry was the obvious choice. But, I had always been drawn to tanks and the traditions of the Army’s horse cavalry- I had seen “They Died With Their Boots On”, “She Wore  A Yellow Ribbon” and “Rio Grande”- classic films that helped shine light on the mounted arm (and yes, you can even throw in “F Troop” if you must). I sometimes tell an irreverent story about marching 12 miles as a cadet in the driving rain at Fort Bragg in the summer of 1993 and seeing a column of old Sheridan tanks roll by on a nearby fire break and thinking – A. They’re driving to wherever they’re going and I’m walking, and B. They’re nice and dry and I am not, as the deal breaker that saw me eschew a life in the infantry for the armored cavalry.

But that’s not completely it.

Back in 1992, Sammy Floca was a key military (and history) advisor for the film “Gettysburg”. As a member of the U.S. Army War College’s faculty, he was an esteemed historian and his reputation reached the filmmakers, who brought him on board to lend authenticity to several major characters. One of those characters was Major General John Buford, Jr. (he was a one-star Brigadier General during the battle- later promoted to Major General on his deathbed retroactive to July 1, 1863 when he passed away from typhoid fever in December of that year). Buford was being played by iconic actor Sam Elliott, and Sam Floca and Elliott grew close during the filming.

I had read Michael Shaara’s “the Killer Angels” upon with the movie is based, but my knowledge of the battle and its major players was still pretty superficial at the time. I obviously knew none of production backstory when my dad and I went to see Gettysburg together in Nashua, N.H. in the fall of 1993.  I was home from my senior year of college for a long weekend and was still debating whether to make armor or infantry number one on my “wish list”. My TAC (ROTC) Officer had told me that a Distinguished Military Student (DMS) designate, I stood a good chance of getting my first choice.

So, there we were watching the film, which chronicled not only the decisive engagement of the American Civil War, but within the battle, a key decision that may have been critical to preserving the Union and these United States. That decision was the one by Gen. Buford, who had two brigades of mounted horse cavalry (the Union Army’s 1st Cavalry Division), recognized that General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army would likely reach Gettysburg before the Union Army’s 1st Corps could and would seize the decisive terrain to the south of that soon-to-be-famous Pennsylvania town.

In the film, Elliott gives a memorable performance as he speaks with his brigade commanders and staff and makes the fateful decision to fight a delaying action that might allow the 1st Corps under General John F. Reynolds (later shot from his saddle and killed by a rebel sniper after he got too close to the front lines) to seize the key terrain dominating Gettysburg. This was not the cavalry’s mission- they served as the eyes and ears of the Army commanders, and their job was not to slug it out with the infantry. Buford knew he was putting his some 2,500 men in a tough spot, but he also realized that if he did not occupy and hold, then Lee would beat them to the key ground and a bloodbath (for the Federal Army) would likely ensue.

I remember sitting there, watching Elliott’s portrayal of Buford, and thinking to myself- THAT is it. THAT is what I want to do. Sure, we were a mechanized force more than a half-century past the use of horses, but that bold, audacious spirit captured so perfectly in a brief scene did it for me. I indeed commissioned in armor, had several armor and cavalry assignments, and even though I left the combat arms for Army public affairs as a young major, got my dream job as the 1st Cavalry Division’s Chief of Public Affairs as a lieutenant colonel, a three-year assignment that was everything I could have asked for and more.

As for the battle and what Buford and his cavalrymen accomplished, if you don’t watch the film or are not all that familiar with what happened…Buford’s men held long enough for Reynolds and his corps (followed by Winfield Scott Hancock’s 11th Corps) to grab the decisive terrain and after three bloody days, the Confederate Army was driven back in defeat. How different might things be today if Lee’s Army of Virginia had prevailed? When you think Gettysburg, you think of “Pickett’s Charge” or Little Roundtop, perhaps. But without Buford’s cavalry brigades, those Southern defeats might have been reversed.

It seems perfect, then, that as I sat and watched a movie as a 21-year-old cadet and made my final decision about what I would do as an Army soldier, that nearly 22 years later, I am friends with the man who advised a great actor how to get the performance down.

Little did I know it at the time, but Colonel (retired) Sam Floca had a big influence on my life and subsequent military career. To be able to call him a friend and mentor two decades later is far more than I deserve.


Here’s the transcript from the scene and the movie clip- give it a good viewing if you have the time.


Brig. Gen. Buford- You know what’s going to happen here in the morning?

Col. Devin- Sir?

Brig. Gen. Buford- The whole damn rebel army is gonna be here. They’ll move through this town, occupy the hills on the other side. When our people arrive, Lee’ll have high ground and there’ll be the devil to pay. The high ground!

Meade will come in slowly, cautiously, new to command. They’ll be on his back from Washington. Wires hot with messages. Attack! Attack! So he will set up a ring around these hills. And when Lee’s army is all nicely entrenched behind fat rocks on the high ground, Meade will finally attack, if he can coordinate the army. Straight up the hillside, out in the open…into that gorgeous field of fire.

We will charge valiantly and be butchered valiantly! And afterwards, men in tall hats and gold watch fobs will thump their chests and say what a brave charge it was.

Devin, I’ve led a soldier’s life, and I’ve never seen anything as brutally clear as this. It’s as if I can actually see the blue troops in one long bloody moment…going up the long slope to the stony top…as if it were already done…and already a memory. An odd, set, stony quality to it. As if tomorrow has already happened and there’s nothing you can do about it. The way you sometimes feel before an ill-considered attack knowing it will fail, but you cannot stop it. You must even take part and help it fail. We have  twenty five hundred men. They’ll be coming in force. There could be twenty thousand coming down that road in the morning. If we hold this ridge for a couple of hours, we can keep them away. We can block that road until the main body gets here.

We can deprive the enemy of the high ground!

Col. Devin- The boys are ready for a brawl. No doubt of that.

Brig. Gen. Buford- We’ll force the rebs to deploy.  That’s a narrow road they’ll be coming down. If we stack them up, it will take them a while to get on track to get into position. Is Calef’s battery up yet?

Col. Devin- Sir, his six guns are deploying forward now.

Brig. Gen Buford- How far back is Reynolds with the main force?

Staff Officer- About ten miles, sir. Not much more.

Col. Gamble- Sir, you were right. My scouts report the rebel army is coming this way for sure. They’re all concentrating in this direction.

Brig. Gen. Buford- We’ll hold here in the morning. Long enough for Reynolds and the infantry to arrive. If we hang on to the high ground, we have a good chance to win this fight that’s coming.  Understood?

Brigade commanders and staff: Yes, sir!

Brig. Gen. Buford- Post the cannon along this road, the Chambersburg Pike. The rebels will hit us at dawn. I think we can hold them at least two hours.

Col. Devin- Hell, General, we can hold them all the damn livelong day!

Staff officers: He’s right, sir…

Col. Devin– At Thoroughfare Gap, you held against Longstreet. You held for six hours.

Col. Gamble- And they never came. We held for nothing.

Brig. Gen. Buford- The rebs will hit us just about first light. Keep a clear eye!
Have the pickets give us a good warning.

All right, gentlemen. Let’s get posted.


And if Sam Floca’s own personal Army history interests you at all, here’s a small clip of his oral testimony of his Vietnam War experience (a link to the entire portion is there if it piques at all). “Anyone who tells you that they weren’t afraid in combat is either a liar or a fool,” he says at one point. Yep…that about captures it- Floca at his absolute best. He’s a national treasure, and I will cherish every moment I have with him.