Documentary Review: ‘Apache Warrior’

Review by Jeff Myhre

‘Apache Warrior’ is not the story of Geronimo and his comrades but rather a documentary that tells the tale of the 6-6 Cavalry – a unit in the US Army that flies Apache helicopters. In the first few days of the Second Iraq War (March 2003), the 6-6 had a mission to fly deep into Iraqi-held territory, set up a forward fueling point, and then, travel deeper into Iraq to take the fight to Saddam Hussein’s army.

One of the first things new cadets learn at West Point, Sandhurst or any other military academy worthy of the name is “no plan survives first contact with the enemy.” So, it was with this squadron’s flight. Its original mission, for which the troops trained a great deal, was scrubbed due to weather, and a couple days later, a new mission came down the pipeline. The new mission was snake-bit from the beginning it seems.

For the second operation, there were five mission abort critetia, meaning if any one of the conditions arose (bad weather for instance), the mission was postponed. As it turned out, all five criteria existed, and the mission went ahead anyway. The result was helicopters failing to take off, or getting shot up, and in the case of at least one soldier, a life-threatening wound. That everyone made it back alive is the only thing that seems to have gone right.

In telling this tale, directors Christian Tureaud and David Salzberg had access to three films shot during the mission that gives the audience that “you are there” feeling. They also interviewed the members of the 6-6 who spoke openly about the mission, their lives and their fellow soldiers. These are the most worthy parts of the film.

Less admirable is the repetition in a couple places of the same combat footage. And still photos used in documentaries is a standard (Ken Burns is great at it), but I got tired of seeing the same photos pan across the screen as the film progressed.

However, where the shortcomings of ‘Apache Warrior’ are most notable is in context. Just what was so important that five abort criteria were ignored? It’s only at the end the audience learns that the ground commanders needed to know if Saddam’s armored divisions were in the way (they weren’t). A different film might have questioned whether that was important enough to risk helicopters and pilots whose previous mission had been scrubbed by weather. Did commanders higher up needlessly send the 6-6 that night? Did the US Army even look into the decision? What difference did it make to the ground attack to know that there was no armor where the fliers were?

For fans of air cavalry, this is a good enough work. Frankly, I quite took to a couple of the troops, and Tureaud and Salzburg get full marks for that. But this movie focused on the bravery of a unit that survived a mission that went bad. I think they missed the point. This mission was bad from the order “go,” and finding out why that order was given, why 6-6 got shot up so badly, is the missing piece.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.