We all know Hollywood gets some stuff wrong in war and action movies. They need to entice the audience with explosions and thrilling action, especially in the fast pace society we live in today. Have you ever wondered what's possible in those thrilling action movies? Now you'll know. Here are military personnel sharing what real life war is like and it's definitely not like movies.
"Being out of breath. For your first several engagements, you go in to survival mode, which, even if you're sitting still, means you can't get enough air. You're breathing like you just sprinted, and no matter what you can't catch your breath. It gets better as you gain experience, but it sucks so much" (Source).
"Balkans vet here. So no experience with mud wall houses or IEDs. But for me the aspects Hollywood mostly fails to get across include: (1) People mostly die slowly. They don't drop silently after a round to the stomach. They just don't. Even if the wounds are fatal, unless you are hit squarely in the aorta, upper spine or brain you'll be alive somehow for minutes or hours or even days. Maybe functional, maybe not, and often not silent about it. If you haven't heard the screams of a kid stuck in a minefield where nobody to help him/her, then your nightmares still have some way of becoming worse. (2) The confusion. People are improvising and not knowing what the others do, and being in the middle of it does not mean you know best what is going on. (3) The fear. Most combatants spout a f--kload of suppressing fire with exposing themselves minimally from cover. People don't generally randomly charge suicidally like in the movies. (4) The fatalism. Paradoxically, after a while the strangest things become 'normal', at least to some people. And those are not necessarily the soldiers. I've seen hospital staff going out after/ during a shelling just holding a clipboard over their head as if to keep the rain away. Or soldiers handling shellings as if just another day at work. (5) The lethality. No, you don't walk away from a huge explosion close to you. No, there is no such thing as a 'flesh wound' from an MG, the shockwave tears your flesh to shreds (I was a combat medic so obviously speaking from observation not personal experience as I am writing this with intact hands).
In general, I feel that the bizarre mix of chaotic hilarity, camaraderie, odd situations and godawful trauma, fear pain and anguish of what you do and see is often sacrificed to get a 'consistent' or even 'realistic' mood of the film. Reality is a mix of everything, just more extreme in a war zone. Also, they tend to overlook that often most causalities are civilians" (Source).
"I was a reporter in Libya during the Civil War. 1. You've probably never witnessed pure animalistic anger until you've been in combat. 2. The battlefield is incredibly cough-inducing, eye-blindingly dusty. Every tank round shot, every nearby rocket hit and every missile launched produces smoke and dust. 3. Hollywood doesn't portray the run-stop-run nature of fighting. 90% of the battle is spent resting because you almost puked out your guts because you just sprinted, hunched over, 100 yards through soft dirt to get to cover. 4. Hollywood films tend to focus on highly trained special forces, but most combat is done by lowly (or even untrained) normal people. Guns jam, people trip and faceplant and cars stall. In Libya, for every person firing a gun there were 4-5 other people just standing around cheering the guy on" (Source).
"Actual 'fighting' is pretty boring. We fire, they fire, figure some sh-t out in between, fire some more to and fro. It's all eerily casual. Not a whole lot of drama with the distance involved. Only when you expose yourself do the 'Hollywood' images pop in to mind, but even there, you don't get to see people sh-tting themselves, some poor bastard crying instead of doing his duty, the actual sounds of dying being drowned out by gunfire and a constant ringing in your head. Stuff like that brings out the worst in people. What is crazy is the lack of feeling right after an actual exchange of fire. You don't process sh-t. You just maintain and fear the next time. It's hard to explain to people how it feels to be numb to the idea that you fear dying at any moment. It takes years of talking about it to get over that numbness and guilt that you're alive" (Source).
"Before going to combat I remember hearing from a few self-proclaimed veterans that there's nowhere to hide because bullets go right through the mud walls of Afghan houses. I should have been able to figure it out at the time, it's so simple, but I guess I just wasn't thinking. The most common building item for defensive structures are sandbags. Sandbags are nothing more than bags full of dirt and dried mud. So why would a two or three foot thick dried mud wall not also be good at stopping bullets? I didn't realize that all those self-proclaimed combat veterans were lying until I experienced it myself. I now know that the only reason they were saying that is because the concept of bullets going through mud walls is something you see in movies or hear about on the news, which is where they got the idea. They were probably never in the military, or at least have never been in combat. They just wanted to feel important and have people think they were cool. Truth is, you couldn't ask for better cover than a thick mud wall. I once saw a three foot thick mud wall with a four foot wide hole in it where a 155mm HE Howitzer round tore through it, exploded inside the main room that was 10'x10' yet not a single piece of shrapnel left that room and the building remained standing. So you could be in one of the bedrooms while a 155mm artillery shell explodes in the living room next to you, and you would survive easily. Mud defensive structures even reduce the effectiveness of EFP (Explosive Forced Projectile) weaponry which can easily tear thick metal armor apart like paper. We had the concrete walls of our safe house's watch towers covered in dried mud just so the RPGs that hit them wouldn't penetrate through" (Source).
"1- Real gunfights are a lot more confusing. The sound of a bullet going past you at supersonic speed is much louder than the report of the weapon 300 yards away. This makes it difficult to locate the source of the fire to say nothing of the complex terrain you may be looking at trying to spot the shooter(s). 2- Gunfights are LOUD. Even when guys would bring their suppressors, that still doesn't help quiet the SAW, M240, M14, or M107's that we used. Firing the M107 (.50 cal rifle) without earplugs took my breath away. The single loudest thing I've ever experienced. 3- Many people can't hit d--k with a handgun on the range, much less under real stress. Even trained people have sometimes pretty abysmal accuracy with them.
4- Weapon malfunctions can be cleared in just a couple of seconds typically. There is no reason to toss a jammed weapon away, because that sh-t ain't broken. 5- Grenades don't create a big fireball explosion, they create a fairly small black poof. 6- The complex chain of communication. In today's battles, as soon as sh-t breaks out, the platoon commander is probably asking about where the fire is coming from to try and put air support on it, and to coordinate with other units. 7- Sometimes it's funny. A couple times in firefights I was laughing my a-- off. Once I was making Mario noises while jumping over my (prone) team mates during an Australian Peel while we were pinned by enemy fire. Another time a buddy initiated a firefight by lifting his helmet up on the end of his rifle a-la Enemy at the Gates. 8- Wounds are wildly unpredictable. I've got friends that survived getting both legs and an arm blown off while some guys might be killed from a lucky bullet to the leg or stomach. Speed and proficiency of medical care is usually what makes the difference. 9- You typically have a TON of sh-t with you. When I went on my first mission I had about 130lbs of gear. You may have great armor, but the lack of mobility makes you feel very vulnerable. There were times I would have loved to drop my body armor for the increased mobility and flexibility. 10- You can run out of ammo very, very quickly. If every firefight was Hollywood level intensity then both sides would be out of ammo in about 5 minutes. Firefights can go on for hours, but that doesn't mean the VOLUME of fire being exchanged is significant. 11- The M107 (.50 cal "sniper" rifle) is 35 pounds loaded. You do not run around all willy-nilly with that thing. I carried it on my shoulders and only rarely dropped it into a hip-firing position in enclosed spaces, as much to make myself thinner as to be able to engage close-range if need be. It is not able to be fired from the shoulder accurately in real world situations. 12- IEDs are incredibly crude, and blow up civilians and wild dogs as much as anyone else. They are not (typically) the product of some master bomb-maker. 13- Sometimes the guy planting the IED or shooting at you is just some poor Joe who was forced to do it by the real enemy. We must engage them because they are attacking us, and they must attack us or face certain death. It is an incredibly sad situation. 14- Not every act of killing is a soul-crushing experience, and not everyone who kills becomes a psycho. Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan is a great and accurate portrayal. It's just a thing that people can do when necessary, and it does not automatically change your whole psychological and emotional world. 15- PTSD while it is a thing, is not as common as Hollywood might have you believe, nor is it typically manifest in the ways they would have you believe. Hank's first freak out in the elevator on Breaking bad was a good illustration of what it is like. It is NOT hallucinating that you're surrounded by terrorists, but instead a sense of confusion, lack of focus, and racing mind that leads to a sense of vague danger or frustration. Most people will come back from combat and experience Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome for a short while, but it should not be confused wit the more permanent PTSD. 16- Guys don't get tossed 30 feet by explosions, and end up in once piece. If the blast is powerful enough to pick your body and gear off the ground and move it somewhere else, it's powerful enough to rip your limbs and head off. It takes a big a-- bomb to achieve this" (Source).
"I was a Bradley Gunner for a while and that b--ch has a 25mm cannon on it. I got the chance to watch my Platoon Sergeant fire it once while I stood up out of the turret. When that sh-t went off, it felt like someone smacked me really hard in the face with a pillow. I was wearing my helmet with built in radio, so it had ear protection, and it was still f--king loud. I can't imagine what it would feel like to be standing in front of that cannon when it went off. Similarly, we would pull range detail when the Abrams tanks would be on the range. I'd guess the closest I ever got was about 300-500 meters away (might be farther, this was in 2005-2006 and my memory isn't amazing) and you could feel the concussion in your bones. Grenades do the same thing. I was never in actual combat, but most Army guys throw live grenades in Basic Training. Even from behind the giant bunker made of railroad ties, you still feel that sh-t. The M240C (7.65mm machine gun on the Bradley) is loud as f--k too and shoots MUCH faster than the 25mm cannon. It's not as loud, but the sound lasts a lot longer on a sustained burst. Finally, the AT-4 is a b--ch. My stupid a-- fired a training AT-4 on a night training exercise without ear protection. The concussion knocked out my night vision goggles and made me 100% deaf for a few minutes. In my mind, I couldn't see and I couldn't hear (not even ringing) and my sense of touch was all weird from the concussion too. I thought the damn thing exploded and I was dead, just consciousness floating around in nothing. Then, I smelled the gun powder, wiggled my fingers, raised my NVGs, and I was alright. I couldn't hear sh-t for a few days, which was alright because my Squad Leader ripped into my a-- for not using ear protection. I totally deserved the a--chewing, but I couldn't hear him so I just stood there and fantasized about Jessica Alba. I thought of one more. A-10 Warthogs. The afternoon before I blew out my eardrums like an idiot, we ran the same training exercise (most are done once in the daytime and again at night). In the daytime, we called in an airstrike and some A-10's flew over and strafed the sh-t out of an empty hillside. My LT or CO or someone up the chain of command thought it would be funny to let the pilots know where we'd be and the Warthogs strafed directly over us. The chaingun on that thing sounds like humming instead of individual rounds being fired. All the expended ordinance rained down on us and we got pelted by metal hail. Good thing we were wearing out gear or else that sh-t would not have been so funny" (Source).
"They fail to show what happens after the Hollywood lie wears off. I was fortunate to be part of an Infantry Scout Sniper platoon, I have done everything Hollywood shows off in their movies except HALO jumping out of a plane. I've done sniper ambushes, I've done air assault raids on High Value Targets, I've worked with SF/CAG/and Seals, I wrote a letter during my first deployment to a recruiter about getting in on the Special Recruiter Assistant Program and described the things I did during my deployment, they offered to pull so many strings to get me into that program despite me being deployed. Here is what Hollywood doesn't get:
There are no Bad Guys in the end. The first time I saw a local get killed by our guys I was stoked, looking at their dead mutilated body made me feel real proud, this was the first month I had been in country. The second time it happened I was much more jaded about the flow of things, I realized by then that these poor dumb bastards weren't 'The bad guys' they were the guys who lived around our base who had no prospects and hence took insurgent money to attack us in order to feed their families. Hollywood doesn't capture the helplessness you feel because of the POLITICAL war, during the spearhead years the rules of engagement were much more 'war' like, by my last deployment in 2009 you couldn't shoot at someone until they had basically shot you. They call it 100% Positive Identification of a Threat (100% P.I.D.), the problem is you know someone is a threat long before they shoot at you, but because of the bullsh-t political game if you shoot someone without going through the insanely long Rules of Engagement, you are going to not only spend the customary HOURS filling out sworn statements for discharging your weapon, but you are going to have to do it multiple times as Legal makes sure you didn't f--k up. The absolute misery it puts on marriages, I know there are people who deploy and come back and pick up like nothing happens, but the amount of marital issues from deployments in mind blowing, and it really irritates me that it's so unspoken other than 'Oh yeah it can be hard on your marriage, moving on'. It's never ending, my wife and I have been married for over 5 years now, it never gets easier talking to her about sandbox time, she never gets it and that means I avoid talking about it and keep things to myself. The biggest thing I think Hollywood never portrays is how it feels when the Hollywood Effect wears off, and you realize that being a Soldier and killing the bad guy, actually means you were a soldier, and you ended someone's life. I'm not religious, and I don't believe in an afterlife, so when I finally had taken off my uniform for the last time, the sitting on the back porch with a beer and a cigarette thinking about the lives I had ended took a huge toll on me. Thinking that they had been someone's baby like my own kids, that they had grown up having hopes and dreams, and for whatever reason ended up on the down range end of my rifle, and now all of that was gone and their life has been utterly obliterated from existence. I cannot describe to you how much that has mind f--ked me for years" (Source).
"There is one movie I've seen that displays the Sheer boredom of being deployed... Jarhead. You almost have nothing to do to entertain yourself after you're done for the day. because most of the time you're not out there killing 24/7 there are massive spans of time when you don't have sh-t to do. I've seen gameboys sell for 400 bucks over there. Some sh-t gets passed around so much, Everything that takes your mind off of where you are is a valued commodity" (Source).
"How sudden it is. You're just sitting in the FOB, bullsh-tting around with who the f--k ever, doing what the f--k ever, because you're bored as goddamn f--k. Maybe you're reading that book for the fifteenth time this month, maybe you're in the jack shack. Maybe you're playing spades, or euchre, or hearts, or what the f--k ever. Then there's a boom. And it isn't a f--king Hollywood boom. F--k that bullsh-t. It's a loud bass thud. Remember that big f--king firework at the end of every fireworks show? Well, that's why I don't go to them any more, because those sound a hell of a lot like a rocket exploding. And then, if your unit has done you right, you're going to react. You aren't going to be a b--ch and cry and cower. You're going to f--king gear up, grab your sh-t, and be ready to do whatever the f--k you've got to do. Rocket lands maybe 50 meters from where I'm standing, with only the up-armored between me and it? Whoopity f--k, my IBA is on, I've got my M4, and we're running to the gate to go f--king find those f--king f--kers and f--king f--k their f--king skulls full of 556. It isn't until you don't find them, because it's Afghanistan and why the f--k would you, and you're walking back to the base, and the adrenaline comes off and you realize that five minutes ago, you shoved a weapon in someone's face for looking at you wrong, you were ready to shoot whoever did anything more than that to you, and oh, yeah, that rocket was a tiny fraction of an inch in elevation from turning you into a smear. And you know what? You don't give a f--k, because you're not a smear. You don't see that sh-t in movies. You just f--king don't. Because that's how war is. It's boredom with brief moments of terror thrown at you. Maybe you've got it really sh-tty, and you get actually attacked when you're outside the wire and it lasts a couple of hours (yes, f--king hours--firefights aren't quick like they are in movies). There will be calls for fire, there will be all sorts of dumbassery coming down from higher asking what the f--k is going on. And, no, you can't say 'We're being f--king shot at you f--king stupid f--k. Obloc XXXXXXXX, f--king waste everything 300 meters away from there in a giant f--king circle'. Nope, it's incredibly formal. When I spent my time in the TOC (operations center), we had one call for fire because of actual contact. It was very formal, like exactly what you read in training manuals. These guys were being shot at, and the guy calling for fire gave his location, distance to target, and direction. We were shot and rounds complete in less than five minutes from their initial contact (which is f--king outstanding, btw, because you have to get permission to fire, and so on). It's surreal, actually, because it's just people talking over the radio like anything else. And, if you're lucky, it's that quick. Or it can be like it was at Sabari (which was like 6 years ago, last week Monday, f--k me I'm grabbing a beer after this), where the whole thing was four or so hours, with helicopters showing up after the bomb and the attempt to push in was about two hours old. The sh-theads had been driven off already (yeah, air support that isn't on station can be two hours away from you, Uncle Arty is five minutes, guess who gets called?), but they shoot sh-t up anyhow. And it's all sh-tty. And, here's the thing. I've been out for just shy of six years now. And, f--k me, I miss it. I miss being there, I miss the sh-tty food, I miss pissing in tubes and using a wooden ammo crate to sh-t in, I miss waking up and having jack and sh-t to do, I miss being bored of masturbation, I miss my friends. I miss having the guys there who would charge the gates of hell with me, because that was where those f--kers were who were shooting at us, and by damn if we weren't going to take their heads for it. I miss that. I'd take the sh-tty garrison part just to go back overseas with my friends again, because even though the whole f--king thing sucks a giant donkey d--k, you can't not want it again. I miss it, and every f--king day I miss it more. But it's gone to me, it's f--king gone. The Army isn't taking prior service right now, and won't any time soon, and then I'll be too f--king old. I've lost it. And that's combat. It's sh-tty, it would be a lot scarier if you weren't trained and on adrenaline-fueled autopilot, and it's boring as f--k when it's not happening. And you know that people you eat dinner with aren't coming home with you. But you miss that sh-t. I'm just rambling now, and I'm sorry for that. You've made me miss Fort Bragg again, you sly motherf--ker" (Source).
"The look in a person's eyes about half a second after he kills someone up close. It's something I always think of. I saw the expression on a friend, and sometimes think about the first time I was put in the same situation. Wondering how I looked. (I can't really remember, I just remember blood) Watching my friend think about a thousand things at once, and his facial expressions never being able to keep up...that stayed with me though. Kind of...relief he was alive, but sadness, but excitement, while distraught and confused and about 80 other feelings all in the space of a half second" (Source).
"My brother was in the army, and all his combat tales are about how the Afghan forces just don't 'get it'. Like, there was this Battle of Three Towns where, shortly after building a well and schools and stuff for one village, three other villages combined efforts and attacked US forces for not doing it for their villages...while the US forces were on their way to do exactly that, build schools and wells for them. Also, superstition. Afghan fighters in one village say all American soldiers are cyborg robots who don't eat or sleep and only kill. When questioned by a translator they said because they are covered in panels, big and bulky, not shaped like a human, like a machine, and when you shoot them they get back up and keep fighting. Another village thought all of the 10th Mountain Division were vampires because once they were in the area, a town would be there one day, and disappear at night with nothing but bloodstains left the next day. Then again, it's not too-far-fetched for a goat-herder in the desert with a rusty AK and no formal education to assume these tactically-trained elite assault units are superhuman. Our basic combat units are known as elite to those nations. Our proclaimed elite assault units are godly" (Source).