As Memorial Day approaches, a Michigan State University student and former Marine sniper has created a documentary dedicated to 25 fallen comrades of the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines, which suffered the most casualties in 2010 during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
Produced by Logan Stark, a senior in the professional writing program, and spring graduates Rebecca Zantjer and Lexi Dakin, “For the 25” is a product of an MSU advanced multimedia writing class launched this spring.
The 48-minute documentary about members of “Dark Horse” Battalion contains combat footage from Sangin, Afghanistan and interviews with four Marines. Through misty eyes and comfortable smiles, the battlefield brothers talk about their friendship; life before, during and after Afghanistan; and the 25 Marines who never made it home.
In just two weeks on YouTube, “For the 25” has been viewed more than 11,000 times from more than 60 countries.
“When you leave to go to Afghanistan, you have an idea of what it might be like, but there’s really no way to describe what actually happens,” said Stark, who’s attending MSU on the GI Bill®. “When people say war is hell, it is. The first time you get shot at, or the first time you see somebody get blown up, it just changes you forever.”
Unlike most war videos, the film is more than pictures flashing to music and five-minute gun scenes, Stark said. Instead, it’s a beautiful story of survival, hope, grief, never-ending bonds and heroism.
Stark enrolled at MSU only four months after ending his service in 2011. After changing his major twice, and struggling to acclimate to civilian life, he found his writing niche.
Originally, the students planned to make a documentary about post-traumatic stress disorder, from which Stark and most of his colleagues suffer. But the film naturally morphed and began telling its own story.
After Stark traveled to Chicago and Idaho to conduct interviews, the students pored through 10 hours of interviews and 100 hours of b-roll to find just the right storytelling pieces. Most of the footage is from other snipers, taken with helmet and gun cams.
“The movie is really about how difficult it is to be alive and stay alive and the kind of help you need,” said Bump Halbritter, associate professor of writing, rhetoric and American culture, who teaches the class. “It’s helping people talk about what’s hard, and it’s a way for veterans and Marines to share this with people in their lives.”
While the footage is powerful, it’s the raw emotion of watching the men transition from superheroes to students, parents and salesmen that captures audiences, Zantjer said.
“Along with stories of gunfights and improvised explosive devices, there were stories about hunting porcupines and losing teeth and just being glad to be with friends you hadn’t seen for a long time,” she said. “There was so much in their stories that I could relate to, and although these men were Marines, they were still men.”
Stark said making the film has been therapeutic, and he hopes it inspires other veterans suffering from PTSD or family members coping with loss.
“Throughout this film, I questioned whether I was doing the right thing, asking my brothers to relive those moments,” he said. “But now I understand. We owe it to the 25 who didn’t come home and every other warrior who has paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at https://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.