tv Carmen Gentile Blindsided by the Taliban CSPAN June 3, 2018 3:00pm-3:41pm EDT
[inaudible conversations] [inaudible conversations] >> i knew it would be a dudefest. look at this. >> they did it topless. we're doing it bottomless. you getting all this, c-span, that you're never going to show this? of course. why not. we're going to do this quick and dirtiment i canal imagine i'm going lecture a bunch over people i've known a long time-out my book. this is ridiculous but let's do it anyway. you can heckle -- mercilessly
heckle me. deserve it because my head is getting too big, obviously, from a recent spike in sales. so, yes, i need to have knock down a few peg s. i had my first reading yesterday so i'm still figuring out how to do a book reading and the around don't know how is because i never attend book readings. thought they were really boring, like some guy sitting up here giving you the thousand yard stare and trying to make their words sound really important, and i never thought that was that compelling. ill'll just read a few page is read yesterday at the very beginning of the book. some over you have read it, some haven't, so strap in and then maybe afterward, if you want to ask me some questions or do something that makes this crew's time worth their while, let's do that and then get the hell oft here. chapter one, freelancing a
afghanistan, september 6, 2010. kunar province, any company commander only hal heardly off ares to let me tag along on a mission in the mountains that will kick off at 3:00 a.m. probably thinking i'm not up to it warns me an all-day, ass, breaking hump, unsteep mountain. though counted i tell him i'm game, convincing myself it will geoff the perfect opportunity to document the difficulty of the fight in this area. a relative safe haven for militants crossing the border from pakistan, i don't want the commander to think i'm a pussy. if have been imbedding for years so i know what it takes to get readers interested am firefight helps helps and show does anything blowing up. hopefully nothing that puts
soldiers in harm residents way. insert myself into situations that will make for tantalizing reading. that doesn't mean i'm not scared when i do it. i just leave that part out. i can't let soldiers see i'm scared, either. makes them nervous enough having a journalist in their midst, wondering whether i'm something i'm going report witness bell the chewed out or end their careers. worse yet would me panicking and jeopardizing the lives by doing something stupid. count on me for tomorrow, i tell the commander as calmly as i can, hope michigan doesn't notice the tremor in my right leg. after a few hours of nervous way to twilight sleep i meet up with the soldiers. they're told to keep their ires
out for snipers. i listen to his instructions will stuffing my bag with bottles of water and nervously inhaling several knockoff chinese marginal bob marlboro lights. wake up feeling like there's a cinder block on my chest. me nervousness is not inwarranted. eve had a handful of close calls, most only the here. last summer, fuel miles south i was pinned down with a platoon. gunmen behind boulders fired on us, we were soundly fucked. shots pinged off the mud walls and occurred we might not make it out. finally we extrude up the gumption to sprint across a wide open expanse toward a foot bridge, choose which armored vehicles were parked. once across, everyone scurried for the quickest cover.
a dozen soldiers piled in the back of a truck designed to hold six men. bullets linked off the truck's armored plating. somehow no one was hurt. several more days until i go hone, one soldier said laughing; i caught on camera the mass save stacked edge soldiers, faces conveying a mixture of relife and jubilation at escaping yet another close call eye. preparing myself for the possible of more of the same today. he set out for a couple hundred dreads yards and then hang a sharp right, taking a winding, snaking trail into the side of the mountain. after ten minutes of humping up steep faces cloaked the darkness, stumble over other other step, my lungs are rage inferno. fuck, i'm thick-headed for tagging along if i tell myself for the 103,506th time i will
quit smoking when i get back from afghanistan, no loses. we rest halfway off he up out ins, soldiers take defensive positions while guzzle water and try to capture pictures. the inseam of his pants are ripped on fountain countless cries, their at the rein blows out croches every just a few missions. a common problem for anyone. a few other guys are supporting cropless fatigues after seeing there's -- seeing there's no running water, hesen the only one not wearing underwear. i conduct an impromptu, on could ram interview on the side of the
mountain whispered tones. urging him to keep his legs closed and try not to laugh. it sucks not have egg the lie ground he muses in bit the disadvantage soldiers have in the mountains where taliban fighters have the geographic advantage. i wrap up the interview, and then grab some shots of his dong just for fun. after a short break we slog on. several hours later the schmidt doesn't look any closer. are we there yet? i ask in a coolly received effort at comedic relief, knowing damn well we still have a ways to good heave don't like a child getting on his parents last world. i'm running out of gasment my vest and camera gear are getting heavier with every step. shouldn't bitch. my loads nothing compared to
those pounds those guys are carrying around. their visits weigh twice as minute as mine, their weapons and awkward mass of metal whose shifting weight over untrain terrain constantly alters centers of gravity, making climbing the mountainser in impossible without occasionally toppling. one lands face forward, his legs played behind him. is my helmet crooked, he equips in a whisper as he pops up with his kevlar head coverver his eyes eyes and resting on the bridge of his nose. we spend he rest of the sweltering morning hauls ourselves over and around boulders as we reach our objective, summit the soldiers dubbed operation poet east am flat, shadeless expanse with views of now tiny river valley and all shed our year in,
collapse, clothes stained with sweat. it took us eight ankle roll, deep heaving hours to reach the submit and now it feels like it's well over 90 degrees despite the elevation. look at the terrorist hillside catholic out by farmers who still work the land with basic hand tools. i'm near passed out and dehydrated just hiking up here and afghanistans do it every day to tend to their vegetables. either anytime lousy shape or these their hardest people in the planet. i discover i'm down to bottle and a half of water. some soldiers are nearly dry, too. my joy aft reaching the top drains away and is replaced by dread of the climb down, knowi it will be a dry-throated dash back to outpost knee. ed to return before sunset when the taliban are more likely to attack. after an hour's rest, he orders the men to throw on their gear
so we can start he long haul back. the descent is always quicker but the perils are greater. if anyone is watching us, the climb down would be ideal time to strike. with our heads facing down and our energy depleted, we're extremely vulnerable to potential sniper attacks from at the peaks above us. halfway down the mountain two sandal suggest from dehydration stop dead in their tracks and their faces stark white and gaunt. hutchens, medic, whips out i.v. bags and jabs the inner forearm to pump them with fluid as they lay motionless on the mountainside. combating my squeamishness, i focus my camera on the sergeant who takes umbrage. dude, don't film this, his eyes rolling back in his head due to exhaustion and extreme dehydration. his cheeks are hollow and his face the color of skimmed mick.
a moment late he releans, what the hell go ahead. there you go. [applause] >> much as i'll read before it gets tedious, for me and for you, but if anybody has any questions or wants to chime in about something, let me know and we'll have a little pow-wow? anyone? go ahead. who i've known since the sixth grade. going throw me a softball. >> no i'm not. you talk about your relation with your family and i wonder end of the story -- >> meghan kell me -- >> it's in the brick go ahead. >> how is your relationship withure family changed from writing this book? >> you know, they've been really supportive. in this -- not to give away to
much the goodies but there's a lot about some of the more contentious aspects of our relationship not having to resolve because i'm a man child in some ways. here's something that i know that they haven't said to me but i have come across this knowledge. since i got hurt, there's a lot of things that they will let slide in terms of my sometimes obnoxious behavior and i try not to take advantage of that because that's even more man-childish than i already am. so i hope that now that they -- i finished it and i've got the publishing monkey off my back that maybe i'll be a little easier to get along with, and -- yeah, we'll be fine.
it will take a while go ahead. >> so, i i've known you for a while since i was in afghanistan. the food isn't good, the pause is shit. why do you do it? >> before i was doing this, i had a -- i was bartender and a bouncer and iing to cheer how to swim in a ymca ask the pay was probably better compared to being a free lance conflict reporter, but -- oh, man. every time someone asks me this question i gave different answer ask try not to give that one that is all-pretentious people who want to sound important regarding their work give but bearing witness and all that yadda yadda. i'm pretty good at it, i think. not the best but i'm pretty good, and i like -- the thing i
like about imbed reporting is that i get the opportunity to sit down and talk to somebody one-on-one. i like to tell small stories. i don't like to tell stories from the 30,000-foot angle. i'm not an investigative journalist. i don't cover the pentagon or the white house and the big sweeping narratives. i like just talking to the young guys and women who are out there doing the job and seeing what is going nontheir lives and giving just readers the peek through the keyhole about what is going on, and hopefully they're interested enough to read not just that story but other stories from other reporters to create the bigger picture themselves. i'm one puzzle piece and that's all i want to be. that's why i do it. what's up, chris, who i've known
for a long time. >> you have written but your experience, and obviously you got -- spent more than ten years now? >> i -- 2010, so 2018. >> buthat happened yesterday in afghanistan with people being killed, how do you think the security situation has changed in the times -- since the time you were there and how has it changed for journalists? they was thriving media in kabul, what is happening? >> it's gotten worse, obviously. there aren't nearly as many foreign reporters there because there's waning interest in afghanistan, unfortunately, by news organizations. and the fact of the matter is, now that the taliban and islamic state are targeting the capital with impunity and this late -- anytime you bomb civilians it's
an atrocity and hideous, but to bomb and then wait for people to gather and do it again is monstrous. there's nothing worse than that, really. and that's a go-to taliban tack tuck as any soldier or marine will tell you. they hit you once, like to wound somebody and then when everybody comes to their aid they try to hit you again. it saddens me. had two afghan friends good journalists and good friends, who i was scrambling yesterday to try to reach, and fortunately neither one were hurt bit was a sweaty few hours until i was able to locate them i thought for sure they go -- they good to those bombings every day though guys who cover afghan, local journalists, day in and day out, that's legal of commitment i'll
never experience. never understand. those guys are well above beyond anything i do. that's my opinion of them. ya. >> so, knowing what you know now, would you have again and would you go back and are you glad you went? >> yeah. not to give away too much of the goodies in the book but i have been back since then. i have actually been back to afghanistan six times suspension i got hurt, and, yeah, it's not that i not fearful because i am. it's afraid all the time and not just of those situations. i saw a rat on the sub away in new york and i screamed like a little girl. nobody else seemed to notice or care and i'm -- i jumped out of
my skin when i saw the thing. but like i said, i'm not really built to do much else. it's something that i continue to confront and -- good. yep? >> a lot of questions. >> good. >> so, this is your first book. >> yep. >> i want to ask you about story-telling. >> yep. >> you've been going overseas for a long time, writing for a long time as a journalist. how do you macthe jump from saying issue want to put something together, something that is meaningful as a story-teller and then where do you go from there? >> you know, i originally wrote a short story, actually an
article for esquire based on what happened to me, and i started from that moment on to think there was a pal to tell a larger story, and i felt like i wanted to tell one because not only do people ask me about it all the time. i heard you're that guy that got shot in the face. tell me that story. i've told the story so many times. unfortunately doesn't work anymore because i'm married. don't get to trade on that as much is a used to because my wife is so sick of hearing that story. she knows every detail. so, am i -- i always wanted to write a book, and i never knew what that book would be about but i thought i had a story to tell or i had -- i thought i had a voice that would lend itself
to a bigger narrative. so i wanted to give that a try and this seemed like the right opportunity um i had so much rolling around in my head about those incidents to the point where before i started write being it. between the time i went back to afghanistan and all the moments chronicled in the book, between that time and the time i actually put my ass in the their write i fled a perpetual loop of reliving the moments over and over again to the debt transport of the present i had hat -- detriment of the present i had at that time. i hadn't -- wasn't the concept of book that i was thinking about. just couldn't let that stuff go, so i thought i'll write about it. and maybe that will help me be more present on a day-to-day basis, and it does a little bit.
[inaudible question] >> that was the intent and i mention this in the intro about how i thought the book would be a remedy it and wasn't. not just a matter of writing a book and telling at the story but you have to allow yourself not dwell and that takes a certain amount of discipline. the book hemmed -- helped me do that because gave me the psychological permission to let some of that be start living like a normal human being or my cloaks approximation of a normal human being. >> one more question, where to now? >> you know, i just came back from iraq and i was doing a project there, where we're trying to combine good journalism and story-telling with motorcycling, because myself -- well, you'll probably
be surprised to hear best but people who cover conflict like to ride motorcycles. it's surprising. and there are ton of us that do. and we have got it in our head, this concept that in order to try to draw attention to the stories that we think are important, we have to play a different game because they're not getting the play they should. so, we -- i did a story in august for motorcyclist magazine but riding in mosulment we bought a motorcycle there with a side car and told the story of the people in the city and what had been happening in iraq through the motorcycle. we talked to mechanic fixed and howl he under the islamic state had been forced to fix their bikes and how bikes were forbidden for other people to ride and the general state of their lives under the islamic state tyranny.
and so getting the bike out was part of that story, and as a way for us to try something different. try different tack for getting people interested and seemed to work. we're trying to do that now. not just in iraq but other places as well, where we have done reporting we think are places that aren't particularly appreciated as well as they should be. yes. >> so, i imagine that you mentioned you have fear when you go back to afghanistan. and you have ben several timeses and that's completely understandable. i wonder if you have additional fears now that you are parent and have a kid and, like, how do you grapple with that? something you love to do and you're cut out for, but at the same time, i imagine it's a challenge to go out and continue doing this when you've got --
now you're married and have a kid and everything. >> yeah. >> sorry if that's a tough question. >> because that time i was just telling you about, we were riding motorcycle in iraq, my wife said if you get hurt in iraq riding motorcycles, don't come out, don't bother. you're not going to put me through that. i worry about -- yeah, i worry but that. i try not to take what i think are stupid risks. i try to take what i call calculated risks and i can tell you all day the difference between the two. but being a parent has changed my perception definitely of the stories i cover. before i had my daughter i was able to have a certain level of
detachment in the moment when i saw certain kinds of suffering, and i didn't realize just how much it had changed me until last spring, when i was in mosul -- when the fighting was really fierce and i was imbedded with the iraqi special forces and they were pushing into western mosul and people were streaming out who had been living under the islamic state temperature temperature in the for two years and were coming out with offering they had in their arm, including children, some of which had just been caught in a bombardment and had these lacerations all over theirs faces and young girl was holding a baby in her arms and the baby was slack and i wasn't sure it was still alive. my daughter's age and i was like, oof. i lad to take a moment in a way i didn't know would fake me. not that it didn't affect me but i was able to control --
maintain some semblance of composure in the past but that momentum couldn't. that bothered me a lot. now when i see kid suffer, that really bothers me a lot. so i have to try toot it' not going stop me from doing those kind stories but it's also -- it's just a greater challenge now, i think. what's up? showing up late like a rock star. thinking you're important just because you're in the book. anybody else? yeah. >> so having been back several times now, what kind of -- -- [inaudible] -- between the locals and the troops that are there? >> i haven't been back to afghanistan for five years and i hate to paint attitude witch
brush strokes because people in one village don't have the same attitude as others, some under extreme pressure bass of the taliban you don't know that fact until the soldiers leave and the taliban come in right afterwards, after you have a meeting. this guy knows, went through that many times. i don't want to say this is how these people are perceived or how they think about u.s. presence there, because that's like saying -- i remember when i because in iraq in 2013 the ten-year notify anniversary of the initial invacation, people ask me what do the iraqis think about is? and i don't know. i almost -- i don't want to be the guy that notes theas mindset, very diverse culture
and on ethnic and tribal lines. i can say and i'm not on expert. never professed to be an expert about what is going on in afghanistan. the more time i spent there he more i realized how little i know and i always think of myself, like, for example, you have your afghanistan experts, your steve cole, ghost war guys, the ph.d level afghanistan sometime. i'm the hooked on phonics afghanistan guy. i'm not that guy that's going to tell you what is going onment my goal is to tell story and try to entice people that maybe aren't particularly interested in this part of the world, and maybe through my personal story, they will inadvertently become more
interest and that interest will continue a the put down my book, hopefully. that's part of the goal, i think. >> one more question. >> request goh ahead. >> you -- we came interest journal journalism around the same time and we wrote stories where we weren't in the story. how have you transitions doing reporting of other people and turning the lens on yourself? how have you managed to do that. >> um, yeah. at first it was very rick because i wasn't sure that anybody would give a dam. but i knew it's something i wanted to do, and i think, i knew i wanted to write this story, and i naturally -- when you're starting out something completely different, you
experiment. i am going to try to write it this way, neighbor a third person or maybe i'll do -- experiment with tense and other ways in which to try grab rather's attention, but i just gravitated toward the first person and just seems to work for me. i also write in the present tense, which a lot of people criticize. use datelines to tell people where they are in the story. i picked up this technique -- these gun will appreciate this because it's something from pittsburgh -- people in pittsburgh have a tendency to tell stories in bars in the present tense and say something to the effect do i'll use a pittsburgh accent issue says to my buddy chuckyear -- but something that happened in the past, but he says "i says" and makes for a really compelling storytelling because it was
something that was completely insane but they say -- i says to him this is a bad idea and you would get that throughout of the mud. so this is -- i like to hear the stories. grew up listening to that kind of story-telling in bars and i thought i'd try to tell the story in the present tense with mostly correct grammar and i think it works. seems to. for me at least. yes. >> so, there's a lot of time you spend between going out and doing missions and whether it's kinetic or not, you're not always on full patrol, a lot of down time. what was the best way you spent your down time -- not necessarily -- >> jesus. >> you have been there 100 times so you sit around waiting in
bars? so maybe explain some of that. there's a lot -- >> oh, yeah, everyone things it's run and gun all the time. no. it's -- the old saying, it's -- long period's boredom burning waited by moments of in throat hit stair ya. so there's those long periods where you're hurrying up and waiting for a helicopter to take you someplace, and journalist are the lowest priority for moving personnel around in a war zone. >> whoa, whoa, whoa. >> come on that true. one colleague got bumped off the flight because the barista in the coffee shop on the base needed to get some where so they moved the barista before the moved the journalist.
so, come on. i know that. but in the downtime, your downtime is spent -- you get to know people. i got to know these two characters over here. other journalists stuck in the same place. you make fast friend z. eat free food, usually at the larger bases, we would always make these jokes about how war is hell because at the dining facility, at the base where these two guys were, they didn't have praline and cream ice cream. they would run out. and my grandfather fought in the south pacific and they were iting grubs grubs and chewing on thunder belts and i'm like, oh, shit no cookies and cream. i know. that happensment war is hell.
but you get to meet good folks along the way, and there are stories to be told while you're waiting. along the way. one time i had this long stint where i was stuck on a base and i spoke to -- i was just hanging out with a bunch of soldiers and i wrote a story about what kind of video games they like to play. the guys who tend to go out on missions and get into a lot of firefights, they don't play their first person shootser games, to end play the sports games but the guys in the rear more on, they play the first person shoot them up gamesment or the time that i -- i had some time between imbeds and i went and smoke -- spoke to -- i went back to same hospital where i was treated when he was hurt and i met with ophthalmologists and
other people wye injuries and i had a personal interest in that so it's not all banging -- run and gun and -- it's very little of that in fact. even when you're out in the remote combat outpost there's long periods where nothing is going on, hang out, shooting the shit, smoking cigarettes and talking sports. that's how you get to know people. my former boss. >> come back to this idea about the puzzle pie, the little keyhole view thattor your stories as an imbed provide because its troubles me a little bit. >> why? >> well, don't you have an obligation to give a bigger pick picture? this is a war, and isn't there a danger that when you're imbalance bedded like that, those little puzzle pieces, the
keyhole glimpses point one direction. >> that's a good point. typically in the story -- stuff i w writing "usa today" so you have to pick and choose the words there would be a paragraph or two about the bigger picture but not nearly as much as needed, and i always had to be encouraged by editors to make sure i included that in there but what i did in the book was try to tell small stories and weave them knowing a -- knowing a way that told the bigger picture what was going on, at that time and that nice, my eyes and experience. but in my journalism -- i have to and i admit be reminds you
need to couch this in a, well, while this is happening here, this is what is happening in the larger theater and how it's being represented or being perceived in washington, and by world leaders. so, yeah, i did that. but i don't consider that my forte'. i am the guy who just talks to another guy and say what's going on here and tell me your story. i'm much better at that. you're a good investigator and i can't do that stuff. go ahead. >> that being said, there is something with this book you regret? something you feel like i wish i would have added that in there or its -- nobody is ever happy -- >> the title. >> okay. i'm wondering now if i'm going to get really chewed out by my publish issuer -- publisher if i
tell you this. >> wait until the cam race off. >> i'll get into that later. i like that title. >> oh, yeah, of course. i spent a lot of time immersed in the pages, putting this together, obviously writing the first draft and second and third and 75th and trimming and adding and tinkering. i could have tinkered with it until my last dying breath. that's just how i think every dish don't know how everyone else does but that's me. there are a million things i would change but i had to at some point just stop. right? and say, okay, this is the best it can be right now. on to something else. and i'm sure i'll tinker with my
row lit fest in in chicago. then in new orleans, the conference featuring a need talk by form first lady michelle obama, and on june 23rd the fdr presidential library and human hosts the roosevelt reading festival, day of author programs on the life and tenure of america's 32nd president. then from july 11th to the 14th it's the annual libertarian conference, freedomfest in las vegas. for more information about upcoming book fairs and festivals and to watch previous festival coverage, click the book fair's tab on our web site, booktv.org. >> the book is called "blue texas: the make offering a multiracial democratic coalition in the civil rising era" the book dry draws back the curtain or the story of another texas. not the texas of big care