Scholars and soldiers told me that war has an enduring nature, one that has not changed for centuries: that it is a contest of wills, is violent and uncertain; an extension of policy with a dominating political dimension. However, though the nature of war remains unchanged, the character of war constantly evolves. I desired to know what the latest evolutions of warfare looked like, and how this impacted our military. I wrestled with tough questions: how are our policy decisions playing out on the ground overseas? How is victory defined? What would be considered defeat?
The rationing of information about today's conflicts bothered me greatly. Much of what my fellow citizens and I have been presented with are brief news reports devoid of context, war drama reality television shows of limited scope, or films recounting embattled troops in valley outposts—compelling and valorous aspects of the conflict, without question, but a more linear perspective of what are incredibly complex operations. What else was going on before and after these battles? I needed to know more.
The film becomes increasingly pertinent in the context of the current situation in Iraq (rise of ISIL; poor performance of Iraqi security forces) and a pressing U.S. timeline to reduce forces in Afghanistan. Is Afghanistan destined for a similar fate?
As a citizen, I wondered how policies such as "deny a safe haven for terrorists," "forge a lasting peace," and "manage conflicts that threaten our interests" are actually implemented, and experienced by all affected parties. What do young Americans do to turn these words into reality?
The Department of Defense approved a production assistance agreement authorizing me to embed with ground combat units and other services to produce a documentary film and photo exhibit about the military efforts in Afghanistan, from Fall of 2010 to the end of Operation Enduring Freedom in December 2014. Over the course of nearly five years, I have spent more than a year embedded with U.S. Army units in Afghanistan, documenting over 250 combat missions. The remarkable footage that resulted ranges from kill capture missions to mounted and dismounted patrols, air assaults and operations that result in kinetic contact, to humanitarian aid and civil affairs efforts. I have been there, done it, and have numerous t-shirts!
Though threats of terrorism against the United States long predate 9-11, U.S. national security policy has shifted its focus to countering terrorism in the post 9-11 world. Virtually all elements of national power have been leveraged to develop counter terrorism strategy, and drive its implementation. These policy decisions subsequently sent U.S. armed forces into harm's way in both Iraq and Afghanistan theaters.
I watched all this as a concerned citizen. I, like the majority of the American public, had little contact with the military. My preconceived notions of the realities of war were loosely drawn from academic sources, movies, and documentaries. My context was primarily derived from history and popular culture. But did these sources accurately portray the reality of these current conflicts?
Outside the Wire is less a stereotypical war film, and more a journey of understanding. Many questions were answered; important new ones were raised. Along this journey I met incredible people who volunteer to descend into violent, chaotic, and complex environments for me; for us. I completed the journey with a better awareness of them, of what we ask them to do, and the nature of the conflicts we find ourselves with increasing frequency ensnared.
TONY CUCOLO: Major General, U.S. Army (Retired)
Executive Producer & Military Technical Advisor
When I saw a rough cut of Meg Prior's work while I was at the War College 2012, I immediately knew it held great value and potential to educate and inform the public on the changed character of war in the 21st century and what it is like to be on the whip's end of national security policy. I believe this film does that, as well as give the public the most extensive, engaging, and in-depth view of the people who are currently serving our nation.
It has been an honor to be associated with this project.
I have served at the tactical, operational and strategic level during my 35 years as a Soldier. A combination of my experiences in operations in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, lessons from my four tours in the Pentagon, and service leading the U.S. Army War College made me both a student and a practitioner of the difficult task of linking policy and strategy to actions on the ground. Over the past decade I have had the opportunity to speak on this topic and attempt to explain the "why" of past and current operations to an extremely wide variety of audiences—from concerned citizens to the intellectual elite.
Each time I stood in front of a group and tried to describe just what it is young Americans do on the ground to make policy successful, I knew I fell short. I secretly wished the impossible wish of transporting the population of the United States to the battlegrounds of Iraq and Afghanistan so they could see their military and their diplomats in action, see the abject poverty, oppression, violence and destruction we sought to abate, and get a feel for the immense complexity of these environments.
And, thus far, 21st Century warfare is certainly proving to be incredibly complex. For the foreseeable future, war will continue to be waged among the world's populations. It is carried out by adaptable, cunning, and often well-resourced enemies who employ all means at their disposal, from crime and terror to the latest conventional weaponry and cyber operations. They ignore all rules of international order and they ignore all aspects of the law of armed conflict—in fact, they ignore humanity. Success against enemies such as these requires professional, ethical and truly enlightened warriors and diplomats—and constant communication of clear, adaptive policy goals for them to translate into actions on the ground.
I knew if my fellow countrymen could gain a better understanding of the grass roots realities of policy in execution, somehow see examples of it for themselves, I was certain they would take a greater interest in—and seek to be more informed—about the policy decisions sending Americans into harm's way.
SIOBHAN PRIOR: Editor
Siobhan Prior is a native Californian, born and raised in Los Angeles. She is a third generational vet in the film industry, following in her father’s and grandfather footsteps. Her grandfather, Peck Prior Sr., began his career as a commercial producer, and ultimately finished his career as the President of Technicolor. Under the steady tutelage of her father, acclaimed film editor Peck Prior, Siobhan quickly gained the knowledge, training and creative tools necessary in the art of editing and visual story.
Siobhan’s skill set is expansive, ranging from physical production, to managing dailies, to film-outs and digital outputs for theatrical release – her editorial sensibilities have been sculpted by the finest editors in Hollywood. Her career seamlessly spanned the 35mm to digital revolution, working in the VFX departments on films such as “Pleasantville”, “Disaster Movie”, and Sky Captain, World of Tomorrow”
After 10 years working on large scale feature films, Siobhan took her talents to Bandito Brothers – a full service independent media studio. In addition to editing commercials projects, she was given the opportunity to be an Additional Editor, VFX Supervisor and Co-Post Production Supervisor on the film “Act of Valor”. The movie was revolutionary in many ways, one of the most radical was that it was the first film that combined DSLR and 35mm film in a feature environment. The film opened #1 at the Box Office, and changed the way mainstream Hollywood approached feature film making, helping to solidify Siobhan’s standing as an innovator in the world of filmmaking and digital media.
Applying her background with “Act of Valor” (involving real Navy SEALs and accessed actual military assets), she joined her step-mother Meg Prior as an Editor and Post Producer on “Outside the Wire”, a documentary film about Meg’s civilian deployment to Afghanistan with the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army.
JESSICA BRUCKERT: Project Manager
Jessica Bruckert studies Peace, War, and Defense and Anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She previously worked as a Department of Defense civilian with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command and Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, NC. There, she endeavored to improve the relationship between the military and knowledge capital communities in the private sector and academia. While accompanying the 98th Civil Affairs Battalion on a pre-deployment MRX at Ft. A.P. Hill in VA in 2011, she was delighted to learn vegetarian MRE's do in fact exist, then promptly burned herself attempting to "cook" one. Jessica traveled to Kabul, Afghanistan in the summer of 2012. While down range, she collaborated with NATO, U.N. and Embassy representatives to support U.S. efforts at combating transnational organized crime in Afghanistan. Engagements outside the wire included interfacing with senior Afghan Government Officials, Afghan Parliamentary members, and Afghan military and civilians at the Ministries of Interior and Defense. Jessica drafted communications for NATO/ISAF leadership and aided in the implementation of counter corruption measures. At Carolina, Jessica studies ways to improve operational efficiencies the military and reduce incongruities between strategic and tactical levels of warfighting. She is interested in supporting an open dialogue between civilians and veterans.
Jessica joined the OTW team to foster connections between Meg's material and external stakeholders. She leads development and outreach activities for the team.
Personal statement: What I find particularly compelling about Meg's material is that, unlike most contemporary journalists or film makers, her coverage spans the spectrum of operations: high value, kill and capture, humanitarian aid, governance, reconstruction, female engagement teams - in a way that can only be achieved over time and extensive travel in-country. 5% of war is kinetic - fire fights and blowing stuff up - but Meg's coverage also reveals the 95% that is incredibly constructive in helping to advance the infrastructure, education and reconstruction of a bruised society. These stories are compelling in their own singular way. Meg's work does not shy away from hard-hitting questions: Why do we go to war? How do we define success? Who is the enemy, and what is the visceral reality of engaging with him? Meg's work encourages viewers to validate or challenge existing positions about the Afghan war. She helps us to understand the topography of conflict absent an agenda about it, in an entirely apolitical way. Her work doesn't hesitate to entertain juxtapositions: the tedium and adrenaline of war, moments of vulnerability and bravery - often intertwined - through a raw and compelling visual narrative.