FORT BENNING, Ga., (June 4, 2014) -- With schools no longer in session and temperatures rising, the days of summer are upon us. Summer is traditionally a popular time for people to enjoy a movie at their local theater, as big-budget blockbusters are released week after week.
However, for those looking for something a bit more realistic, a new documentary is playing on post at the Wynnsong 10 theater.
The Hornet's Nest is a film chronicling the experiences of war correspondent Mike Boettcher and his son Carlos Boettcher over 15 months in Afghanistan with 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, and three brigades of the 101st Airborne Division.
The first half of the film is spent detailing the efforts of the Marines to establish a presence in Helmand province, while the second half of the film deals with a conflict elements of the 101st found themselves in after attempts to remove the forces of Taliban warlord Qari Ziaur Rahman from the Barwala Kalay valley in Nangarhar province.
Among the 101st Soldiers featured in the film was now-Staff Sgt. Matthew Mendez, who was a member of B Company, 1st Brigade, 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment.
He said he was surprised when he first heard about plans to turn the footage into a feature-length movie.
"I was joking at first saying that I wanted Vin Diesel to play me," Mendez said. "I didn't think it would go this far. After a while I started to understand how what it was portraying wasn't so much political as it was showing the Soldiers' real lives and what we actually did. ... It's giving more of a background on the Soldiers who were there and what they dealt with and how long a firefight for them actually was."
While the operation in the valley was only initially planned for two to three days, it wound up stretching to nine days. Mendez said there were times where he feared for his life, but that he refused to allow that fear to affect his performance.
"All I could think was hopefully I would make it through the next day," he said. "If I was going to go out, I wanted to go out on my feet and go out fighting. I wanted to do my best for my men to show them that even though I was scared, I can overcome that fear."
During the operation, six Soldiers - Staff Sgt. Bryan Burgess, Spc. Dustin Feldhaus, Sgt. 1st Class Ofren Arrechaga, Staff Sgt. Frank Adamski, Spc. Jameson Lindskog and Pfc. Jeremy Faulkner - were killed in action. The film depicts the subsequent memorial service for those Soldiers and the return of their remains to their loved ones.
Mendez said of all the events that occurred during the nine days he spent in the valley, it is the deaths of those Soldiers that have stayed with him.
Mendez said he has seen the movie several times since its initial premiere in Indianapolis in early May.
"When it first came out, they flew me up to Indianapolis," he said. "I didn't expect the VIP treatment, so it kind of caught me off guard. I've never had that luxury. I've always kind of been down in the dirt. They took me and I got to meet all these colonels and generals and it was awkward for me because I'm an NCO. I'm not an officer, but believe it or not, these guys talk just like I do."
He said fellow veterans of the 101st later met to view the film, and the emotions were flowing afterward.
"Everybody was tearful," Mendez said. 'We were all in tears and we couldn't hide it. No matter how much of a man you are, you can't hide it. It hurts to lose a brother and a friend who you spent a year or 15 months or multiple deployments with. You hang out with their Family and one day, they're just gone."
Mendez was awarded the Bronze Star for bravery for his actions during the battle, during which he was shot. That experience helped to change Mendez's outlook on life, he said.
"I was saved for a reason," he said. "I got shot in the chest twice, and I should have died with the rest of them, but I didn't. So, I believe that it was a learning experience to make me humble and make me appreciate each day."
To that end, Mendez said he has approached his most recent Army job as a drill sergeant for 1st Platoon, 2nd Battalion, 54th Infantry Regiment, 198th Infantry Brigade, with a passion for educating young Soldiers.
Mendez arranged a screening of The Hornet's Nest at the National Infantry Museum for his young Soldiers in an effort to educate those Soldiers on what could be facing them in the years ahead.
"I felt that they needed to understand that this life that they're choosing is a struggle," he said. "You're going to have those moments where it's tough and that buddy next to you has it just as tough. It's a team effort and you need to be there for each other, no matter how tough it is. ... You have to give them a culture shock by exposing them to what they're about to endure in their lives."
Above all else, Mendez said he hopes that people who see the movie will take time to reflect on the sacrifices of America's fallen Soldiers.
"I'm not trying to single them out and say they're better than anybody else who has passed away," Mendez said. "I'm just tired of going to war and everybody thinking it's over with when we come home. It's not over. They gave the ultimate sacrifice. Their Families gave the ultimate sacrifice, and we need to at least say thank you for what they've done."