'Restrepo' sequel opens in local theaters Friday

Four years after the documentary "Restrepo" focused on American soldiers fighting in a dangerous valley of northeast Afghanistan, a new film "Korengal, This Is What War Feels Like," opens Friday in Columbus and Fort Benning.

The 84-minute film features interviews with soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team while deployed to Korengal Valley, a relay point for Taliban fighters moving from Pakistan toward Kabul.

For more than a year between May 2007 and July 2008, photographer Tim Hetherington and director Sebastian Junger made 10 trips to the region to record 150 hours of combat, boredom, humor, terror and daily life at the outpost called "Restrepo," in honor of medic Pfc. Juan Restrepo, who was killed in action.

Using some of the same men and never-before-seen footage, "Korengal" picks up where "Restrepo" left off with a look into the mind of a soldier.

Sgt. 1st Class Josh McDonough, a member of the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning, was a staff sergeant while serving with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Afghanistan. He said the film gives people some insight of what soldiers experienced.

"I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, but at the same time I have mixed feelings I can't really describe," McDonough said Wednesday. "I would never want to erase that part from my life."

The Ranger said one of his most intense and emotional times during the deployment was watching a good friend get killed in combat.

"That really is seeing emotions for the first time," he said.

The second hardest part of the assignment was during the down time when there was no fighting.

"It's almost like we didn't know what to do with ourselves," McDonough said. "When we were building, cleaning and eating, we thought we were ready for the next fight and it would come. We get ready for the next fight. When that stuff started slowing down, you're at the point it was hard to deal with that time. That is when your mind starts going off."

At one point, McDonough said he kept track of almost 34 fire fights the unit encountered and more than two weeks when the enemy didn't shoot at them.

"We stopped counting the little pot shots we just didn't encounter or get out of bed for," he said. "We were so used to it."

During the documentary, Spc. Miguel Cortez of Cincinnati recalled how he didn't care about his safety at times when bullets were flying.

"There were times, I would actually shoot back and not duck," Cortez said. "I would run in the open and not squat."

That all changed after a team leader told Cortez how he could put other soldiers in danger by his actions. "It got me to thinking, and I started to pay attention a little bit more," he said.

Cortez, who was awarded the Bronze Star for his actions in the Korengal Valley, left the Army and now lives with his wife and children near Cincinnati.

McDonough said he has built lifelong relationships from his time at the outpost.

"I have friends, brothers forever that I still talk to and call," he said. "Relationships have been built off of that time there. That is real important to me."