Kieran Fisher chats with Alex Quade about her new film, Danger Close…
Alex Quade is an award-winning journalist and war correspondent renowned in the United States for her work with the troops. Known for thrusting herself into the chaos of the war zone, her new documentary, Danger Close, follows Alex as accompanies a highly-trained group of soldiers as they embark on classified missions in the most dangerous corners of the globe.
SEE ALSO: Watch a Clip from Danger Close
The third installment in Strong Eagle Media’s “Heroes of Valor” series – which focuses on producing inspirational military stories – Danger Close should be of interest to anyone who’s even remotely interested in war documentaries. Regardless of personal opinion and politics pertaining to the conflict in question, it’s a fascinating portrayal of daily life on the front line, and if you’re even remotely keen on gaining some insight into the conditions soldiers face in the war zone, it provides a non-sugar coated look into the dangers faced in their daily lives.
Recently, Flickering Myth had the chance to chat with Alex about her work, the film and the challenges faced – as well as the relationships formed – doing what she does.
What inspired you to become a war correspondent?
It was a tough choice between becoming an astronaut or becoming a war correspondent. I always wanted to be a war correspondent and witness and document human stories from the frontlines. In war, you see the best and the worst in people. You see those “universal truths” in action.
I’ve been covering war zones since 1998. Felt like I was perpetually embedded with US troops in Afghanistan or Iraq from 9/11 on, for CNN, then as a freelance war reporter doing video specials for news organizations like The New York Times, etc. I’ve been covering Special Operations Forces since 2006 specifically.
I had been covering Air Force Special Operations Combat Controllers in Afghanistan, before going out on an air assault where a Chinook helicopter was shot down — which you see at the beginning of Danger Close. That mission was actually the big headline in the WikiLeaks Afghan Document Dump — about the Taliban having Surface-to-Air-Missiles, and having taken out a Chinook. I knew, because I was there. And, I take you along for the ride too, so to speak, in “Danger Close.”
And, someday, I still hope to be an astronaut and share stories from space! Just wait!
Your work has seen you become more embedded with the troops- perhaps more so than others in your profession. What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced to get where you are today?
It’s been a huge challenge to cover the Special Operations community. Through persistence, tenacity and sheer optimistic stubbornness, I managed to secure unprecedented access to covering Special Forces Green Berets on combat missions downrange. I’m the only reporter, male or female, ever embedded long-term with these elite, secretive units. As a “one-man-band”, I go it alone, on my own, with no camera crew or support. Just me and my little video camera. I fly under the radar to get the job done.
As an embedded reporter, I immerse myself in their world. But instead of carrying a weapon, I carry a small video camera. I try to show the American audience what combat looks like up close and personal (in this case, “Danger Close”) — what it sounds like, what it feels like. I want to make it understandable for their families back home. I want to put the stories of their soldiers into context.
What can you tell us about your new film, Danger Close?
In Danger Close we wanted to share the intensity of combat as well as the dedication of military personnel serving downrange. We also show the courage of their families back home, especially the Gold Star families who’ve sacrificed greatly. I’m dedicated to telling the stories of our so-called “Quiet Professionals” because otherwise, there may not be any, or very limited documentation of what they’ve done on behalf of the American taxpayer. I’m also committed to trying to sharing with new generations of young journalists and storytellers, that you shouldn’t take “No” for an answer.
The film directly sees you involved in the day-to-day proceedings of military life. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
As a war reporter who documents people making history on the front lines, there are always challenges. When confronted with the daily challenges of this job and trying to get the story, despite people always telling me: “NO!” — I follow the advice of the many Green Beret A-Teams I’d been embedded with, who told me to do what they do: “Go over, under, around, and through every single obstacle to getting the job (mission) done.” Never quit.
I make it my job to follow up on all I witness downrange, which takes time and effort. This includes tracking down every aircraft that provides Close Air Support on combat missions and talking to the crews and getting their aerial gunship footage. It’s a challenge I enjoy– putting all the puzzle pieces together, with after-action interviews back home with the Operators and their families as well. I do this with every single mission, and with all of the Special Operators I cover.
I won’t lie – it’s a challenge being a “one-man-band” – alone, just me and my little video camera. I miss my CNN days when I was fortunate to have a camera crew and support! Maybe someday I’ll have the luxury of working with a crew downrange again, to get better “cinema quality” video. I think the audience for Danger Close will forgive the raw, gritty, “real-ness” of my video, because it takes you right there inside the action.
Besides the challenges of just doing my job as a reporter trying to get the story, there was “real world” stuff to be cognizant of, as well. The danger was real. The Special Forces Commander told me that every one of his men was on a hit list— by name. And, by virtue of me being with them, that I was a target too. The enemy knew who we were and had bounties out for the capture of a Special Forces soldier. That’s why the Green Berets told me that if it was a really “bad day” – and the team was slaughtered around me – I must NOT allow myself to be captured. I was to grab one of their weapons and save one bullet for myself. Because that would be preferable to any “interrogation” or be getting my head cut-off on the internet for propaganda value, like they did to my colleague from the Wall Street Journal – Daniel Pearl; or more recently to James Foley or Steven Sotloff. And imagine the distraction– of a Western female journalist’s being captured. Imagine how that would cloud the real story over there.
How important was it for you to tell this story?
Just like the Special Operators I cover, my word is my bond. The Operators will never leave a fallen soldier behind, and I believe their stories should not be left behind either. The truth should come home too. Not only had I made a promise to the Gold Star Family of Staff Sgt.Rob Pirelli, who was killed in action, but I’d also made a promise to Rob’s A-Team, ODA 072– his Green Beret brothers I’d been on several missions with. So it was very important.
To add pressure to why it was so important for me to tell this story, my mentor – Medal of Honor recipient Special Forces Col. Robert L. Howard (legendary member of Special Forces, Rangers, Delta and SOG, who was nominated for the Medal three times) – tasker’d me before he died, to “Charlie Mike” – continue the mission. He gave me a piece of shrapnel that had been removed from his frontal lobe and told me I must continue the mission of telling the stories of our Special Forces — for their families who resent their absence due to the operations tempo, and so America doesn’t forget. I wear Col.Howard’s shrapnel around my neck, over my heart, as a daily reminder.
What’s it like being the only woman out there with these Special Forces A-Teams?
We each do our jobs. I hold my own. I schlep my own gear, carry a rucksack, try not to be a burden to the A-teams or I’m with. I just do what female soldiers have been doing throughout history.
I try to have a small footprint; not be a liability. I’m a one-man-band because if I had a full television camera crew, we’d be more “wastes of space” – taking up room on a truck or on a helicopter that could be for someone who matters to the team: another gunner.
Yes, I’m immersed in and covering a very male-dominated world, but there are many corporate industries your readers are involved in, which are also still traditionally male bastions. I think that as a woman in any male-dominated environment, we (your readers, too) can show that we are courageous and have a voice, and have something to offer. And, that we can go after what we really want to do in this lifetime and make a difference. I try to do that with the stories I tell. You’ll see that in Danger Close as well. Fear holds many people back– I believe in kicking fear in the face, just like the Special Operators I cover, to complete the mission.
Why do you do this?
To me, it’s a huge responsibility to do justice to the stories of the special operations forces serving our country; and it’s a huge responsibility to get it right, for their families who deserve to know the truth. Their children and grandchildren ought to know about some of the amazing things that their soldier went through. History needs to be documented, or else people forget.
What projects do you have coming up next?
Not everything could fit into this 87-minute film, so many more stories in production ahead for Alex Quade Films! Plus, my first book on Special Forces missions will be published by Hachette Books (which bought Time Warner), next year! So, I’m “continuing the mission” of sharing the stories of these “Quiet Professionals” for the public, and for their families. Stay tuned to www.AlexQuade.com for updates on the book and upcoming films! Thank you!
Danger Close is in U.S. cinemas today and will be available on Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD on May 16th
Many thanks to Alex Quade for taking the time for this interview.