In Hollywood, I learned there's only so much you can shove into an 87-minute film, despite working with an amazing editing team.
My 300 hours of combat footage, shot while reporting as a one-man-band covering Special Forces downrange, was condensed to create “Danger Close,” which premieres at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on April 18 and in theaters later this month. Military Times asked me to share some of the stories that were left on the editing-room floor.
One of the film’s main story lines involves Green Beret Staff Sgt. Rob Pirelli, who was killed in action, and my promise to his family and his Operational Detachment Alpha, or "A-team," to return to the combat outpost he built in Iraq, to make sure his legacy hadn't been forgotten.
While “Danger Close” shows me leaving Afghanistan to link up with ODA-072 in Iraq, it doesn’t show all the missions with the ODAs of 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) I’d covered previously, including a Special Forces company air assault near Muqdadiyah, in the heart of al-Qaida controlled territory at the time.
I got to know Rob and the rest of the A-teams well during that operation because it was such a big one. The ODAs were going after an al-Qaida emir and 11 of his men spread out in a village, with large amounts of reinforcements surrounding. In the film, we don't get to see Rob and the ODAs in action before we find out he was killed.
We also don't get to see a moment, after several missions, when it became clear the Green Berets had somewhat accepted me: After all, you’re “in” once you become the butt of pranks, and what better way to prank a know-it-all reporter chick than to barter her off for a herd of goats.
"Dude, she's worth at least 25 goats," ODA-094 communications sergeant Patrick (no last names for these guys) told one of the Iraqis crowding around us.
They couldn’t reach a deal, so I didn’t become the herder’s fourth wife – “otherwise known as ‘Thursday,’“ weapons sergeant Jamie put it.
The film didn’t capture my stint behind the wheel during pre-mission training with 10th Special Forces Group (A), where I sheared off the passenger-side mirror while taking part in evasive- and aggressive-driving training that felt like it was ripped out of a “Fast and the Furious” movie.
The Green Berets in the car with me didn't blink: "You know what that means, Quade,” they said. “You owe every team in the company a case of beer."
PMT also included live-fire shoot-house refresher, which you do see in "Danger Close." ODA-094 invited me to Arizona to go through it with them so I’d know where I'd need to be: back of the stack.
The operators went through various scenarios repeatedly, making split-second decisions about whether targets or hostage-takers show hostile intent – whether to shoot their M4 assault rifles while I shot with my little hand-held camera.
"Get on in there, Alex!" ordered ODA-094's "team daddy," Master Sgt. Sev Dishman, at the beginning of the day. He didn't have to say it again.
By the end of the day, after hundreds of iterations and after-action reviews between each session, everyone, including me, knew everyone else's movements. But in the film, when ODA-094 conducts a night raid when we're back in Iraq, you’ll get a wide shot.
You don't see Master Sgt. Dishman turn to me as we stack on the objective and say, "Get on in there, Alex!" just as he'd done during PMT.
When the team enters the building, I’m sidelined by the public affairs officer, despite the prep work, and despite the master sergeant's directive. If I disobeyed the PAO I would be dis-embedded.
"Dude, where were you?" The Green Berets teased me back in the truck. "You missed everything."
Of all the scenes that didn't make it, this one means the most: After PMT, and before redeploying with 10th Special Forces Group (A) to Iraq, Pirelli's father, Bob, and his sister, Stacey, invited me to attend the Special Operations Command Gold Star Family Memorial weekend with them at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
The film shows the family approaching the Memorial Wall with Rob's name on it, in the rain, placing carnations. It doesn’t show another, more permanent, gesture.
I gave Bob Pirelli a photo of ODA-072 members standing in front of the T-wall where they'd painted the Combat Outpost Pirelli insignia they'd designed, after renaming the outpost for Rob. Bob took that photo to Bragg Boulevard and had that insignia tattooed the length of his calf before the next USASOC event scheduled that day.
To me, that gesture speaks volumes about the love of a Gold Star family, and the love between members of the Special Forces brotherhood, more than anything else.
“Danger Close” couldn’t include everything, but it serves as a real-deal, raw, take-you-along combat film with heart. You'll be there with the "Quiet Professionals" in tough locations, and witness the strength of a Gold Star family. And don’t be afraid to bring a date or invite family members or civilian friends: By the time the film’s over, they’ll understand a little more of your world.
Alex Quade has been honored by the American Legion, Congressional Medal of Honor Society and various journalism groups for her war reporting. “Danger Close,” from the directors of "Citizen Soldier" and "Hornet's Nest," is the third installment in the "Heroes of Valor" collection. Hachette Books is publishing Quade's first book on Special Forces in 2018.