A battlefield is a place that most of us can only imagine, being surrounded by the enemy and knowing that the fellow solider or marine next to you could take their last breath at any moment. Mike Boettcher experienced this horror first hand for years as he covered conflict in Central America and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. but on this most recent trip into what he calls “The Hornets Nest” there was a new variable- working along side his son.
"It’s called the Hornets Nest because when I was interviewed after the battle that closes out the movie in which 6 soldiers were killed, I talk about the fact that immediately we were surrounded and in a 9 day fight for our lives," Boettcher said. "And that we had landed in the hornets nest, the command in control for the Taliban in Northestern Afghanistan.
The Hornets Nest is a movie coming to theaters in May that shows Boettcher and his son Carlos as they attempt to capture the details of the war in Afghanistan. Boettcher said having the experience with his son is one of the main reasons that the experience was so rewarding.
"Well it was great," hes said. "I mean the heart and soul of the movie is it is a father son movie set in the mist of other fathers, sons, mothers and daughters. And because I was a foreign correspondent that was constantly on the road for more than 30 years, I was never home when he grew up, I was gone 300 days a year some years, at the minimum 250, and it’s a story about reconnection with my son, reigniting that father son relationship that was lost all of those years, and ironically it happened on a battle field."
Boettcher's past experiences made him nervous to bring his son along, but the idea of getting to do something he loves with his son appealed to him.
"Well that was one of the main things in the beginning because I was going to go do this alone," He said. "This project to imbed full time over the course of 2 year with American soldiers and marines in Afghanistan, and my son said that he wanted to join me and Carlos was in college and a bit adrift, he just wasn’t focused, and he and I had a strained relationship and he hated the job I had because it took me away from him all those years. When he said he wanted to go I was excited because I saw the opportunity to reconnect with my son. At the same time I’ve seen many many people die doing this sort of thing, people who are actually fighting the wars and people like me who actually cover them. But he was determined to come regardless of my objections and I thought and I figured out that I was only a year older than him when I started covering wars back in 1980. And you know, He did really know what he wanted to do before hand he was at a great university, George Washington University, he is smart, a fantastic writer a better writer than me, and you know he was barely hanging on in school, he wasn’t making grades that were worth anything and didn’t know what he wanted to do. Had this attitude, you know, I don’t care."
His son insisted on joining him, but this enthusiasm didn't ease Boettcher's constant worry.
"I relive that moment when we were surrounded on the mountainside and we had several wounded and people were dying and no helicopters could get to us because the gunfire was so heavy and the weather was bad and you knew people were going to die," He said. "And bullets were hitting all around me and I sat there and I thought I wonder what it’s going to feel like when a bullet goes through me. All these years I’ve been lucky, I haven’t actually been shot. Everything else has happened to me I’ve been kidnapped, beat up, deported, arrested you name it from countries from countries where I’ve been trying to cover events. But at that moment I didn’t think I was coming back. I’ve witnessed a lot of horrific things over the years, going back to 1980 and what mankind will do to mankind in the name of all sorts of things, religion, money, you name it."
Boettcher understood the danger his son was in, but through training and constant supervision he said that it isn't as hard as you'd think to catch on.
"Well I tried to kind of protect him," He said. "So we started out slowly I wasn’t going to put him in the middle of huge fire fights in the beginning, so we started out slowly and I was always keeping my eye on him to see where he was, to make sure that he was not in a position where was exposed and you know he learned a lot from the soldiers and marines that he was covering because they looked after him and they showed him how to survive. You know there are certain things that you do you know, you know when a bullet is coming from this direction you go that direction, when a mortar is coming from here, where do you go, when an RPG is coming towards you, how do you react? You know, you learn those things. And this, and he will tell you this, had a transformative affect on him because he saw people that had given their full devotion, as Lincoln said, to this country, were committed to something. Committed to putting on that uniform and defending the nation. And it had an effect on him, and now he is one of the best producers at NBC news, he’s a staff producer for ABC in New York."
This affect translated into the film.
"You know we won 2 national Emmys for this story," Boettcher said. "The last Emmy was for best story of the year, which is equivalent to best picture in the Oscars and he came up on stage with me and all the network anchors and presidents and everyone’s in this audience in New York City and I said you know, my time is really over, it’s my sons turn and that was the proudest moment of my life when I was able to introduce my son and have him accept the Emmy."