Jerry Bruckheimer, who produced the war drama "Black Hawk Down," teamed with reality pro Bertram van Munster to produce "Profiles From the Front Line."
The six-part series, which began on Feb. 27 during growing international tension, is airing on Thursdays at 8 p.m. through April 3 on ABC.
"Profiles" offers a look into the lives of individuals and units serving in Afghanistan. There are times of danger and hair-raising missions such as scouts locating and disarming rockets aimed at an American camp or jets landing on carriers at night; occasions for serious reflection as to what ideas are worth dying for; and lighter moments such as members of the U.S. military teaching village youths how to play baseball.
"Profiles" was filmed by eight teams of two or three people from early summer into fall of last year, said van Munster ("Amazing Race," "Wild Things"). All footage is real, he said, with no reenactments.
The project was dangerous, van Munster observed, "going into a country strewn with land mines . . . you have to hope for the best. The whole country is armed to the teeth."
Loyalties also are uncertain, he said, for they are bought and sold in Afghanistan. "So one moment somebody is your friend and the next moment he is your enemy. . . . We all went home safely but you can be ambushed very easily."
Safety of the crews was an important concern, said Phil Strub, special assistant for entertainment media at the Pentagon. But the Defense Department couldn't accept responsibility for that, he said.
"They got information as to what kind of gear they would need for living in an austere environment . . . a lot of these folks were experienced in working in unusual circumstances around the world."
Vince Ogilvie, who was the Pentagon's project officer for the series, said the interactions of the film crews and military personnel provided "a prelude to the process of embedding" media representatives in military units for war coverage.
"Profiles" had crew members in different military units over time, he said. "Though they weren't reporting on a daily basis, they were with the unit--living with the unit and reporting on what different individuals or units were involved in.
"With each passing day, week, month came a better understanding," Ogilvie said. The crew members had to be in good physical shape for such tasks as carrying equipment, he said. "They climbed the mountains with the special ops guys. In one of the shots, you can hear the cameraman breathing heavily."
Ground rules for the series were "mostly for the protection of classified material--we didn't want the safety of our people jeopardized," Ogilvie said. "There are still soldiers there and many of the issues captured on film are still ongoing."
The producers worked with Defense officials from the start, Bruckheimer said. "We knew we had to get Pentagon approval. We went up through channels and eventually met with higher-ups in the Pentagon. They were very receptive to the concept of showing what U.S. forces were doing in Afghanistan.
"When we got into it, it was more of a cleanup operation," Bruckheimer said. "We weren't there during actual battles."
After filming started, Bruckheimer said, they were notified that they should not use last names of some of the servicemen for security reasons. Ogilvie said the Pentagon also asked that identities of any captives or detainees be obscured.
The Pentagon looked at the final product to be sure there were no security breaches, van Munster said, and no changes were necessary.
The series makes no attempt to discuss policy issues and whether troops should be there. Rather, it focuses on a variety of individuals, explaining who they are, what they do, and what they think and feel about their efforts.
* Special operations forces searching for weapons in villages ("Well, well, well. What have we here?" asks one serviceman as he uncovers a find);
* Sgt. 1st Class Danette Jones, who runs the mess hall in Bagram, discussing the preparations of meals such as breakfast for 3,500 and how she does her job;
* Maj. Gerard Curran, an emergency physician who provides care for up to 3,000 U.S. service members and works at a humanitarian clinic where he sees up to 100 villagers a day;
* Military personnel dealing with a truck that breaks into a line of fuel trucks. When the driver doesn't move, one serviceman calls for a dog. "Most are afraid of the bomb-sniffing dog," he says. "I'm afraid of the dog."
Among the most touching moments are when Lisa Vance, widow of a fallen soldier, talks about her husband and their life together and what his sacrifice has meant.
"Profiles" has a patriotic quality about it. "We certainly don't object to that, but we didn't put any restrictions on them other than security concerns," said the Pentagon's Strub.
"I'm a patriot," said Bruckheimer. "I believe in this country and believe in the ideals and freedom that we have . . . we really owe a debt of gratitude to the young men and women who serve our country."