We cover a lot of high-end military gear here on Giz, but just one of the things that Generation Kill, a great new miniseries that premiered on HBO last night, does well is remind everyone that in the real world, the military is not all UAVs and lasers just yet. Instead of morphing robots to peer under doors, microwave insanity guns or even current-gen tech like Blue Force GPS consoles in every Humvee, the Marines of the First Recon Battalion depicted in the show are lucky if they can get batteries for their nightvision goggles.
The first episode opens with tons of booms and fire—Michael Bay-esque even—with Humvees streaking across the shimmering dessert strafing enemy tanks with 50-cal. machine guns and calling in support from Cobra helicopter gunships. Then you realise it's all just a training mission, and that the tedious desert hours that follow are the real meat of this show.
On the tech side, these Marines are struggling. Yes, there is in fact a Blue Force tracker console in the lead Lieutenant's truck, showing satellite maps of the battlefield and tracking friendlies and enemy units via GPS. But at the same time he's showing it off, other drivers are bargaining for salvaged hoses and gaskets for their busted Humvees, and grabbing smuggled batteries brought in by an embedded reporter from Rolling Stone for their NVGs. "It's like Gilligan's Island—they're giving us rocks and coconuts to make radios with," says one. Yes, recon Marines are legendary for gettings things done quick and dirty, but when low-rank Marines are spending US$500 or more of their own money for parts for their own trucks—damn. That may come as no surprise to anyone who has been or knows someone who has been deployed, but for us sitting here watching HBO in our living rooms, it's something we can't be reminded of enough.
Generation Kill was created by David Simon and Ed Burns (based on the book of the same name), the minds behind the just plain fucking brilliant The Wire. To Iraq they bring their same absolutely no bullshit treatment they gave to the Baltimore streets, with no clean-cut, by-the-book plots, practically no background music, and no warm and fuzzy morals or bleeding heart polemics. Just the straight stuff, which unfortunately includes Marines ordering titanium armour for their Humvees' turrets off of eBay and hoping they'll get Fedexed to the Kuwaiti desert. With all the far-out DARPA concepts you see online every day, it's important for everyone to remember that despite a lot of leaps forward, here in the 21st century, the shit is still the shit.