Cpl. Jason Lilley and Evan Wright
'Generation Kill' author Evan Wright and Sgt. Antonio J. Espera sit in a former Iraqi Army tank repair yard, awaiting their return to Camp Pendleton.
Shereen Meraji, NPR
Evan Wright (left) and Sgt. Rudy Reyes strike a pose at the NPR studio.
Read an Excerpt of 'Generation Kill.' Click
An orange sand storm descends on the camp in Diwania, Iraq where the Marines profiled in 'Generation Kill' lived for six weeks.
An orange sand storm descends on the camp in Diwania, Iraq where the Marines profiled in 'Generation Kill' lived for six weeks. Evan Wright
Sgt. Rudy "Fruity Rudy" Reyes and Sgt. Shawn "Pappy" Patrick clean sand from their bullets before crossing the border into Iraq from the northern Kuwait desert.
Sgt. Rudy "Fruity Rudy" Reyes and Sgt. Shawn "Pappy" Patrick clean sand from their bullets before crossing the border into Iraq from the northern Kuwait desert. Evan Wright
When journalist Evan Wright first met with The Wire's David Simon to discuss the transformation of his book Generation Kill into the upcoming HBO miniseries by the same name, he expected there would be serious changes in order.
"I said, 'Don't you want to kill off some people, you know, have a little more drama, maybe kill the reporter?" Wright said.
As it turns out, the book based on his experience embedded with a Marine Corps special operations unit during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was dramatic enough.
Wright spoke about his book with Madeleine Brand several years ago, and he met with her again on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War. Accompanying him was one of the main subjects of Generation Kill, Sgt. Rudy Reyes.
Reyes, who plays himself in the HBO miniseries, has just the chiseled looks for TV.
"Well, Rudy was the most toughest and macho Marine and seemingly the gayest Marine," Wright said, laughing. "That's how the other Marines described him, and they also warned me, 'Just because you think Rudy is hot doesn't mean you're gay, because he was so beautiful."
Reyes says the miniseries hews closely to the actual events laid out in Wright's book, a decision he supports.
"They don't need to dramatize nothing," Reyes said. "There's nothing more dramatic going on than a unit of recon Marines with no close air support or armor running and gunning into insurgents that are holed up in towns and fighting to the death."
As a member of the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion — a unit often referred to as the 1st Suicide Battalion — Reyes traveled from the Kuwait border into Baghdad, then north into the volatile Sunni triangle. He also conducted reconnaissance and surveillance in the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah.
"Us Latin guys, we dressed as Pakistanis or contractors and we grew long hair ... it took me a long time to grow a beard. I had to just start with the goatee, cause I'm kind of a hairless Mexican," he said. "We would turn the tables in a matter of milliseconds, shoot and engage and kill in the street without any civilian casualties."
Working on the HBO project sometimes dredged up painful memories. While shooting a sequence in which a Marine shot two teens, Reyes said he struggled not to confuse the actor with the man who actually pulled the trigger.
"It got me very upset ... I was thinking, this son of a b**** actor! I was getting mad at the actor!" he said.
The actual incident occurred when the severely sleep-deprived troops were pushing into an air field, Reyes said.
"According to our intel, we had armor on there and we were cleared "hot" to engage everybody and everything," he recounted.
Wright also witnessed the shooting. He said the unit commander declared that Iraqis en route to the airfield were "hostile." In other words, they should be shot.
"These shepherds come out, whether to warn us or to say hello to us," Reyes recalled. "I hear somebody engaging up front, and I see the report and the smoke and I see these guys go down. Civilians. We knew they were civilians, but remember, we're all smoked, we're all tired."
The victims were two boys, ages 14 and 17.
"They weren't dead when we saw them," Wright said, "But the younger boy had four rounds in his chest cavity. The irony in this whole incident — and we've tried to capture these ironies in the miniseries — is that I felt more comfortable sitting next to Lance Cpl. Trombley after the shooting, because I noted that he fired seven rounds in a moving humvee at 150 to 200 meters and took down two people."
Reyes, who served twice in Iraq and once in Afghanistan, eventually left the Marines.
"I started hating the fact that we're not helping anybody over there ... I wanted to fight people and engage and kill people who are oppressing others, right? It's quite sobering when you look in the mirror and you're like, 'Oh I guess I'm kind of that person too.'"
Wright also came away perplexed by the situation in Iraq.
"I'm so confused by Iraq because at times you can look at what we're doing over there and we've destroyed things and we haven't been faithful to the Iraqis that have helped us. But at other times, in the same city sometimes they look to us as the ones who are keeping the peace," Wright said.
"It's now evolved into we're here fighting al-Qaida. Are we really? When I talked to Gen. Petraeus, he said that's sort of a poor choice of words to say we're fighting terrorists so that they don't fight us in America. It's very tough when you go to a memorial of a trooper, what does his commanding officer say he died for?"