Alex Quade isn’t typically what comes to mind when one thinks of a modern-day journalist. Instead of a desk in an air-conditioned office building, she’s had to carry her tools in a rucksack across desert plains to keep up with Special Forces operators. Instead of a laptop and Wi-Fi hotspots, she’s carried a small video camera into war zones and then shared her footage with the world.
Her new documentary, “Danger Close” — which premieres April 18 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and hits theaters April 28 — shows some of that footage and tells the story of Quade’s experience as a war correspondent in the Middle East, embedded with Green Berets on the front lines.
“Alex Quade is the real deal. She’s spent more time with Special Forces operators in combat zones and back home after deployments than any other reporter. Alex knows them and their families, and is uniquely qualified to tell their intensely lived, extraordinary stories,” says Major General Michael Repass (ret.), former commanding general of the U.S. Army Special Forces.
Quade shines a light on soldiers and the experience of war through “Danger Close,” which should be seen by all. Considering her experience in covering war zones since 1998 and her unique insight into American soldiers and their sacrifices, without further ado, here is what Quade had to say about “Danger Close” and what she’s learned about America’s Special Forces from her unique vantage point.
Question: How did this movie come together? Was there a specific motivation for putting these stories out there?
Answer: Sharing these stories isn’t a job for me. It’s my heart and soul. I want the audience to feel what these Special Forces soldiers and their brave families go through, to experience what their lives in and out of combat are really like. The only way you can do that is to try to walk a mile in their shoes, and that’s what we do in “Danger Close.” We take the audience along for a “you are there” experience.
I’ve been a one-man-band and freelance reporter doing special video stories for organizations like CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Times. Decided to try a different way to get some of my stories out, by linking up with Hollywood this time, since I was sitting on 300 hours of footage covering Special Forces on combat missions downrange. Worked with a terrific team of editors at Strong Eagle Media, who’d produced “The Hornet’s Nest” and “Citizen Soldier.”
“Danger Close” will be part of the “Heroes of Valor” collection, distributed by Gravitas Ventures.
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In “Danger Close,” we share the intensity of combat as well as the dedication of military personnel serving downrange. We also show the courage of their families back home, especially Gold Star families — like Green Beret Staff Sgt. Rob Pirelli’s family, who’ve sacrificed greatly. I’m dedicated to telling the stories of our so-called “quiet professionals” because otherwise, there may not be any, or very limited, documentation of what they’ve done on behalf of the American taxpayer. I’m also committed to sharing with new generations of young journalists and storytellers that you shouldn’t take “no” for an answer.
Q: Having spent so much time with soldiers in war zones, what did you take away or discover about servicemen and women that the average person gets wrong in his or her everyday thinking? Or what do you think the average person with no connection to the military would be surprised to learn about those who actively serve?
A: I’ve been blessed to spend quality time with hardworking individuals, doing amazing things in tough locations. I’ve walked side-by-side with our Special Operators and seen their skill sets. I’ve learned things about them that most civilians don’t know. On the battlefield, those skills can mean the difference between life and death. But it’s important to know that these skills also translate to corporate America.
As you’ll see in “Danger Close,” the Special Operators are the most resourceful people I’ve ever met — or learned from. They have unconventional ways of confronting and solving problems. They are elite professionals who know how to go over, under, around, and through every single obstacle to get the job done. They do whatever it takes and never quit. (I do that too, as a persistent, pain-in-the-butt war reporter who won’t take no for an answer, which you’ll see in “Danger Close”.)
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What I’ve witnessed in combat is: It’s about looking at the man or the woman on your left and on your right — and applauding their strengths to work together to get a mission done. That, and the rest of their decision-making and problem-solving skills, translate well into the corporate world.
Q: The majority of people have no direct connection to the military. The military is sort of a vague idea to them, instead of individual citizens wearing uniforms and sacrificing their lives for this country. Could this movie help pull the curtain back a bit?
A: Absolutely! In “Danger Close,” as with all my previous documentaries and military specials, the goal is show the human beings behind the hardware. Make the un-relatable relatable — and get viewers to understand and perhaps empathize more. It means sharing the universal truths and the human moments that transcend the battle scenes.
I’ve always believed that at the heart of effective storytelling is the ability to build trust with, and connect to, compelling groups of people. It’s finding that human element, or answering the “why should we care” question. I try to do this with America’s Special Forces, who are often shrouded in secrecy and whose stories often don’t return home to the U.S. with them.
Q: Is a goal with this movie to really inform people about things involving the military that we don’t typically think about on a daily basis?
A: Yes. I’m merely a pesky fly-on-the-wall trying to cover the so-called quiet professionals’ tough work in difficult places. They’re the ones “doing”; I just try to give them a voice.
I’ve made a career of going to not-so-nice places far from home: I just go where our troops go. It’s a responsibility I take seriously: to get the audience to care, and to make sure service, sacrifice, and history are not forgotten.
As an embedded reporter, I immerse myself in their world. But instead of carrying a weapon, I carry a small video camera. I try to show the American audience what combat looks like up close and personal (in this case, “Danger Close”) — what it sounds like, what it feels like. I want to make it understandable for their families back home. I want to put the stories of their soldiers into context.
I’ve always tried to cover, write and present every story with care and compassion (which was our goal with “Danger Close”). I also believe Americans are smart and care about their troops, and want to know more, especially in this Twitter age of short attention-span theater.
Q: You are embedded with Special Operations Forces, which traditionally are all-male teams. What’s it like being the lone female among them?
A: We each do our jobs. I hold my own. I schlep my own gear, carry a rucksack, try not to be a burden to the A-teams I’m with. I just do what female soldiers have been doing throughout history.
I try to have a small footprint — not be a liability. I’m a one-man-band, because if I had a full television camera crew, we’d be more “wastes of space” — taking up room in a truck or on a helicopter that could be for someone who matters to the team: another gunner.
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Yes, I’m immersed in and cover a very male-dominated world, but there are many corporate industries your readers work in, which are also still traditionally male bastions. I think that as a woman in any male-dominated environment, we (your readers, too) can show that we are courageous and have a voice, and have something to offer. And that we can go after what we really want to do in this lifetime and make a difference. I try to do that with the stories I tell. You’ll see that in “Danger Close” as well. Fear holds many people back — I believe in kicking fear in the face, just like the Special Operators I cover, to complete the mission or job.
“History needs to be documented, or else people forget.”
Q: In the end, why did you do all of this?
A: To me, it’s a huge responsibility to do justice to the stories of the Special Operators serving our country; and it’s a huge responsibility to get it right, for their families, who deserve to know the truth. Their children and grandchildren ought to know about some of the amazing things that their soldiers went through. History needs to be documented, or else people forget.
To paraphrase the great World War II filmmaker William Wyler, I’m demanding because my audience is demanding; but I’m even more demanding of myself. Sharing the stories of those who serve, especially the secretive Special Forces, is perhaps my small way of serving.
“Danger Close” hits theaters on April 28; the DVD is out in May. Alex Quade’s first book on America’s Special Forces will be published by Hachette Books in 2018.