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Pentagon Contracts Show US Army Subsidized Production Of National Geographic’s ‘Long Road Home’

Production assistance agreements released by the Defense Department show the United States military used taxpayer money to subsidize part of the production of the National Geographic series, “The Long Road Home,” and a companion documentary.

In January, Shadowproof revealed documents from the Army showing how they found ways to reduce the costs of their massive production assistance on the National Geographic war drama, which told a version of the story of the battle for Sadr City in 2004, a key moment in the Iraq War.

While Pentagon guidelines state that assistance to entertainment media can only be provided “at no additional cost to the government,” the Army found “inventive” means of minimizing the amount of money the producers had to pay for military support.

The contract for “The Long Road Home,” obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), shows the Army managed to reduce the costs of production assistance by nearly 20 percent.

Reports from the Army’s entertainment liaison office state that the initial cost estimate ran to $500,000, and emails released by the Army indicate the producers were unhappy so the Army found ways to lower this estimate.

According to financial documents attached to the production assistance agreement, the books were essentially cooked and the producers paid only $411,000 for loaned vehicles and other equipment, technical advice and research, and months of filming at Fort Hood.

In particular, the “total aviation costs” were “absorbed as training,” which removed one of the more expensive items from the list of military support that had to be reimbursed by the production company.

An addendum to the agreement details how the Pentagon provided access to a C-130 transport plane, as well as “escorted access to Carswell Field for the filming.” Though there were “approximately 40 personnel in attendance,” all of the military expenses for this part of the production were covered by the department.

Likewise, for the companion documentary, “Heroes of The Long Road Home,” hosted by Martha Raddatz, the author of the original book, the Pentagon provided “escorted access” to Fort Hood and Fort Lewis in addition to access to still-serving Army officers for interviews.

An attachment to the production assistance agreement for this documentary shows there were no reimbursable expenses. The Pentagon did not charge the producers anything for their help.

The agreements additionally confirm the Pentagon provided full support to “The Long Road Home” for weeks before any contract was signed.

While pre-production began at Fort Hood on January 3, 2017, the production assistance agreement wasn’t signed until February 23. For several weeks the crew built sets and completed location preparations without any legal agreement in place in case anything went wrong.

The Pentagon’s rules for working on entertainment media include the restriction that no material support can be provided to a production company before they sign a contract. This might seem like a legal triviality, but it is of critical importance in case the producer-Pentagon relationship breaks down.

For nearly two months, the production company worked on an Army base with nothing in writing in case of accidents, unanticipated costs, or other negative developments. What if an accident occurred? Who would have paid any damages, repair costs, or medical expenses?

What if the U.S. military had to cancel support due to rapid deployments overseas? How would that have been handled?

In return for the military “absorbing” many of the costs of production, the Pentagon made a few special demands that don’t usually appear in these contracts.

The producers had to pay for the expenses of the Defense Department project officer Lt. Col. Timothy Hyde and Defense Department director of entertainment media Phil Strub. The expenses included payments for a “full-size vehicle,” insurance, “hotel accommodations equivalent to those provided to the production company’s crew,” and an on-set trailer complete with full internet access and an ensuite bathroom.

The obtained documents are a further example of how the entertainment liaison offices operate with little-or-no oversight, making up the rules as they go along, and willfully ignoring the regulations when it suits them.

Note: Shadowproof reached out to the Army, Lt. Col. Hyde, and National Geographic for comment, but
at the time of writing, neither responded to our requests. The story will be updated if any statements are provided after publication.

Tom Secker

Tom Secker

Tom Secker is a private researcher who runs spyculture.com, an online archive about government involvement in the entertainment industry. He has used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain unique government documents since 2010 and hosts the popular ClandesTime podcast.