Apache attack helicopters flew over the dark desert outside Baghdad in the opening days of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Equipped with an array of weapons, the U.S. Army’s latest version of the aircraft set out deep into enemy territory during the night to attack the main division defending Baghdad.
Casper native Kevin Christensen flew in a Black Hawk helicopter and directed the mission’s first Apaches into the area through a radio.
But the pilots didn’t know they’d approached the home of the Iraqi air defense corps, and the commanding general was familiar with their strategy. The Iraqi troops were ready to ambush. As the pilots zeroed in on their targets and readied to attack tanks, the lights went out in the suburban area below. The power returned seconds later, along with a hail of artillery from every window and vehicle on the ground, Christensen recalled.
“Suddenly, we went from being the hunter to the hunted,” Christensen recalled. His Black Hawk helicopter from which he was helping to lead the attack took numerous hits. Engines, hydraulics and electrical systems began to fail. One pilot started to lose consciousness after he was wounded in the neck. Christensen didn’t know if everyone would make it out alive.
Despite the surprise attack, the entire squadron was able to fight its way out.
The mission was one of the most intense experiences of Christensen’s life, he said. Now he’s helping retell the night’s story in a documentary.
Strong Eagle Media’s newly-released film “Apache Warrior” tells the story of that mission with real footage from the aircrafts’ tapes along with interviews of those who were there. The film was released in December on the American Heroes Channel, Amazon and iTunes.
“The movie chronicles what happened, and it’s a story of how people who are part of a really tight-knit unit that come together and help each other out to overcome incredible odds,” Christensen said.
Christensen graduated from Kelly Walsh High School and joined the U.S. Army as an aviation officer after earning his electrical engineering degree in 1989 from the University of Wyoming. He deployed twice to Iraq during his 27 years in the Army. He was trained to fly the AH-64 Apache and, at the time of the mission, was the operations officer of the 6th Squadron, 6th Cavalry.
Joshua Lang, an Apache crew chief at the time of the mission who now works in the film industry, contacted Christensen and other former service mates around the country for interviews. He wanted to create a movie about the mission, Christensen said.
“He knew something really fantastic and spectacular had happened, and he thought that people would find the story very interesting and very compelling,” he said.
Producers at Strong Eagle Media agreed and picked up the project with Lang, a co-producer of the film, he added.
The directors researched hundreds of hours of footage and recovered several of the attack pilots’ gun tapes, according to the film’s website. The crew also interviewed Christensen and others who were flying that night.
“This film takes the audience into the cockpit of a squadron of Apache Attack Helicopters during the opening salvo of what would be one of the largest invasions in US and World History,” according to the website.
The film won Best Military Film at the San Diego Film Festival and the directors received the FSU Student Veteran Torchlight Award for Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking at Florida State University’s Veterans Film Festival.
Christensen retired from the Army as a colonel last year and now works in Washington, D.C., for Lockheed Martin, a defense and aeronautics company, according to his biography on the film website.
His recognitions include the Army Valorous Unit Award and Combat Action Badge as commander of his squadron in Iraq, the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star and Air Medal, and he’s a designated Master Army Aviator, according to the website.
He also earned his master’s degree in operations research and systems analysis from the Florida Institute of Technology and graduated from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces at the National Defense University, the bio states.
Christensen recently bought a house in Casper and plans to relocate the family to his hometown within the year. He’s looking forward to his return and hopes to start a microbrewery with the skills he learned while stationed in Germany for eight years, he said.
He recently watched the film with his wife, Amber Lee, and two children.
“It was kind of a powerful moment with me and my family, for them to see really see for the first time what I had done and what I had been a part of,” he said.
But he agreed to be part of the film not to tell his story, but to help people understand what U.S. troops accomplish and experience, he said. The documentary tells a real-world account of modern warfare by the people who were there without fictionalization, he said.
“I would hope that people who would see the movie would come away with a real sense of pride of what the men and women of the army do in their service,” Christensen said.