Inside Dateline: Operation Anaconda

Dateline NBC received numerous e-mails about Sunday's broadcast. Below are a few.

June 13, 2006 |

I have never been so touched emotionally by a story as that of these brave young men, who fought in that battle. My heart broke to hear Nate Self tell of the men he loved and fought with, who did not come home. As a mother of a veteran, I simply wanted to wrap my arms around him and tell him "job well done" You honor these men by living and telling the story of theirs and your bravery. Many tears were shed watching this program. God Bless all our men and women in Iraq. --Susan Hubby, Clovis, N.M.

"Rescue On Roberts Ridge" was an outstanding piece, deserving of an award - an incredibly well balanced treatment of the technical and emotional aspects of a military operation and its personal aftermath.  Stone, you and your team nailed that one.  Great job!  And it would be wrong if I didn't mention the subjects of the piece.  What amazing people we have defending our country. --Paul Alessandroni

Thank you for airing Robert's ridge. It shows what our boys went through and maybe people will see that. People may think the job they are doing isn't worth it but to them it is very important. I am an army mom and my son who is 19 is now with the 101 st and is in Iraq.   
I am also a member of the Soldiers Angels that send lettters and packages to soldiers. Thank you again. A proud Army mom, --Linda Russo

Please compliment Mr. Stone Phillips for his absolutely excellent report on the mission to rescue our Rangers and Special Forces folks during Operation Anaconda in the mountains of Afghanistan.  Superb reporting and sensitive interviewing of those involved.  Mainstream media often does not tell a story without trying to sell a political point of view.  This time NBC did it right.  You told the story as it happened, highlighted the heroism, and reported on what was possibly the root cause of the loss of life during that operation.  Well done. Carpe diem! --Ted McAdam, Las Vegas

Thank you Mr. Phillips for an outstanding piece of journalism.  You presented a very sensitive, thoughtful and unbiased report on our brave young heros of Operation Anaconda.  I  have twin sons and a daughter who are officers and all three were in the gulf when the war started.  If I had not had my faith to hold onto I do not think I could have survived those first few months of not knowing where my children were and if they were safe.  Since then they have all been back over there.  Two of them are over there again.  All three of my children believe in this country and are proud to be serving in the military for the freedoms this country stands. I know how Oscar Escano's mother felt.  This would not have been my first choice of a career for my children.   As a mother we want to protect our children from harm physically and emotionally. I sat spell bound for two hours and cried as I watched this program and saw the tapes of these fine young men being killed and wounded.  Nate Self was an extraordinary leader who maintained a calmness and professionalism throughout this ordeal.  All of these young men remind me that we still have heros in this mighty country.  I pray for their 'healing'.--VernaRae Oraker, Wa.

I was incredibly moved by the two hour broadcast, Roberts Ridge,  for a multiple of reasons.  Congratulations on a spectacular piece.  At each commercial break I pushed the mute button so I could reflect on the segment just passed and appreciate what your program was telling me about the bravery, expertise, and dedication these special soldiers demonstrated.   When the end came after your poignant depiction of the soldiers' lives in the aftermath, I wanted to just have a quiet moment to reflect on the mood, the feelings, the appreciation I felt for all that was portrayed in your wonderfully crafted program.  --Belinda

That was a great story on the Army Rangers tonight.  I really appreciate the effort that went into putting the pieces together to accurately reflect on what happened on that mission.  --Matt Johnson, Flower Mound, Texas

That was an amazing story on what are troops had to go thru. A very well put together feature that inspired our whole family. Is there a copy that I can obtain, and if so how can I purchase and/or receive one. --Gus Passias

Thank you for making this public and for getting at the truth of this unfortunate incident.  I thought the General was very candid and it brought out some very serious mis-steps in the organization, planning and command control.  I would like to know if this has been thoroughly reviewed and corrected.  Perhaps a footnote could follow in one of your forthcoming Dateline shows that explain how Command and Control is now set up in Afghanistan.  I really think NBC generally is a liberal, biased news organization, but stories such as this could begin to change my perception….I hope this direction continues and you cover more events of valor and honor that this nation could use right about now.  Many thanks again for doing this good work…keep it up. --Alan M., Smithfield, Va.

I just watched the special on the Rescue on Roberts Ridge.  A heartbreaking special on just what our men or  doing in this war. We see the news and know that our men ( young men)  are dying , but, you do not really realize just what they are going through until you see
shows like this one.  I am so  sorry that so many lives have to be lost. I am proud to be an American and thank all the men and women in our military who put their lives
on the line everyday for our freedom. Thank you so much for bringing these special to make us  more aware of just what is going on, and just how brave our military men and women are. 
Stone Phillips is excellant.  Don't let him get away from NBC.  --Jane London, Hampton, Va.

One powerful show! Thank you for sharing this story. Please continue to follow up on the Captain and his family. Don't let the military let him down. See that he continues to get help. I don't need to know what happens. I just don't want us to forget what this man did. We, as a nation, needs to see that he gets the help he needs for as long as it takes. His family needs all of him. --Bob

June 6, 2006 |

In March 2002, during a battle called Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan, a Navy Seal named Neil Roberts fell from a helicopter as it attempted to land on a mountaintop controlled by al Qaeda fighters.  "Rescue On Roberts Ridge" is the untold story of the soldiers who were sent in to find Roberts and bring him home.

Reflecting on the soldiers I interviewed for 'Rescue on Roberts Ridge' (Stone Phillips, Dateline anchor)

NBC's Stone Phillips

They can't compare to Normandy's beaches in June 1944, but the landing zones in Afghanistan's Shah i Kot valley during Operation Anaconda in March 2002 were an infantryman's nightmare, too.  Interviewing soldiers who were there, I was amazed how they even survived.  As soon as their choppers touched down,  Al Qaeda was waiting, in numbers far greater than anticipated.  The courage demonstrated by these young American soldiers, most of whom had never been in combat, is truly impressive.  Something else impressed me, as well.   

In almost every case, as we sat down for the interviews, individually or in small groups, the soldiers started off speaking haltingly about their experiences.  Surely, some of that was nerves.  Most had never been on national television before.  But as they grew more comfortable and really began to tell their stories, it became clear to me that, not only are their memories incredibly vivid, but their feelings are incredibly complex— a palpable mix of pride and pain, camaraderie and loneliness.  If I have learned anything from the soldiers I have reported on over the years-- from Beirut to Blackhawk Down to today's war on terror— it is that the real story of war is the human story.  It's a story told in reflective eyes and unrehearsed expressions, in clinched hands and stiff upper lips, in the body language of humility and exuberance, as much as any words ever spoken.  It's in the scars and the sadness, in the strength and self-knowledge, in the honor shown to fellow soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice.       

Ask World War II veterans about their experiences in battle and it's remarkable how clear their memories can be more than half a century later.  My own father was wounded in January 1945 as the Battle of the Bulge was winding down.  I have always been amazed by the clarity of his recall:  how cold the Belgian winter was, how young the German POW's were, and how costly the battle had been for both sides.  On the few occasions when my father has talked about what he and his fellow soldiers endured, I have seen in his eyes that same mixture of pride and pain.  It makes me deeply appreciative of the soldier he was and the man he is.     

I am certain that is how the children of those who fought in Operation Anaconda will feel when their fathers describe what they endured in a remote corner of Afghanistan.  Among those soldiers were 20 members of a Special Ops Quick Reaction Force decimated during an ill-fated rescue attempt. Our Dateline report, "Rescue on Roberts Ridge," focuses on two of the soldiers who survived that mission.  Someday, Ranger Specialist Oscar Escano may tell his kids how he began living his life in 15 second intervals— the time it took the enemy to reload, aim and fire the mortars that were closing in on his unit.  Someday, Oscar's captain, Nate Self, may tell his sons how his Ranger team landed on a mountaintop swarming with enemy fighters and made good on a promise to never leave a fallen comrade.  Perhaps, Nate will run down the list of those under his command who lived and died that day, and share with his children, as he did with me, remembrances of them.  This one young and fearless. That one a peak performer.  Another his life-saver.  And who could forget the klutz.  Doesn't every unit have one?  Another soldier brought to mind innocence.  And one was just perfect.

Sgt. David Hruban

When the day comes to have that talk, those children will see something in their fathers' eyes.  Something about having been there, and never being the same again. Something about the value of life, the cause of freedom, and the terrible cost of war.  I hope viewers who watch our report see a glimpse of that, as well, and come away, as I did, feeling the pride and pain that is the story of war.    

A two-hour Dateline, "Rescue on Roberts Ridge" airs this Sunday, June 11, 7 p.m. Click here to learn more. Click here to read Stone Phillips' bio, in his own words.

May 11, 2006 |

Is an ethanol revolution coming? (Stone Phillips, Dateline anchor)

Before I started working on , I was one of those Americans who thought ethanol was that fad fuel from the 1970's that never caught on.  In fact, the ethanol industry produced 4 billion gallons of corn ethanol last year and expects to top 5 billion gallons in 2006.  Much of this ethanol is being used to boost the octane rating in our gasoline. (Adding more ethanol to the blend is how premium gasoline is made.)

But the talk now is of shifting from ethanol as an additive, to ethanol as a replacement for petroleum-based fuel.  And the person who may know more about the business, technology and potential of ethanol than anyone else in the country says making that shift is "brain dead simple."  Vinod Khosla is a venture capitalist, a bio-medical engineer and an ethanol evangelist, who's been briefing political and business leaders all over the country. Talking with him has convinced me that an ethanol revolution may well be coming.  Flex-fuel cars, capable of running on ethanol, gasoline or any mix of the two, are already here and don't cost consumers a dime more.  And a new generation of ethanol technology is on its way.   

In this country today, we make ethanol from corn, a process that has become far more efficient over the years, but still has its drawbacks. One problem is the energy-in versus energy-out equation.  Currently, for every unit of energy required to make corn ethanol, we only get about 1.3 units out. That's not a very favorable energy balance, especially compared to the 8-to-1 ratio they're getting from sugarcane ethanol in Brazil. Plus, a huge increase in corn ethanol use could affect U.S. food prices. But all that is about to change with technology.  

With the new cellulosic approach, we will be making ethanol from all kinds of plants, including easy-to-grow prairie grasses that don't deplete the soil and require little or no fertilization or irrigation.  And when using corn, we won't be limited to the kernels;  instead, we'll process the whole plant —stalk, leaves and all. The process involves the use of enzymes or bacteria to break down the cellulose in plants to create feedstock, which will then be put through the traditional fermentation process that results in ethanol. 

Khosla, a highly successful venture capitalist with an eye for innovative technology, is investing in some of these new technologies right now, which he believes will lead to an ethanol production process with a 10-to-1 energy balance, or better.  And how much of America's farm land will be needed to replace the oil we use for gasoline consumption?  Khosla estimates that it would take about 55 million acres.  To put that in perspective, the U.S. has more than 70 million acres in soybeans alone.

The more I learn about ethanol, the more I wonder if we're not on the verge of an energy revolution.  If so, this could be as big as any story I've covered. Just as the events of  9-11 changed how we guard our cities and protect ourselves, a new generation of ethanol may soon change the way we gas up our cars and protect the earth. Maybe we really can break our addiction to oil, slash prices at the pump, strengthen our national security, send jobs to rural America instead of the Middle East, and save the planet all at the same time?                 

That would be a pretty big story, wouldn't you say? 

Click here for . Can your . A database of U.S. and Canadian gas stations that sell ethanol can be found .