'68 Whiskey' explores the pressures combat medics face
UPI News Service, 01/22/2020
When CBS adapted MASH for television, the antics of a Korean War Army hospital captivated viewers for 11 seasons. Paramount Network's 68 Whiskey hopes to do the same for combat medics.
The show is called 68 Whiskey for 68W, the official military occupation specialty code for combat medics in 2006. Previously the signifier was 91B or 91A.
The drama premiered Jan. 15 and introduced a squad of medics. The first one viewers met was Cpl. Grace Durkin (Gage Golightly), who maintains a sexy Instagram account to earn extra money.
Durkin's Instagram feed requires a little artistic license. Golightly has an 18-year-old niece in the Marines, who told her aunt she wouldn't be allowed to post scantily clad military pictures.
"When you're in your fatigues, it's all about business and you have to represent the military in a certain light," Golightly told UPI in an interview. "It has to be very positive. My character obviously goes a little off the rails with that, so in that way she's a rule breaker."
If Durkin's social media persona raises red flags, there is an explanation for it within the show. She works for Col. Harlan Austin (Lamont Thompson), who gives her a pass on certain protocols.
"Col. Austin loves Durkin," Golightly added. "So she could get away with murder if she wanted to just because Col. Austin loves her."
Viewers also met Sgt. Cooper Roback (Sam Keeley), who is having a physical relationship with Durkin.
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As an actor, Keeley gets the sense that working together in a war zone makes romantic relationships more common.
"The one thing I'll say about my perceived idea of a war zone is that it's a pressure cooker environment," Keeley said in a separate interview. "If you're in any way vulnerable, you're vulnerable together. If you experience death together like these people [see] on a daily basis, then that's going to make your bond very, very strong."
Actress Cristina Rodlo's character, Sgt. Rosa Alvarez, joined the Army to earn her citizenship. In the premiere of 68 Whiskey, she found out the United States wants to deport her to Mexico after her service.
"She's like, 'Why am I fighting for this country when this country doesn't even take me as a citizen?'" Alvarez said.
Alvarez's situation compounds the grief she felt after failing to save Cpl. Buckley from a gunshot wound. Roback and Staff Sgt. Mekhi Davis (Jeremy Tardy) try to comfort her.
Veteran medic Matt King advises the show's technical procedures. Tardy said King also helped to convey to the cast how real combat medics cope with the inevitable tragedies in the field.
"So much of that process of grief has to be pushed away in order for the job to get done," Tardy said. "Oftentimes, they have to bury or watch their fellow service members die, but they don't necessarily go through the full grieving process because of all that they still have in front of them.
"Oftentimes it doesn't really happen until they come home when they can then process all of the information that they have experienced."
The military advisers also helped shake the cast of bad habits that wouldn't fly in the military. Rodlo, for example, was scolded a lot for putting her hands in her pockets, which violates Army Regulation 670-1.
"In a scene, I would do it and thank God there was a consultant [saying], 'No, no, no, no, no. You can't do that,'" Rodlo said. "It's great to have those people there for you all the time."
Tardy did his own homework, too. He read books like Combat Medic and The 21st Century Combat Medic and watched documentaries.
"Baghdad ER was probably my favorite," Tardy said. "It was the most graphic of any doc that I'd ever seen about what these guys are dealing with and what they see on a day-to-day basis."
In addition to the medical and combat side of 68 Whiskey, Golightly said room exists for the show to address gender issues on combat bases. Durkin might be provocative online, but she values her privacy on the base.
"You can't even take a shower alone in the military, right?" Golightly said. "As a woman, I think we really value our privacy and our time."
68 Whiskey has made Golightly appreciate the female soldiers who focus on the mission no matter what they may be going through each month.
"When I have my period, I just want to lie in bed and eat chocolate and cry," Golightly said. "Some people like to just crawl in a hole and maybe take a day off, but that doesn't happen for those women. Those women don't get to do that. They're badasses."
68 Whiskey airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on Paramount Network.
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