Heartbreak Ridge
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Yes and no. It stretches credibility to think that an entire squad of recon Marines who are lacking an effective staff NCO to lead them would dare to have become so reckless and undisciplined in such a short time. Even without the leadership of a staff NCO who would be in pay grades E-6 through E-9, we would figure that the platoon leader being a 2nd or 1st lieutenant would have assigned a staff noncommissioned officer on an interim basis, at least until a permanent staff NCO could be assigned to take charge. So in essence this part of the script took a lot of liberties to create entertaining drama and to set up the impending conflict between Gun. Sgt. Tom Highway and his new recon unit of reckless and undisciplined Marines. Of course the unit got so reckless during the lull of peacetime and without being deployed to fight any real enemy so then we can imagine that they got so out of line due to the ongoing boredom of their situation. Plus nobody was available to take charge of them until they got Gunny Highway to take command. Also, Lieutenant Ring was shown to be too soft and inexperienced in his position as well. With a commander such as Major Powers, who is not only arrogant, but extremely incompetent, he would not ensure his men were properly trained.

Powers is clearly an arrogant and ambitious type who's risen through the ranks rapidly to become a high-ranking officer. He's also just been handed his 1st command as an officer at a combat-training facility and is likely looking to rise to the next rank very quickly, which would be Lieutenant Colonel. Therefore he's going to be a hardcase about the men under his command. In Highway, he sees an older officer at the end of a long career and believes he's already outlived his usefulness. Also, Highway has a history of conflict with superior officers (hence, his lack of promotion to higher ranks), something that Powers tells directly that he's aware of: he mentions that Highway had previously hit an officer that was a friend of Powers', another strike against Highway with his new CO.

From Highway's perspective, having had a long career in the Corps, he sees Powers as another arrogant and domineering officer with a much higher rank than Highway's and is yet another superior he'll have to endure despite his vast superior experience. He also figures out very quickly that Powers is intelligent but doesn't have the command experience either as a training unit supervisor or as a combat officer to understand what goes into training the men for combat. Powers' training program is a foolish one: Powers believes that because the Recon platoon are undisciplined and unmotivated (because of a lack of effective supervision) they can be used as a training tool for the elite company he's trying to build with Sgt Webster and 1st Platoon. What Highway knows is that a recon platoon like his has a very dangerous task in combat: to be deployed ahead of a unit like 1st Platoon to assess enemy positions, tactics and movements and report back to the rest of the company so they'll have a strategic advantage. If Highway's men aren't properly trained, their inexperience could get them killed along with Highway, something Powers doesn't (or refuses to) understand.

To put it simply: Highway shows camaraderie with his men, even when he's putting them through hell. He wants them to be the best and succeed as marines. Highway knew that letting Swede be arrested would not improve his attitude or combat skills. So he instead allowed him a chance at redemption by becoming a true marine.

Highway knew that Swede let himself be influenced negatively by the other guys in his platoon -- either before Swede got out of the brig (jail) or just as he returned to the platoon the guys or perhaps just Stitch himself, talked to Swede & told him they had another old-timer like Highway & that their cushy lives were about to be ruined.

Highway likely sensed that Swede was a much better Marine and not simply a muscle-bound thug so Highway wanted to give Swede the opportunity to shape up and become a disciplined Marine. After the fight is over, it's pretty clear that Swede respects Highway more than his recon comrades because he probably realizes that Highway could have beaten him harder and injured him worse. Highway didn't & Swede found new respect for his new CO.

Swede is also obviously the biggest man in the platoon & as we see later in the film, is responsible for carrying the unit's heaviest weapon, an M60 machine gun. It's a large automatic rifle that weighs just over 23 lbs and takes a strong person to carry and operate. Highway wanted Swede to be properly trained for combat so he'd have his heavy gunner with him during battle.

Finally, don't forget that Highway was under very tight scrutiny by Major Powers, who already hated Highway and was looking for a reason to get rid of an older officer who was very close to retirement. Powers would be watching Highway to see if there would be any incidents that could provide that kind of leverage. Highway severely beating up one of his own men, despite the circumstances plainly showing he was attacked, would make his unit look even worse than it already did.

Yes, it's very loosely based on the United States invasion of the island of Grenada in 1983. More info can be read here and here.

The Battle of Heartbreak Ridge took place during the Korean War. Eastwood and his writers fictionalized Tom Highway's involvement in it, along with his friend Choozoo. During the battle, Highway performed with conspicuous valor in combat & was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Late in the story, Choozoo tells Stitch Jones the story about how Highway got the medal.


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