Pfc. Ted Daniels’s firefight with the Taliban has been viewed more than 23 million times, but until now, most of the world didn’t even know his name.
The U.S. Army soldier’s intense first-person video showed the terror of war, brought out the armchair critics and spawned more than 80,000 online comments — but he didn’t even originally intend for anyone but his family to see it, according to an interview with the Washington Post.
Instead, Daniels just wanted to save the footage so he could play it one day for his two sons, to show them what their dad once did a world away.
It all started in the rocky hills of Afghanistan last April, when Daniels turned on his helmet camera and captured the pop, pop, pop of enemy fire.
“Hey! I’m moving down!” he yelled, navigating the treacherous terrain with bullets whizzing past, hoping to draw the Taliban’s guns away from his fellow soldiers.
Breathing heavily, on the move, he stopped behind a rock for cover then had an enemy round hit his rifle, knocking it out of his hands.
“I’m hit! I’m hit!” he shouted repeatedly. And then, “Help me!”
The camera battery died a few moments later, but it didn’t matter: It had captured what the Post described as “perhaps the most-watched footage of the Afghan war.”
Daniels was sent home in August 2012, after the firefight had exacerbated a foot injury. He showed the footage to his normally stoic father, whose red-rimmed eyes told him he had been scared for his son. Daniels told the Post he created a YouTube channel and uploaded the file, intending to keep it private until he could share it with his sons.
That’s when everything changed: A YouTube user called Funker530 found the video and messaged Daniels for permission to display it. Funker530′s channel was devoted to Afghan combat footage, and because the video only Daniels’s hands, voice and rifle appeared in the video, he figured he wasn’t recognizable and said OK.
Funker530′s now-famous video went up Sept. 26 and featured Daniels’s written explanation of what the viewer was seeing: The “rest of the squad was pinned down by machine gun fire…I came out into the open to draw fire so my squad could get to safety.”
Two days later, Daniels told the Post, his first sergeant called him at home, asking, “Is that you in a video online?” Cable news networks had spotted his 4th Infantry Division patch and were asking questions, and the military wanted the video deleted immediately, for fear it could be used as Taliban propaganda. There was a problem: Funker530 didn’t respond to Daniels’ email.
Instead, the video took off: it was featured all over TV and online news outlets, including TheBlaze. His commanders couldn’t stop it, but ordered Daniels not to speak out. That created a vacuum for endless speculation: online comments providing such insight as, “This guy’s logic was stupid” or, “This dude is brave as hell!”
From the Post:
The flood of commenters on the Funker530 site and elsewhere had changed the way Daniels saw the video. He had begun to wonder if his decision to step into enemy fire to free up his fellow soldiers was more foolish than brave. “It wasn’t the most tactically brilliant thing to do,” he admitted in an interview.
He grew embarrassed that the whole world could hear him in his most vulnerable moment screaming for help, and wished people could see what happened after the camera battery died. Daniels stopped yelling and scrambled toward the American armored vehicles parked about 350 yards away. A bullet ricocheted off his helmet. Daniels kept moving.
“I don’t know if I held it together, but I tried to,” he said. “I put my ass on the line for other guys. I still functioned even though I was scared to death.”
Daniels is currently stationed at Fort Carson, Colo. waiting for his injured foot to heal. Months after the video first shot across the Web, people continue to watch it online, but Daniels doesn’t anymore.
“It doesn’t feel like me,” Daniels said.
Read the Washington Post’s full profile here.