Cowboys From Hell – Documentary on US Marines in Helmand Province

By Faye Higbee

A documentary about deployment to the notorious Helmand Province in Afghanistan is being produced and edited, not by Hollywood or some far flung movie company, but by Marines who were on the ground in the middle of the conflict. The name of it is “Cowboys from Hell.”

“This is an underdog story. The war has been well documented, but normally the stories out there are about Special Forces or Infantry. We want to show the security in a hostile place from the perspective of ordinary men on the ground.” Keaton Mahan, Producer, 801 Studios

801 Studios is a production company started by Keaton Mahan and his cousin Jared Harbin. This documentary is their first major project.

They have taken footage from helmet cameras and interviews with the men of  1st squad, provisional security platoon, GSMT Company, 2nd Maintenance Battalion, CLR-25 to create the documentary.

Their first trailer is here:


Producer Keaton Mahan has worked with videos since he was in Middle School. He and his cousin Jared worked together often, editing and working on videos. They grew up in a military family.  Keaton joined the Marine Corps in January of 2009. He completed his Inactive Reservist duty just last year.

When Keaton learned he had been deployed to Afghanistan, he went out and bought several cameras, without having any real plan for their use. The footage from those cameras has become invaluable in the making of this documentary.

“Ordinary” men

The Marines in the documentary are ordinary men with ordinary lives back home (if any United States Marine no matter what stripe could ever be pegged as ‘ordinary’). They were placed in extraordinary situations. As Reservists, they all had jobs back home in addition to their USMC service… jobs and families from which they were uprooted. Their MOS’ in the Corps included drivers, admins, supply clerks, etc. Mahan himself was a radio operator.

“You know they say ‘every Marine is a rifleman,’ and I guess that’s true. Because we were all out there doing what we had to do.”

They painted their trucks with the logo “Cowboys from Hell” which is where the name of the documentary came from. Their squad went on every single mission while in Helmand Province.

cowboys from hell

“We went from hours of down time to moments of intense adrenaline dumps.”

Return home

When Mahan returned home, he went back to school. When he started going through a “handful of things” from the deployment, the idea to do the documentary struck him… telling their own story from their point of view, doing interviews and talking about what happened.

Mahan created a Facebook Group specifically for his squad, so that they could be individually interviewed for the documentary. The idea is to share their experiences in a unique way, from the perspective of Merines on the ground.

Michael Parra is 801 Studios’s music supervisor- the documentary will have special music in it. Brian Moore will be the editor for the project. Both men were in the same squad with Mahan.

cowboys from hell