Welcome to Day 3 of Voice Awards Blog Week!
Today, we’re focusing on Media Portrayals of Service Members, Veterans, and Their Families, asking our bloggers:
Have you seen a television show or film that features the resilience and strength of America’s service members, veterans, and their families? How did the production accurately and respectfully portray the experiences and impact of military service? What can television shows and films do to improve their portrayals of the military and veteran communities?
Check out the blogs below by Dole Caregiver Fellows Diamond Kitchell Gordon, Marjorie Pennington, and Corrine Hinton on media portrayals of the military community:
“No Greater Love” by Dole Caregiver Fellow Diamond Kitchell Gordon
No Greater Love helps civilians to empathize, caregivers and families to further understand, and veterans to see how their fellow warriors are taking steps towards healing. And most importantly, it does so in an honorable way that helps everyone to put themselves in the boots of those who serve that allows us to start a conversation.
In 2010 Chaplain (Captain) Justin Roberts deployed with 2/327th “No Slack” Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Regiment to Kunar Province in eastern Afghanistan. Chaplains do not carry weapons. Instead he went with cameras. “To be their chaplain, I needed to be where it sucked the most,” (Roberts). The unit earned more than 200 Purple Hearts and lost 18 soldiers killed in action in the intense combat. Roberts coming home struggling with his own depression and PTS and seeking answers, he reached out to reunite with those he served with in Afghanistan to see how they were dealing with life after combat.
The recent statistics for military veterans are: 22 suicides a day, 25% of homeless population is veterans, 1 in 5 veterans struggle with PTSD, Substance Abuse or Substance Use Disorder affects 2 out of 10 veterans with PTSD, and the number one killer of service members isn’t combat but suicide. These numbers are the reality of war. Roberts realized the only solution was to connect veterans within their local communities. “People have preconceived notions about soldiers and PTS, though,” Roberts said. “They’re often simply not familiar with what’s going on with the war and our veterans.”
Three years after Roberts’ deployment with 2010-2011 “No Slack” mission, Justin Roberts (Director, Writer, Producer) teamed up with dedicated and passionate veteran photojournalist, Laura Fong (Co-Producer) to interview many veterans, surviving Gold Star widows and family members to follow-up with their post-war transition back home.
No Greater Love is an International award winning military documentary of authentic war footage filmed by an active duty soldier, combined with personal follow-up interviews with the surviving soldiers after returning home and Gold Star wives and families of fallen soldiers. No Greater Love shows the war through the eyes of the soldiers as they fought their way through a hellish tour in one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan and delves into the struggles many veterans face as they come home. It allows those not affected by war to see and better understand what war truly is. No Greater Love shows the aftermath how war affects our services persons that come home struggling to transition into civilian life and surviving spouses and families of those that do not make it back home.
I’ve had the personal honor to meet and get to know Justin Roberts, most of the No Greater Love team, a soldier or two, and see the other side of war. As an Army Infantryman veteran caregiver wife I’ve see the aftermath of war stateside, “the war at home”. My veteran has shared with me a great deal of his deployment war experience serving in 2nd Brigade 3rd Infantry Division 15th Regiment “Thunder Run” invasion, but seeing actual firsthand footage of war gave me a greater depth of understanding of the war he is fighting at home. My husband has returned home physically. but he hasn’t genuinely returned home. I lacked the gravity of understanding until viewing No Greater Love.
No Greater Love opens a conversation about the effects of war, mental health aspects, and self medicating/substance abuse/Substance Use Disorder (SUD) of our returning soldiers. Opening the conversation is in upmost importance to soldiers healing and us as family, friends, communities, and a nation as whole can help them heal as they return “home”.
Justin Roberts continues to spread awareness with screenings of No Greater Love across the United States. A long-term goal for No Greater Love is making it onto the “big screens” to bring mass awareness and buzzing conversations.
Here are some links to learn more about No Greater Love
“A Marine’s Guide to Fishing” by Dole Caregiver Fellow Marjorie Pennington
Being the wife and caregiver of a wounded warrior, I have seen several movies that try to capture the life of our military and veterans. They don’t always get it correct, however, the film “A Marines Guide to Fishing” is a 15-minute fiction film telling the story of a young veteran’s return to his old job in a New England Dockyard on his first ‘Alive Day’ – the one-year anniversary of the day he was severely injured overseas. Written and directed by Maine-native Nicholas Brennan, the film stars 27-year-old Pittsfield, Maine resident Matthew Pennington, who served three tours of duty in the U.S. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan before suffering an injury in 2006 very similar to the one endured by the character he plays.
The film is ultimately a story about hope and healing and how we can all find our way back to life with the support of those around us. The film was shot on location in South Portland, Falmouth, and Kennebunkport, Maine. The film was and still is used at Matthew’s speaking events, I have witnessed veterans from all eras approach my husband and thank him and let him know that they too will seek help. I will say the film uses one slang word; however, the fact of the matter is that word is used commonly in our civilian community, and our veterans are greeted with this term often. I would also say to improve some of these films that are made that don’t always reflect the truth about our veterans; they should visit with a veteran who has been down a similar road to the film they are making as this will give them knowledge and truth. This film not only helped others, but this film was therapy for my husband, being involved with the film, opened Matthew up to interact with others and eventually led Matthew to share is story after the film was previewed.
To learn more about the film, you can read some articles and news reports below.
“Acting Helps Soldier Cope With Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” The New York Times
“Among Thousands of Film Festivals, One About G.I.’s” The New York Times
“Five Reasons Not to Miss the GI Film Festival This Year” BigHollywood.com
“A Marine’s Guide to Fishing Premieres at Bangor Mall Cinemas” WABI-TV (Local CBS affiliate)
“Starring Role in Short Film Brings Healing to Wounded Pittsfield Veteran” Bangor Daily News
“Local Films Help Raise Money for Veterans” WCSH-TV (NBC Local Affiliate in Maine)
“Maine Soldier Makes Film Debut” WCSH-TV (NBC Local Affiliate in Maine)
“Maine Filmmaker, Disabled Vet Tell Story of Returning Home After War” The Forecaster
“Review: A Marine’s Guide to Fishing” Portland Phoenix
“The Railway Man” by Dole Caregiver Fellow Corrine Hinton
Most of the entertainment industry has not yet found an acceptable way to demonstrate the impact of post-9/11 war service on the veteran and his or her family. The movie-going public are still far too interested in films that showcase the conflicts from American’s Global War on Terrorism, both in scripted and biopic fashion. Authenticity in depicting American engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, often depends on adaptations of true accounts, like that of Marcus Luttrell in Lone Survivor or Chris Kyle in American Sniper. Even these stories still play to the audience’s desire to see and feel the suspense, horror, fear, and resilience depicted in combat while diminishing the impact these experiences have on the parents, spouses, or children waiting at home. Likely, film makers have not had their fill of pumping the adrenaline-filled, hero or tragedy stories from our contemporary American war experience, so we are not yet privy to seeing what filmmakers might do if they tried to answer the question, “What happens after?”
In trying to locate a scripted movie (as opposed to a documentary) that wrestles with the visible and invisible wounds of war and their impact on those close to our service members and veterans, I had to turn to a different war and, as it turns out, to a different country. I found the 2014 British-Australian war film, The Railway Man. The Railway Man is based upon the autobiography of Eric Lomax, a British lieutenant who spent time in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp after the fall of Singapore during World War II. After Lomax and his friends are caught building a radio to follow the progression of the war, Lomax is beaten and tortured.
The movie opens in England in 1980, more than three decades after the war has ended. The Eric Lomax we meet, played by Colin Firth, is a little eccentric in his fascination for trains and still connected to his military past by way of frequent visits to the Veterans Club. Shortly into the film, Eric meets Patti (Nicole Kidman) and the two fall in love. On their wedding night, we watch as Eric experiences a flashback, and any person with an understanding of war trauma will recognize it as a sign of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As we follow Eric and Patti into the beginnings of their marriage, we witness Eric’s disengagement, anger, violence, apathy, avoidance, denial, difficulty with confrontation, and restlessness among a host of other manifestations of PTSD. We are also privy to the story of Eric’s torture, learning more about his proclivities as a “railway enthusiast” and about his time in the darkness.
What I like about The Railway Man is that the film does not limit itself to showing us Eric’s journey as he wrestles with his trauma and the feelings and behaviors associated with it. Some attention is also devoted to Patti’s reactions and emotions as she learns more about her husband, his past, and his present. As a military caregiver to a veteran with PTSD, I recognized Patti’s response when Eric shows his resistance to changes she has made. Upon moving in with him, Patti reorganizes and cleans a room. The next morning, she awakens to find Eric reconstituting the mess and coolly tells her, “I decided on reflection I preferred things the way they were.” In Patti’s face, Nicole Kidman successfully captures confusion (why would he prefer this place to look like a total disaster area?), anger (why has he undone everything I have done?), and hurt (does he really even want me here?). And Patti, like so many military family members, says nothing and internalizes her own feelings.
Even for its beauty and pain, the film isn’t flawless. While Eric’s ability to locate the person responsible for his torture makes his story unique, it is that very uniqueness that diminishes the veteran experience. While Eric can directly identify, locate, and face the individual he holds responsible for his traumatic experience, most veterans do not have that option. Their struggles often stem from a variety of war experiences: combat deployments, Military Sexual Trauma, or even other events not related to enemy engagement at all. Likewise, some military spouses or partners may recognize Patti’s early failings as a supportive partner. While her initial desire to “fix” Eric is not entirely misplaced, her use of deception to strategize a way to force Eric’s confrontation with his past is risky and a bit selfish.
In the end, The Railway Man gently reminds us that post-war adjustment does not follow man’s rules of time; PTSD and other impacts from war do not end weeks, or months, or years after service. They require deliberate and careful interventions, patience, and sacrifice. For so many veterans and their families, this is what happens after.