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New Documentary ‘Searching For Home’ Reveals Raw Courage Of Vets Across Generations
Courage, usually a central word in selling any war story, requires the proper packaging for the American public to pay attention. Even when the story is controversial, like “American Sniper,” if polished properly by the film industry, the movie can be the highest grossing movie of the year.
The courage on display in the new documentary about veterans living with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, “Searching For Home: Coming Back From War,” was powerful enough to move many in the crowd to tears, but I question whether or not the general public will be willing to share in this journey.
The film, directed by Eric Christiansen, weaves a montage of stories crossing generations of conflict from World War II to present day. The film touches on the perspectives of families, mothers, and wives with male figures largely absent from these stories. The stories are raw and display the various levels of healing veterans go through after returning from combat, while masterfully pulling on the common themes of war coming home with the veteran, resiliency through peer support, and social dysfunction.I attended the East Coast screening of the film hosted at the University of Southern Maine in Portland on Oct. 3 with several of my veteran friends, their wives, and girlfriends. The auditorium was nearly filled with civilians, members of various veterans groups, and charities. The director’s stated goals of being based on the truth, healing, and hope of the veterans community were all clearly represented in the support of the community who came to the viewing. Rowdy bikers from various groups intermingled with mothers of veterans who run charities and wore cocktail dresses. Pretenses were gone, and the atmosphere was one of shared sacrifice and support of the veterans who served.
The documentary follows a generally linear plot line, from how a service member becomes interested in serving, to entering the military, going to war, and the inevitable return and post-war life. Each story is different in its own way, with generations facing their own challenges, and individual people with their own views and experiences. However, the stories are intermingled to get a clear view of America, as service members are as diverse as the nation they represent. The courage displayed by those sharing their stories is where this documentary shines.
The stories of the Payeur family are very compelling, focusing on Army Cpl. Mike Payeur, who was injured by an improvised explosive blast in Iraq, and his mother Pam, an excellent example of support at home. Pam discusses many things, but one was her son’s tattoo “nineteen” on his neck, and how it feels to know her son had to kill 19 people in order to live. She described the “head fuck of coming home to Maine” at the Portland airport for Mike. She said he looked like a deer caught in the headlights coming down the ramp. “He doesn’t belong here,” she said.
Payeur discussed how killing was something he will never regret. He told stories of people with yellow ribbons on the backs of their cars looking down on him for feeling that way. His thoughts on these hypocritical points of view are the same as those I hear from many veterans and share in many ways.
A World War II airman’s story of his ongoing struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder was disheartening to some I spoke with after the film, thinking that it may never subside. His family was quoted from journals, longing for the kind and gentle man they had sent to war to replace the person who had returned. He spoke of troubles with employment, his anxiety constantly forcing him to change jobs because, “more responsibility, I couldn’t handle it.”
Staff Sgt. Sandra Lee gave her account of combat and being the victim of military sexual trauma while serving on an Army civil affairs team in Iraq. Her story of resiliency through treatment was powerful, culminating with her marching and standing united with other victims of military sexual trauma in New York City. I felt that there was far more to tell here as far as her ability to continue accomplishing missions after the assault, but was left with the feeling that it was her decision to keep that story closed.
The stories from the Vietnam-era veterans tie a great deal of the documentary together. Not only do they provide some of the most compelling statements about reintegration, but their efforts to heal and then share in the process with the post-9/11 generation are phenomenal. The stories in the film show how the common bond of service empowers the older generation to guide so many young veterans in their recoveries. These men speak candidly about the pain of finding their way home in a place that did not want them initially, and the hope they gained from helping those who came after them.
Overall, the film returns to a simple theme: Find your battle buddies, stick with them, and remember they come from various generations.
What sets this documentary apart are the raw testimonials mixed in throughout the narrative. Graphic storytelling that crosses generational and social lines makes the absurd nature of conflict sink in for the uninitiated. It forces the civilian to see how they may not have been as supportive as they thought.
What this documentary doesn’t do is make everyone feel great about themselves, or any of the wars in general. That is part of why it becomes a challenge for anyone to watch. I encourage veterans to see this because it will let you know that you are not alone, and provide you some form of hope. I challenge civilians to find the courage to watch it, and open their eyes to what it means to be a veteran of our nation’s conflicts. For all of the courage shown on the battlefield, it is the least we can do.
“Searching for Home: Coming Back From War” will air on Veterans Day, Nov. 11 at 9 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on KCET in Southern California and at 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time nationally on Link TV. It will also be available on iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, Amazon Video, and most major video on demand systems on Veterans Day.
29 years after Desert Storm, an Air Force general says we’ve forgotten the lessons that made it so successful
When Air Force Gen. Chuck Horner (ret.) took to the podium at the dedication of the National Desert Storm and Desert Shield Memorial site in Washington D.C. last February, he told the audience that people often ask him why a memorial is necessary for a conflict that only lasted about 40 days.
Horner, who commanded the U.S. air campaign of that war, said the first reason is to commemorate those who died in the Gulf War. Then he pointed behind him, towards the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where the names of over 58,000 Americans who died in Vietnam are etched in granite.
"These two monuments are inexorably linked together," Horner said. "Because we had in Desert Storm a president and a secretary of defense who did the smartest thing in the world: they gave the military a mission which could be accomplished by military force."
The Desert Storm Memorial "is a place every military person that's going to war should visit, and they learn to stand up when they have to, to avoid the stupidness that led to that disaster" in Vietnam, he added.
Now, 29 years after the operation that kicked Saddam Hussein's Iraqi army out of Kuwait began, the U.S. is stuck in multiple wars that Horner says resemble the one he and his fellow commanders tried to avoid while designing Desert Storm.
Horner shared his perspective on what went right in the Gulf War, and what's gone wrong since then, in an interview last week with Task & Purpose.
The Navy SEAL accused of strangling Army Special Forces Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar was promoted to chief petty officer two months after Melgar's death, according to a new report from The Daily Beast.
US troops are still ready to 'fight tonight' against North Korea despite canceled exercises, general says
U.S. troops are still ready to "fight tonight" against North Korea despite the indefinite suspension of major military training exercises on the Korean peninsula, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.
March Air Reserve Base in California will host nearly 200 U.S. citizens who were flown out of Wuhan, China due to the rapidly-spreading coronavirus, a Defense Department spokeswoman announced on Wednesday.
"March Air Reserve Base and the Department of Defense (DoD) stand ready to provide housing support to Health and Human Services (HHS) as they work to handle the arrival of nearly 200 people, including Department of State employees, dependents and U.S. citizens evacuated from Wuhan, China," said Pentagon press secretary Alyssa Farah in a statement on Wednesday.
Wuhan is the epicenter of the coronavirus, which is a mild to severe respiratory illness that's associated with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The virus has so far killed 132 people and infected nearly 6,000 others in China, according to news reports.