Documentary workshop helps service members reintegrate

By Rachel Leingang, News21

Members of the North Dakota National Guard's 818th Engineer Company watch "Brothers at War," a documentary made by Jake Rademacher, who imbedded with his brothers in Iraq to try to understand them better. (Photo by Peter Haden, News21)

Members of the North Dakota National Guard’s 818th Engineer Company watch “Brothers at War,” a documentary made by Jake Rademacher, who imbedded with his brothers in Iraq to try to understand them better. (Photo by Peter Haden, News21)

Jake Rademacher was trying to understand what his brothers were experiencing. Rademacher’s two brothers served in the Army and shared a bond that as a civilian, he didn’t understand. So the filmmaker and actor decided to visit his brothers – in Iraq – while they were deployed and film a documentary.

“Brothers at War,” is now used as a workshop for returning National Guard and Reserve troops at Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program events across the country. Service members watch the film with family, then write journal entries and discuss the feelings and issues the movie evokes.

“What were the tough things about coming home for you?” and “How have your relationships changed with people who have not deployed?” ideally spark meaningful conversations for the soldiers and their families and help to deepen understanding on both sides.

The North Dakota National Guard’s 818th Engineer Company participated in the workshop during a Yellow Ribbon event in June. The 818th returned in March from a deployment to the southern Helmand Province in Afghanistan.

“You get to watch a movie,” Spc. Brad Sherman said. “That’s awesome. You get to sit down, kick back, and watch a pretty interesting movie… It doesn’t take everybody to walk overseas and say, ‘Hey can I get a plane ticket to Iraq?’… It’s pretty ballsy, he’s a pretty brave soul.”

The soldiers relate to Rademacher’s brothers, Isaac and Joe, while family members can relate to Jake’s wanting to understand what loved ones are going through, knowing that they never fully will.

North Dakota National Guard members from the 818th Engineer Company write in their "Brothers at War" journals after watching the film. The workshop incites conversations about being at war, coming home and relating to family. (Photo by Peter Haden, News21)

North Dakota National Guard members from the 818th Engineer Company write in their “Brothers at War” journals after watching the film. The workshop inspires conversations about being at war, coming home and relating to family. (Photo by Peter Haden, News21)

“You could definitely tell the emotions from the soldier’s perspective through Jake’s brothers and with Jake, as far as being the non-military member – those dynamics were interesting to see and I thought they were really true to life,” said Capt. Tom Leingang, a part of the Headquarters unit for the 818th.

Most importantly, the film allowed members of the 818th to discuss their feelings about reintegrating into civilian life.

“Any time you can get conversations going between soldiers, or do events with these reintegrations or Yellow Ribbon stuff, where soldiers can talk to each other, where they can open up to each other, or with their families, I think it’s important – I think it’s critical,” Leingang said.

What We’re Reading, Week 8

By Chad Garland, News21

Going Home (Chris Bloxom, 6/30, ESPN SportsCenter) Surprise military homecomings at sporting events seem to have become almost commonplace in the past decade and this six-minute ESPN video produced for the July 4th holiday shows why: they’re too touching to pass up.

Inside SportsCenter’s ‘Going Home’ video salute to soldiers’ family reunions at sports venues (Dan Quinn, 7/3, ESPN Front Row) Features producer Chris Bloxom wanted to add a structure to the string of YouTube video clips featuring military members reuniting with family members at sports events. Bloxom turned to the Army to find an Afghanistan veteran and his family to re-enact a homecoming as a way of creating what he called “intrigue.”

House veterans committee creates site to prod VA (Gregg Zoroya, 7/9, USA Today) Apparently frustrated with the amount of time it is taking the Department of Veterans Affairs to respond to its requests for information, the House Veterans Affairs Committee set up a website listing some of the nearly 100 requests the VA has not fulfilled, some dating back more than a year.

Over Water, Under Fire  (7/10, Powering a Nation) This interactive documentary special report produced by fellows at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill tells the story of the Colorado River. Text and graphics focus on the changes humans have made to the river and their impacts to the environment along America’s most endangered river, according to the American Rivers organization. These elements are woven into a video story about Army veterans traveling down the river together as a means of therapy and recovery.

“War Zone/Comfort Zone” follows female veterans

By Caitlin Cruz, News21

“Who else would preserve their land more than someone who is willing to die for it?”

Filmmaker Lizzie Warren with Connecticut Public Television follows two women who are attempting to begin a transitional housing shelter for female veterans, but it also tells the story of four women adjusting to life after the military.

For a more thorough description of the film:

Though women account for roughly 14 percent of active-duty U.S. military and more than 24 percent of the National Guard, they often receive less than a hero’s welcome upon return to civilian life. Many of these women veterans must deal with poverty, homelessness, joblessness, and psychological and physiological effects of PTSD from military sexual assault and/or combat all within a system that is ill-equipped and, in some cases, unwilling to help. War Zone/Comfort Zone is the personal story of their plight for normalcy and peace without the benefit of a comprehensive support system.

The documentary follows the journey of Shalini Madaras and Joy Kiss in the fight to open the first transitional house for women veterans in the state of Connecticut despite virulent neighborhood opposition. It also tells the story of four women who are coping with life after the military using interviews and footage that provide a surprising look into the lives of these invisible veterans.

The film was nominated for a New England Emmy for Outstanding Documentary.

Military Sexual Trauma in more than just the news

By Asha Anchan, News21

At the beginning of May the Department of Defense released figures estimating 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact that occurred in 2012, a 35 percent jump from 2010. These cases range from inappropriate contact to rape.

But military sexual trauma is showing up in more than multi-page reports. It’s been the content of documentaries, books and even a TV show mini-series that exposes the humans behind the numbers appearing in the reports.

Men and women who experienced sexual trauma are stepping forward, sharing their stories and getting in front of the camera for the first time. These stories are not new, explain many of the victims, they just haven’t been brought to light in this fashion.

The documentaries “Uniform Betrayal,” “Service: When Women Come Marching Home” and “The Invisible War” were released in 2011 and 2012 and depict men and women who have experienced sexual assault. “The Invisible War” was a 2013 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Feature and garnered a lot attention about military sexual trauma.

Last August, WIGS, a YouTube channel, created a TV show depicting a woman’s battle with military sexual assault. The show, “Lauren,” introduces characters to a fictional character that navigates through her rape in the military. It comes across as a dramatization of real stories and breathes life into the numbers in the headlines.

These forms of media attention are connecting faces to facts as an alternative to official reports. What will be the result of this story telling method? That’s yet to be determined.