Each time my brothers board the plane with rucksacks and rifles slung over their shoulders, I know it may be the last time I ever see them. After they came home from war the first time, I could see and feel the change—the new distance between us. When they told me what I was watching in 30-second clips on the news was not the same war they were fighting, I knew them well enough to know we were all missing something. I know that journeying into a war zone may not seem like the most rational thing to do, but I felt the need to bridge the gap was that crucial.
I have had a curiosity about war dating back to childhood. As a young boy, I read books about generals and the great battles of history. As an adolescent, I walked the field at Gettysburg and heard the words of MacArthur’s last speech echoing in my mind as I stood looking out at West Point, dreaming of being an officer one day. Later, I saw another side of war as I walked through the gates of Dachau and through Serbia during a ceasefire.
Now I have been shot at and IED’d. I have watched men’s blood wet the dirt and seen battle-hardened warriors break down in tears as they relate an experience or talk about those they love. I have come to know war in a more intimate and deep way.
BROTHERS AT WAR has been the most terrifying, soul searching, and gratifying thing I have ever done. Through it all, I have tried to hold the mirror up to nature, or rather put the frame around it as it happened in front of me.
I started this film for my brother Isaac. I finished it for the guys I met along the way. Now, I am invigorated by the positive impact I’ve seen it have on audiences—especially, other military families who also need to reconnect.
We set out to make a film without stock footage, political pundits or anyone talking about an experience they weren’t currently living. I knew it would require me to risk everything—my life, to succeed. I imagined but had no idea the transformation making this film would have on me.
While the laughter, the tears, and the standing ovations with which the film has been greeted are deeply gratifying, the real reward is the thank you from a Gold Star mother, the tears that come from a battle-hardened warrior trying to relate what the film means to him—feedback I’ve received from warriors and their families, about the impact the film has had on their healing process. Now people can see why I think the best part of my generation has been serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their deeds inspire me. I hope we can all admire those who pull from deep within and strive mightily for something greater than themselves. I am humbled by what I have witnessed.
As BROTHERS AT WAR won “Best Documentary” awards at a number of film festivals including the GI Film Festival, it was released in theaters. The initial audiences were joined by members of the Rademacher family, Service Members portrayed in the film, and producers Jake Rademacher, Norman S. Powell, Gary Sinise, and David Scantling.
This positive reaction from other military families helped the film to spread to over 60 cities across the country, with complimentary screenings on 45 military installations around the world. When the film was released on DVD it sold out on military bases in one week and became the #1 best selling war documentary released in over 6 years. Shortly thereafter, on Memorial Day, 2010 the film premiered on Showtime where it has been seen by millions of Americans over the past several years. This portrait of our Service Members and an American Military Family facing the crucible of war has also gone on to be released in the UK, Middle East, South Africa, and Asia. Through a series of events and promotions, BROTHERS AT WAR has helped raise an estimated $250,000 for a number of important Non Profit Organizations serving Veterans and their Families.
Idea for Resiliency Program
Witnessing the positive emotional reactions first hand, and having Service Members begin to share their own often-painful stories after seeing the film, inspired Jake Rademacher. He began to feel that maybe there was a way to take the initial reaction of military families to BROTHERS AT WAR a step further. His producing partner, Norman Powell agreed, so Jake and Norman began to come up with questions to help Service Members open up and tell their own stories. In choosing questions, their phrasing, and the order within the workbooks, they drew on their experience of interviewing hundreds of veterans. The final phase of creation happened in a workshop environment where Ellen Levine and Sophie Yon Gharbi began to edit the workbooks, while Ellen began creating the design for the workbooks. With a Masters in Mental Health and Art Therapy and experience as a painter, Ellen created a layout and palette of colors supportive of the goals of the workbook.
Gary Sinise responded to the original workbook with enthusiasm, and he and TriWest sponsored a pilot program. Over 2000 Soldiers and Family Members at FT Riley, FT Hood, FT Carson, FT Bliss, and FT Campbell participated in the original workshops facilitated by Jake Rademacher. THE BROTHERS AT WAR RESILIENCY WORKSHOP was featured at the Navy’s COSC Conference and the Defense Centers of Excellence’s Warrior Resiliency Conference.
Military Family Response
The Oklahoma National Guard was facing a steep challenge. How to help 3500 Soldiers and Airmen reintegrate with their families after an especially difficult deployment with two of their Battalions suffering 15 KIA’s. They were seeking an innovative way to encourage communication and jumpstart the healing process. In order to respond to their needs, the BROTHERS AT WAR RESILIENCY WORKSHOP was extended to four hours to address further issues they deemed critical to explore during their Yellow Ribbon Weekends. Further, they saw the family’s role as critical for reintegration and requested material specific to their needs. In response, a second workbook, the BROTHERS AT WAR WORKBOOK FOR SPOUSES, FAMILY AND FRIENDS was tailored to the specific needs of military families, while at the same time designed to be complimentary to the workbooks for Service Members. The new four-hour workshops integrating the film, DVD extras, instruction, journaling, and group discussion inspired communication, healing and reintegration. The following day, Battalions were broken up into Companies, and Company Leadership used the journals, often volunteering their own answers to spark further exploration, team building, and information sharing. Counselor utilization increased, and they felt the quality of sessions improved as military families came in with greater self knowledge, primed to take the next step forward together.
At the same time, Regional Leadership within the Army Reserves approached us about incorporating the program into their Yellow Ribbon Program. From May to December of 2012, Jake facilitated seven workshops for the 63rd RSC serving Army Reservists and their families from a seven state region. Responses from the military families showed an enthusiastic acceptance of the program with the material and instruction garnering a 4.8 average response out of 5 from the more than 500 surveys collected the Army Reserves collected.
As he heard the results of these workshops, Gary Sinise expressed a desire to see the program integrated into more units reintegrating from the warfront and for the workbooks to become available to the general public, so they could gain access to the program and begin the healing process on their own timetable.
On Memorial Day, 2013, the BROTHERS AT WAR RESILIENCY WORKBOOKS will become available to the public.