I think Nathan was willing to show me the transition he went through because I had seen who he was over there, as a leader of men, someone with a sense of mission and purpose, who was making life-and-death decisions for men under his command. And he was willing to share that other side of being completely dependent on his wife, of being dependent on medications, and having to deal with the trivial, mundane nature of life back at home and trying to reconcile those two. He’s still an active duty Marine in the Wounded Warriors Regiment at Camp Lejeune, but will probably medically retire soon.
It is a nonpolitical film. I don’t have a leftist or right agenda. It tries just to lay bare the costs of war, what it means to be at war, and who’s bearing that burden. It’s very easy to think of it as a distinct conflict, as something far away, as an abstraction. So it is a hope that my bearing witness and showing the reality of what’s happening can help shape the public consciousness into understanding what the true costs are.
I think first of all there just needs to be discussion. These wars aren’t even talked about on a real level. And so I think discussions like this are a great starting point. But there are also many in our own communities that have experienced this war, so reaching out to them is also important. There are many veterans in our communities, and I think there’s a disconnect for them as well. So I just hope that this film is a beginning point for further discussion and helps connect those that have been there with those around them.
Nathan is this completely open and honest man, and I think Ashley is an angel, just so loving and caring and supportive and always there for him, no matter how difficult it is. And they are very stoic. They volunteered for this.
These couples, these families, are the ones bearing the entire burden of this war. I mean, three deployments is not unheard of, for others five or six. It’s a way of life for them. Fighting these wars is what they’ve known for these last eight years of their lives. And so I have a deep respect for the communities that have struggled through it, and especially for the families. They’re the ones that carry these very broken and injured men back and help them come home.
So Nathan is extremely lucky to have someone like Ashley, because there are so many that don’t. Their relationship is extremely strained by his psychological and physical injuries, and she is so strong to carry on and stick by his side through it. They’re still together, they’re still very much going through this together. It’s also the story of this one couple going through this war, but it represents many other military families that are also bearing the entire burden of this war. And so I do have a deep respect for these communities, but also don’t try to glorify what it means to be in the military. I just lay it out bare.
Six months into his tour, and days away from rotating out, Nathan was shot in the hip during an ambush. He nearly bled to death before he was medivaced out and underwent blood transfusions and multiple surgeries.
I rejoined Nathan when he returned to his hometown of Yadkinville, North Carolina. He was in incredible pain and distress from having left his men behind. He introduced me to his friends and family by saying, “This guy was with me over there.” With that, I was accepted into a rural, conservative, Baptist community and essentially lived with him and his wife Ashley.
The story naturally became less about counter insurgency doctrine as I began to document Nathan’s most difficult mission: his struggle to transition back into a community that was completely disconnected from his experience; his transformation from a warrior and leader to a man who required help with even the smallest daily tasks, while clinging to the dream that one day he would rejoin his men in combat.
I spent seven months in Afghanistan total, and one month embedded with Echo Company in Helmand Province.
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