- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 23, 2009

There is a sweet smell of revolution in the air - not the kind fashioned by guns and steel but another, more subtle uprising. America’s military community is taking ownership of its narrative. The men and women in our armed forces - and the legions of relatives, friends and other supporters - have remained largely invisible for too long in the mainstream media. Yet, in the blogosphere and now in the movies, a new wind is blowing.

Determined to recount the tale of his military family, director Jake Rademacher went to his hometown of Decatur, Ill., and persuaded 18 small-business owners to give him $25,000 each to make a film. The movie would be about his two brothers, Isaac and Joe, who were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“All I heard in the media,” Jake told The Washington Times, “were stories about the dreadful aspects of war - the burning bus and the body count. Yet when my brothers came home, they had different news. And they said I did not know what it was really like.”

This desire to understand and to share the military experience with his brothers led Jake to undertake two trips to Iraq, camera in hand, to record the daily experiences of men on the battlefield. The resulting film, “Brothers at War,” vividly depicts the dust, heat, long hours, boredom, hardship - and danger - of missions in Iraq. It portrays the camaraderie of the troops. It also showcases the emotional distance between those who serve and those who do not.

Jake is divided from his brothers, who insist he “does not get it”; Joe and his girlfriend, now wife, Danelle, struggle to re-connect when he comes home, as he becomes distant and cold following his deployments; Isaac fears his little girl will not recognize him when he returns. The Rademacher parents shrug their shoulders at the choices their sons make. “Brothers at War” is sad, funny, enlightening, shocking and all too real. It is the military community in three dimensions.

“People are hungry for a window into war without political slant,” Jake said. “I have been thanked by girlfriends, spouses, mothers, sisters, brothers and fathers who see their issues reflected on the screen.”

In interviews with Isaac and Joe, I discovered firsthand that the three brothers have three very different stories to tell. Isaac, a West Point graduate, is eloquent, idealistic and magnanimous. Isaac said Jake’s quest was driven purely by his own, rather than his family’s, expectations - especially because Jake’s childhood dream of pursuing a military career was dashed when he was not admitted to West Point because of an eye injury.

Isaac also provides a window into the Iraq war. By the time he arrived in 2003, the American mission was to pursue insurgents and help erect a stable ally in the Middle East. “The hardest part of the job was training the Iraqis to take responsibility,” he said. “They did not have a concept of serving the state.” How did they learn? “We led by example,” he said.

Indeed, “Brothers at War” provides a glimpse into the difficulties, apparently insurmountable, of this endeavor - and the joyous, almost miraculous event when groups of Iraqi men assume their new roles and beam with pride as they learn to shoulder the national burden alongside their American allies.

During his three deployments to Iraq, Isaac remained highly motivated and was immensely proud of the “hard work of the troops.” Isaac said he enjoyed “sharing freedom with other countries” and “being part of something larger than myself.”

Joe, the youngest brother, provided a more intimate portrait of the toll of war on relationships. He is direct, pragmatic, frank and accessible.

“When you are deployed, you are putting your relationship on the line as well as your life,” he said. He has been on two tours in Iraq and one to Afghanistan. Soldiers have little time to talk to their loved ones overseas and often wonder, “Will they be there when we get back?” Joe said that to please his wife, who stood by his side during repeated deployments, he will no longer go on foreign missions. “What Danelle wants, Danelle gets,” he said.

Thus, each Rademacher lived the war in a unique way. Ironically, in “Brothers at War,” Jake searches for his brothers, only to find himself. He discovers his voice and his singular mission in the war effort: recounting the individual stories.

Simultaneously, The Washington Times is engaging citizen journalists in the military community across the country in the same spirit as Jake sought to better understand his brothers.

We’re here. We’re listening. Tell us your stories. Let the revolution begin.

Grace Vuoto is the editor of Base News, a citizen journalism project of The Washington Times for America’s military community.

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