- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 23, 2009

CITIZEN JOURNALISM:

A military movie stirred emotions and discussion on July 9 at the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington. The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), in conjunction with EOD Technology Inc., the United Service Organizations, the GI Film Festival and Slate magazine, hosted a screening of the newly released film “The Hurt Locker.”

Written by Mark Boal and directed by Kathryn Bigelow, “The Hurt Locker” profiles military bomb squads. Jeremy Renner stars as William James, who dismantles bombs in Baghdad. Mr. Renner trained with military explosive ordnance teams to prepare for his role.

“I am an expert at humanity and making human beings human,” Mr. Renner said during a panel discussion after the screening.

“It was really important for me to portray what these heroes are and let people know who they are. I wanted to capture a fraction of what is real,” he said, pushing back tears.

He said the time he spent filming the movie was one of the most difficult of his life.

TAPS presented Mr. Renner with the Fallen Soldier Battle Cross to recognize his efforts to bring awareness to military service members who risk their lives to dismantle bombs.

Bonnie Carroll is the founder and chairman of TAPS, a national nonprofit providing peer-based emotional support seminars and 24/7 crisis intervention care, free of charge, for families of fallen service members.

TAPS became involved with the film through actor Brian Geraghty. For the past several years, Mr. Geraghty has mentored military children who have lost a parent.

“This film will help families understand what their loved ones experience while at war and will help them better relate to one another,” said Mrs. Carroll. “I am very proud of Brian and all those who participated in this film, which will have a lasting impact on civilians and family members alike.”

Also participating in the panel discussion were Brandon Millet, president of the GI Film Festival, and Brig. Gen. Loree K. Sutton, director of Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury. They explained how the film originated, the daily conditions of filming in the Middle East and how civilians can help military service members reintegrate after their deployments.

“The Hurt Locker” depicts “the archetype of the military hero - both the sacrifices of the GI and of their families back home,” Mr. Millett said.

Gen. Sutton said it offers “a window into the hearts, minds, spirits and courage of our troops who are in harm’s way - particularly the ones who do this job. This movie gives our troops a voice and recognizes their sacrifice.”

Much of the panel discussion centered on the psychological health of returning service members. The movie shows the intense stress of the front lines that can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a difficult readjustment to daily life on the home front.

“It is really tough to shift gears from being a target to shopping at Target. One’s brain becomes more accustomed to being in the combat zone than in normal living,” said Gen. Sutton. “There are different skill sets that are used for the EOD than for handling shopping and riding the Metro.”

Gen. Sutton said the key for successful reintegration is maintaining relationships with families and fellow troops, as well as getting support from the community.

“It takes a nation to embrace our troops and to bring them all the way back. They deserve our respect, love and support,” said Gen. Sutton.

She said it takes courage for service members to recognize their “invisible injuries” and the need to get medical treatment just as they would for an injured leg.

During an invocation that brought a warm round of applause, Gen. Sutton said, “Never before in the history of our republic have we placed such a heavy burden on so few, for so long, on behalf of so many.”

Loredana Vuoto is president of Eloquence, a speechwriting and writing services firm.

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