In honor of Veterans Day last week, five Iraq and Afghanistan veterans received Hollywood-style treatment as they premiered documentary films they produced and directed for “Operation in Their Boots” – an initiative to show the American public the astounding impact their overseas experience has had on a new generation of soldiers and the challenges they face in returning to civilian life.
“It was really important for me to make the film because a lot of vets come back and they turn to alcohol and drugs to deal with the things they’ve seen,” Tristan Dyer told Pop Tarts of his film “Enduring Erebus.” “I think it is important to show them and the public that this happening and also other Vets so they can see it, so they know they are not the only ones with a problem and there is a place they can turn to for help.”
“Enduring Erebus” chronicles four young veterans stories of self-medication in an effort to numb their painful physical and psychological wounds, their downward spiral into the dark world of drugs and inability to function in everyday life.
“There is a lot of help out there, but a lot of the problem is that you have to seek it out. It's not overly obvious where to turn for the help. You could very easily put on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and nobody would know you are a vet or what you have been through,” Dyer continued. “Not a lot of the American public understands really exactly what is going on. That creates a wall between veterans and the American public.”
Furthermore, Aaron Huffman told his tumultuous story in Chris Mandia’s “Academic Front,” a film which grapples with the challenges veterans face in transitioning from the battlefield to a college campus. After back surgery and suffering immense amounts of physical and emotional pain, Huffman was unable to study, instead lured into the vicious world of drugs and alcohol. But after his cousin, whom he considered a brother, killed himself post-Iraq Huffman knew he needed help.
His biggest saving grace was faith.
“Jesus turned my life around and gave me that peace in my life. So fortunately I have people praying for me, once I made the decision to stop living my way and start living his way and ever since then every day has gotten better,” he said.
And Afghanistan war veteran Kyle Hartnett used the opportunity of making “No Religious Preference” to confront his own inner struggle with prejudice toward Islamic-Americans. He nervously met with Muslims who have served in the U.S military both past and present, and discovers that despite all the harassment and negativity, these service members are proud American patriots. Moreover, Clint Van Winkle’s “The Guilt” captures the stories of two Marine veterans of the Iraq war, and their efforts to help a fellow veteran who is deeply tormented by survivor’s guilt after losing his best friend on the battlefield.
And although there is apparently more help available for veterans now than there was just a few years ago, Victor Manzano, who made “Rudy Reyes, The Way of the Warrior” to illuminate the life of Rudy Reyes who survived child abuse and poverty to become a highly skilled Recognizant Marine now battling PSTD, believes there is definite room for improvement.
“There is more being done now then when I first came back in 2004. There are some great organizations and people out there trying to help and give back,” he said. “But there is still room for more help and recognition.”
In a quest to provide these men with appreciation and build an awareness of their many sacrifices, the folks at Brave New Foundation (the team behind “Operation in Their Boots”) have made each film is available for download free of charge, from intheirboots.com.