Veteran’s Day- A great opportunity to watch some seriously inspirational films. From John Wayne’s “The Longest Day” to Tom Hanks’ “Saving Private Ryan” these movies inspire generations, and while I certainly have enjoyed those and many others through the years, there’s one particular movie and very specific scene that hits me harder than all the rest- and it takes place in a cereal aisle.
Civil War General William T. Sherman once famously said “War is Hell.” And for those millions of veteran’s who’ve served in combat that quote certainly rings true. Yet for many, including me, my time in combat was nothing compared to the year I returned home. That’s why for me the most powerfully poignant scene from any movie is from 2009’s “The Hurt Locker” directed by Kathryn Bigelow and starring Jeremy Renner.
In the movie Renner portrays an Army Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) Soldier serving in Iraq whose prowess in defusing bombs, booby traps and all forms of explosive are second to none. His challenge, however, is finding that same meaning, or purpose anywhere else- including with his family back home.
In that telling scene Renner is at the grocery store and trying to find some meaning in the choices he faces in everyday life- including choosing one of the dozens of cereal options he faced with. Soon after, he finds himself consumed by his need to do what he does best as the movie concludes with Renner’s conflicted character returning to Iraq- embracing all the precarious challenges, giving him what he craves most- purpose.
Bigelow’s direction, and Renner’s portrayal of the Soldier who doesn’t have the means or the will to “return home” strikes at the very heart of the challenge so many veterans and their families face- and have faced for generations.
Author and journalist Sebastian Junger has spent years serving alongside our troops in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. His insights and reflections on a generation of young Americans whose real challenge is recapturing those bonds of combat, despite the perils of war, is beyond impactful. To fully understand the post-conflict challenges our veterans face you have to appreciate the dichotomy of wanting to be a part of something, a common ethos, even if it means serving in harm’s way. I’ve felt that pull, wanting to be home at all costs while deployed, and then somehow wanting to be back in combat when faced with the everyday challenges of being home.
When I was in Iraq my first son was 4-years old. He would always start and end every call with “I miss my daddy.” During my time in Iraq these four words would strike the at very foundation of my being- stabbing me in the gut like a thousand needles – and all I could think about was going home and being with my family. Yet, the most painful time I ever heard those four words-“I miss my daddy” – was in person- several months after I’d returned home. You see he was telling me he missed the person I was, before I’d deployed, and wanted that daddy back. The daddy that played, that laughed with him, and held him tight was simply not there anymore.
Overtime, in large part due to my very son’s candid words, I got the help I needed. Through family, friends and immense support, I became that daddy again. Tragically, many others were not- and continue to be- less fortunate than me. We need to do all we can to help so many return home again- and to help them truly heal. Ultimately, however, that healing is tied to purpose- in our families and in the “what’s next” of our lives.
People ask me about my experience in Iraq often- and I’m certainly happy to share those experiences- and from time to time I’m asked “is war like it’s portrayed in the movies?” When I say “sort of” they then ask what is the most realistic war movie. Without hesitation I share that it takes place in a grocery store, in the cereal aisle- thousands of miles away from any battle field.