THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE
With the Army as his answer to a slew of college rejection letters, my older
brother shipped off to the Middle East in 1991. Our family huddled around the TV
watching dust-clouded news feeds of U.S. forces as they drove Saddam out of
Kuwait. After a speedy victory, my brother came home with his arms and legs and
sense of humor intact. He told us war was boring and hotter than hell, but
another story seemed to vibrate behind his pale eyes. Ground combat lasted a
mere 100 hours, but it had altered him. Like my uncle who fought in Vietnam, and
my grandfather who flew in WWII, my brother would never talk about it. It became
the unspoken space between us.
In 2013, I was introduced to "Thank You for Your Service" by Pulitzer
Prize-winning journalist David Finkel. The book seemed to explore all that my
brother had left unsaid. It follows the Army's 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry
Regiment, home from Iraq, back to Topeka, Kansas-into what the author calls the
"after-war." Exploring the trauma haunting our soldiers, the veteran suicide
crisis and the bureaucratic nightmare otherwise known as the VA, the book was a
sprawling, winding masterpiece. Still, it needed a narrative structure, a
heartbeat and a hero if it were ever to become a film.
We found our hero in Adam Schumann. Like my brother, he came home changed. The
war still echoed through his existence, fracturing his identity and uprooting
his future. But in his struggle I found a tale of survival and hope. That was
the story I hoped to tell anyway. At that time, I had just finished writing
American Sniper and had watched Chris Kyle emerge from his own battles with PTSD
only to be tragically murdered. Adam's story struck me as a way to continue the
conversation, to transition from Achilles to Odysseus, and see a warrior home.
The men of the 2-16 didn't come back to book deals or popular acclaim-they were
normal grunts hoping to return to normal lives. But for many of them that dream
was gone. Finkel earned their trust by following them into battle; I endeavored
to do the same. They carried me across their war, reliving every lacerating
memory that still echoed inside them. In doing so they empowered me to paint a
personal picture of their sacrifice, in hopes that it may lead to a deeper
understanding of the unthinkable sacrifice that all our veterans have made in
the service of this country.
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