“Operation Homecoming,” the National Endowment for the Arts project to publish the writings of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, is making the jump from book to film — small screen, at least.
Film makers have produced a documentary about the work, “Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience,” featuring interviews with several of the service member/authors, readings by noted actors including Robert Duvall, Beau Bridges and Blair Underwood, and appearances by authors Tim O’Brien, Tobias Wolff, Anthony Swofford and others.
It’s part of PBS’ “America at the Crossroads” series, and airs 9 p.m. Monday, April 16, on channel 9, KCTS, and again at 3 a.m. (correct, 3 a.m.) Friday, April 20. The film is directed and produced by Richard E. Robbins and Tom Yellin, who previously worked with the late ABC News anchor Peter Jennings on a number of acclaimed documentaries.
Just as with the book, the film features the work of several service members with local connections:
&bull Stryker brigade soldier-poet Brian Turner, who led an infantry squad during the 2nd Battalion, 3nd Infantry Regiment’s first deployment in 2003-04. We wrote about him here after his book of poems, “Here, Bullet,” was published a couple years back.
&bull Another soldier from that first Stryker deployment, Colby Buzzell, was a Joe in the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment when he started his CBFTW blog in Mosul. He developed a cult following that included senior guys in the Pentagon and punk rock icon Jello Biafra, and eventually landed a deal to publish a book, “My War: Killing Time in Iraq.” Everybody thinks Buzzell got in trouble for what he wrote –– think Joseph Heller meets Hunter S. Thompson meets slacker 90s skate punk, only without any paragraph breaks. But in truth, his battalion commander was a huge fan. And if you read “My War” all the way to the end, you know that for all Buzzell’s bark, the opposite is true as well. The documentary features his “Men in Black” piece.
&bull Ed Hrivnak wrote about the medevac missions he flew in and out of Iraq in the early months of the war. (We featured him here.) He’s a firefighter, registered nurse and Air Force reservist from Spanaway.
&bull Jack Lewis, an Army Reserve staff sergeant from Seattle, who was in Iraq with the Fort Lewis Strykers of the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division. His haunting story, "Road Work," takes place on a Stryker convoy near the Syrian border in far northwestern Iraq.
Here’s a sample of Turner’s poetry, a piece called “Ashbah.”
The ghosts of American soldiers
wander the streets of Balad by night,
unsure of their way home, exhausted,
the desert wind blowing trash
down the narrow alleys as a voice
sounds from the minaret, a soulfull call
reminding them how alone they are,
how lost. And the Iraqi dead,
they watch in silence from rooftops
as date palms line the shore in silhouette,
leaning toward Mecca when the dawn wind blows.
From "Here, Bullet" by Brian Turner (Alice James Books, 2005)