Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Messenger - The Army Casualty Notification Team

Over the years I have attended many military funerals. The Honor Guard is usually made up of very young men who take obvious pride in the ceremony as they fold the flag and the bugler plays ‘taps’. It is obvious that they feel it is important to honor the person who served their country during war and peace times.

This week I viewed a movie called ‘The Messenger’ where the entire film is centered on the subject of notifying the next of kin.

Ben Foster stars as Will, a U.S. Army sergeant who has returned home from the Iraq War after risking his life to save fellow soldiers. He is still recuperating from very serious injuries and has six months of active service left in the military. He is then assigned the task of working as an Army Casualty Notification Officer alongside Woody Harrelson who plays Tony, his senior officer.

Will is not happy about the new assignment but being a good soldier he goes through the motions. It soon becomes apparent that his Captain (Tony) is like a robot as he gives the instructions “just deliver the message, do not engage in conversation, do not offer words of sympathy and above all, do not touch the family member receiving the news.” In other words ‘show no compassion whatsoever.’

We look on as mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, pregnant girlfriends, sons and daughters collapse in tears, rage, pain, and denial. The viewer is pulled into the emotions of the hurt and pain, and the reality of the effects of war. There is very little happiness found in this film and if you are an anti-war film moviegoer this film will give you more incentive to protest against war.

These are the stories we don't often hear about. We don't hear about them because they are depressing. To hear about the many that die and the effect their deaths have on their families wouldn't make for highly rated prime time news.

If filmmakers are looking to tap into audiences more interested in the blood and gore shown in most films about war, ‘The Messenger’ might not be of interest but the viewer will become aware of the plight our soldiers and their families are facing.

This is a moving drama that takes a home-front look at the collateral damage of our current desert wars. The film puts us on the front porches of the families left behind and gives us a glimpse of the pain as Will and Tony deliver the worst possible news.

It also explores many of the core issues raised by any war -- loss, love, friendship, betrayal, duty and honor, and especially the Twilight Zone, that state of uncertainty, the unsettled state or condition - the very experience that separates those who have lived through battles and the rest of us. It lets us know that the soldier rarely returns home an unchanged person.

Though Will is mostly recovered from his combat wounds, and the chest full of ribbons that say he's a hero do little to assuage his survivor's guilt.

Later, while drinking beers in a bar, Tony says that the funeral of each and every dead American veteran should be televised. And that seems to be what Oren Moverman, who co-wrote the script with Alessandro Camon, is trying to do: bring home the loss behind each American casualty statistic, magnified by the grieving family members left behind and filtered through the guilt of the men who make it back alive. The Messenger achieves that goal very well.

If you follow my blog you will have noticed that I frequently post the current numbers of persons who have been killed since the U. S. involvement in the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I do this because I feel that these men and women and their families have become invisible to the public eye.

I recognized that film was shot on location around Fort Dix, New Jersey, the very area that I spent three years of my life meeting the planes of those wounded in Vietnam.

The movie tell us that within 24 hours of any soldier's death, the Casualty Notification Officers must locate the next of kin and deliver the barest of facts: when, where and how the soldier died, and little else. No hugs, no empathy, no help -- there are other soldiers who will follow offering some of that.

What it does not mention is that during the past 6+ years


U.S. families have received the knock of death on their door.

The movie has a small romance theme at one point but the purpose is to send the message of how war effects people. They do this by sending “The Messenger”.

If it is not too heavy for you - check it out!

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