News & Notes from Around the World: Memorial Day Edition

Sather Air Base is a memorial itself, named for Scott Sather who was the first Airman to be killed in action in OIF. The Scott Sather memorial was dedicated last year and this was the first Memorial Day to further honor him and everyone else who has served with the same distinction as Scott Sather.

Baghdad, Iraq – While millions of Americans take a day of from work to reflect and enjoy each others company, the aerial port of Baghdad and the USO, that serves the 1000 passengers a day, were working at full speed. “Mission Critical” is when important work takes priority above all else, but the meaning of this day is too important to over look.

USO Duty Manager, Courtney Haueter, lead the National Moment of Remembrance and the entire aerial port staff, passengers and visitors paused for a full minute at 3:00pm local time. USO customers ceased all calls, IMs, games and movies while the military crew of Sather Air Base paused operations during that time.

Commanding Officer of the 447th, Col Bruce Taylor USAF, led the Memorial Day ceremony and spoke of heroes gone and not forgotten.  Honor Guard for both the Air Force and Army took part in the remembrance and did outstanding work in saluting their brothers in arms.

An essay by Theater of War‘s Bryan Doerries in today’s Washington Post – After a reading of Sophocles’ “Ajax” and “Philoctetes” for members of the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Stewart, Ga., a soldier approached me. His hands were trembling and he was fighting back tears.

“For a while now, I have been separated from my unit, the guys I fought alongside downrange. Being separated from your unit is like being stripped of your humanity. I think Sophocles wrote these plays to bring soldiers together to restore their humanity.” He leaned closer, his eyes locking with mine. “Without our humanity, none of this means anything.”

I held the soldier’s gaze and shook his hand, thanking him for his comment, which I promised to share with military audiences at performances throughout the United States…

Watching the soldier at Fort Stewart exit the auditorium last month, it suddenly seemed un-coincidental to me that the ancient plays that we were performing for the U.S. military during the ninth year of the war in Afghanistan and so many years into Iraq depicted what happened to the Greek armed forces during the ninth year of the Trojan War. Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, the visionary leader who made our project possible, has said repeatedly of today’s armed forces: “Never has so great a burden been placed upon the shoulders of so few on behalf of so many for so long.”

We are not a nation at war. We are a nation with a volunteer army at war… Click here to read the full essay.

From Snag Film’s Rick Allen – “For 99% of Americans, Memorial Day is a chance to circle a barbeque grill; for us, it’s about gathering together in a cemetery.” Probably nothing captures the enormous gulf between how veterans and civilians treat Monday’s national holiday than that quick but pointed reminder I heard Wednesday from Paul Rieckhoff.  Paul is the charismatic founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and author of the acclaimed book Chasing Ghosts, about his tour of duty in Iraq.  As most of us celebrate the “official” start of summer this weekend, hopefully the words of Paul Rieckhoff, or the roar of Rolling Thunder, or the quiet comfort that the USO brings every day to service families, will break through our routine.

My generation was the first beneficiary of our modern volunteer armed service, in the sense that no longer would all able-bodied men be expected to spend time in uniform.  The ability to outsource our service keeps us personally untouched by combat, but raises societal issues and comes with countervailing personal trade-offs. Sebastian Junger’s new book War and his companion film Restrepo vividly detail the depth of camaraderie that come from absolute commitment to the safety of your fellow squad members.  Those of us around our family barbeques can instinctively appreciate how common mortal danger binds brothers and sisters-in-arms; our challenge now is to find better ways to hold our veterans close to the whole community and to demonstrate our appreciation for what they’ve given for our freedoms.

IAVA joins many other governmental and non-profit organizations in working on the full range of issues facing today’s returning warriors. At a time when our economy struggles to produce new jobs, an estimated 30% of veterans of our current conflicts are out of work.  The Veterans Administration is more invigorated under Secretary Shinseki than it has been in many decades – but a huge number of vets, particularly the young ones, will never willingly walk into a VA hospital or ask for government help, despite what may be significant need.

Many organizations are hard at work to bridge these gaps. The USO assists service members and their families around the world. IAVA has created an incredible online community of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan operations, and advocates for federal action on jobs, health, education and other pressing vet issues. There are various levels of government that deliver services as well as recreational opportunities to active duty warriors and their families, and veterans.  But more is needed, from our society collectively and each of us individually.

Leon Cooper will be on CNN Monday morning. Leon is 90, a WWII vet living in Los Angeles and working with a consistency and energy of someone in his 20s. That’s how old he was at Tarawa, one of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history. Leon returned to that atoll when he learned that the beach that held the bones of his fallen comrades was now a garbage dump for islanders without arable land for alternatives.  His final campaign is captured in the film Return to Tarawa, which you can watch here.  Thanks to Leon’s indomitability, the power of the film, and the tools of SnagFilms, Congress last year directed the Department of Defense to identify the remains on Red Beach and bring them home.  In two months, the DOD teams will wing west to begin a task of memory and responsibility we have deferred for nearly 7 decades.

Kyle Maynard spends significant time working with wounded warriors.  An exceptional athlete honored with an ESPY and a shelf of other awards, best-selling author and motivational speaker, Kyle was born without complete limbs.  His motto, “No Excuses”, completely encapsulates how he lives his life. (A new film about Kyle will air on ESPN in November and you can learn more here.) Not long ago, I spent an afternoon at Ft. Myer, Virginia, with Kyle and a group of Iraq and Afghanistan vets with serious physical injuries resulting from their service.  We gathered around an exercise mat, and Kyle put the six men and one woman through a daunting workout – but from my fly-on-the-wall vantage point, the greatest outcome of the day came from the conversation among the participants.  The service members joining Kyle knew he only had a civilian’s perspective … but they also knew that his physical challenges had been life-long. They had in common much more than what they lacked; each was working every minute to turn loss into motivation, not cause for withdrawal.

We too need to make an effort, each in our own way. Memorial Day provides many such opportunities.  At the very least, it provides the chance for reflection and appreciation. Our founder, Ted Leonsis, coined the term “filmanthropy” to combine the communication power of film with the interactivity of the web, and allow an engaged audience new ways to start a conversation or take an action. We’ve pulled 11 films together from different conflicts and perspectives for Memorial Day – you can watch them from the widget below, or at http://bit.ly/SnagMemorialDay .  Enjoy them alone or with others. And make your Memorial Day into something to remember.

Entertaining Warriors in an Avatar Age

By Rick Allen, CEO, SnagFilms

We need neither the nightly news nor the great HBO series The Pacific to remind us of the painful mix of horror and boredom that is the daily lot of those who serve our country in wartime.  We expect warriors to summon heroism as easily as snapping a salute, but even the safest civilian realizes instinctively that it isn’t so simple.  And we know the demands that service also places on families of those in action – or headed to or returning from the fight.  For both warriors and families, across seven decades, the USO has created oases of normalcy in a world turned upside down.

Entertainment has always been a key element of the USO’s approach, and now a tradition that has stretched from Bob Hope and Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe, to Kid Rock and Master P and Carrie Underwood, is adding a new online element. The USO and SnagFilms are working together to bring the best in documentary films to the more than 130 USO Centers around the world.  We have pulled together a special “USO Theater” that will live on computers at USO Centers, and can be shared among service members, families and communities, and placed on blogs and facebook pages.  Just as in a real theater, viewers will be able to see full length films – this time, for free.  We’ll swap out the films regularly with others from our library of over 1150 titles.  Below you’ll see this week’s selections:


more about “Browse Section: USO Theater“, posted with vodpod

I’d welcome thoughts of films we should offer.  We’ve approached this in the way that the USO has traditionally viewed entertainment – primarily as a release and an opportunity to focus on something other than the central mission. So although SnagFilms has terrific films on all aspects of our current action in Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflicts, the USO Theater will offer other topics. We’re particularly pleased to include a world premiere of a movie that is quintessentially American and yet features an intense competition that’s as far removed from combat as you can imagine: fantasy baseball. The film is Fantasyland; it’s from the producers of Hotel Rwanda, Year of the Yao and An Education. It is a hilarious look at a growing pastime – more than 34 million Americans have played fantasy sports – through the eyes of a young Wall Streeter for whom success in a legendary pros league overwhelms every other aspect of his life. You’ll see that less than a 90 foot base-path separates “fan” from “fanatic”.

We’re also offering Return to Tarawa.  It’s the only military-themed film in this month’s USO Theater, but we violate our general rule for a reason: Return to Tarawa not only covers why we fought one of the bloodiest engagements in WWII, but what we must do now. It’s the story of, Leon Cooper, who served in the Pacific campaign and is waging a new battle to identify and repatriate the remains of his fallen comrades.  Thanks to Discovery’s Military Channel, we first showed Leon’s story last Memorial Day; since then, it’s been not only one of our most-viewed films, but has also led to Congressional action asking the Department of Defense to bring these fallen home. Return to Tarawa reminds us that we owe a societal debt to those who defend us … and proves the point that you should never mess with a vet!

In WWII alone, more than 1.5 million volunteers supported the troops through USO, including giving more than 420,000 performances. That tradition is very much alive today, and with the many new initiatives led by its President, Sloan Gibson, including the new Wounded Warrior Center at Walter Reed, the USO will continue to connect our service members and their families with the communities they defend. At SnagFilms, we are proud to work with them. We hope our USO Theater will top that 420,000 performance mark before this Memorial Day – and by sharing films through the USO and with one another, we will entertain those who serve, and energize those who are protected. Think of it as our digital care-package and enjoy.