The National Geographic eight-episode miniseries “The Long Road Home” premiered before an audience of soldiers, family, cast and crew members at Fort Hood’s Abrams Gym on Friday.
“The Long Road Home” is based on ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz’s book, and follows the events that surrounded the April 4, 2004, ambush of soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, in Sadr City — a poor suburb of Baghdad, Iraq — that some soldiers have dubbed “Black Sunday.”
The battle took the lives of eight American soldiers and wounded at least 60 more.
“We feel a part of the ‘Long Home Road’ family and we feel part of the Army family,” Raddatz said. “Knowing that the families are here tonight, it’s going to be difficult but, they are brave and strong.”
Raddatz said this depiction is the most real war movie she has ever seen.
“These are not action figures, these are not quick sound bites, you get to know these people as human beings, the families back home, as the soldiers on the front line and what it is like as a soldier on the front line and what it is really like,” Raddatz said.
Raddatz said she hopes people will not only remember the event, and the people who fought in it, but remember that this still goes on.
“What happened that day is a story that will go on forever, their lives are forever changed,” Raddatz said. “So, I want people to remember the power of war, the power of decisions and what happens when a country goes to war, and what happens when you have volunteers who go in and fight for us or other people in other countries, whoever and wherever they are.”
The miniseries was filmed at multiple locations across Fort Hood and required recreating Camp War Eagle and altering Elijah MOUT (military operations in urbanized terrain) site to resemble Sadr City during the early part of operations in Iraq.
“It’s been one of the greatest and extraordinary experiences of my life to get to know the soldiers and families in the story,” said Mikko Alanne, the screenwriter and an executive producer on the project. “It just feels still incredible to me that we were able to film here on Fort Hood.”
Col. Matthew Van Wagenen, a deputy commander with the 1st Cavalry Division, represented the division during the premiere.
“First and foremost, we want to thank NAT GEO and Martha for bringing this story to life,” Wagenen said. “It’s more than a story of soldiers and a battle, it’s the story of the families and what happened to them that’s such an integral part of the Army experience.”
Cast members Noel Fisher — best known for his role as Mickey Milkovich on the hit Showtime series “Shameless” — and Sarah Wayne Callies, who portrayed Lori Grimes in AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” joined a star-studded cast that attended the premiere on the Army post. Along with Raddatz and Alanne, actors EJ Bonilla, Jon Beavers, Jorge Diaz, Ian Quinlan, Darius Homayoun, Joey Luthman, and Roland Buck were also present.
Military veterans of the battle and soldiers portrayed in the film, Eric Bourquin and Aaron Fowler, were also in attendance and said the process reunited many of the unit’s veterans and family members. It was also surreal to be on set of a production that was like the experience they endured in the battle.
“Getting the opportunity to reconnect with my friends and their family members has been just an amazing part of the experience. And I think it’s been really helpful for me personally, for healing,” Fowler said.
Fowler said he wanted the film made so the story of his friends could be told and forever memorialized.
“We have a saying — it’s pretty old — that a warrior never truly dies until the last time his name has been spoken,” Fowler said. “To know that forever from now on, as long as digital information is in existence, that people will be able to look back on what people like Sgt. Eddie Chen gave for their country and for their friends, for each other; it’s overwhelming.”
What Bourquin wants people to take from this series is that the sacrifices are real and what happened was real.
“The men and women who continue to die to protect our nation are just people like you, people like me, people like all of my friends, and war doesn’t end for the participants at the end of the war,” Bourquin said. “The harder part is getting back, trying to be normal.”
Callies, who portrays LeAnn Volesky, the wife of then Lt. Col. Gary Volesky — who was commander of 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, during the battle — said this film differs from other war movies she’s seen because it’s the only war story she’s ever seen that passes the Bechdel Test.
“This is a story about women’s experiences in war alongside the men’s experiences in war, and it’s a story of women supporting one another,” Callies said. “It’s extraordinary because I think it acknowledges that the armed services are a family affair. Whether it’s your mother who is serving or your brother, it involves the entire family, and it involves so much of your heart and your attention, and for so many people your prayer.”
“The Long Road Home” miniseries will premiere at 8 p.m. Nov. 7, on the National Geographic Channel.