By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
March 13, 2009 - On location in the Middle of Nowhere, Iraq, filmmaker Jake Rademacher focused his lens on a unit of young reconnaissance troops with whom he's embedded. For five days they wait in the desert near Syria, watching idly for smugglers bringing weapons, cash or foreign fighters across the border. Conversation is the only thing that colors the monotony of the blank horizon.
One soldier says he joined the ranks to make his father proud. Another is confident his duty will benefit posterity. And a crew-cut junior enlisted troop says through a wad of chewing tobacco he's not sure why wears the uniform.
"If you find out, let me know," he tells Rademacher.
At the heart of Rademacher's documentary "Brothers at War" are the kind of open-ended questions many civilians have about what U.S. servicemembers do and why. Using his own family as a microcosm, Rademacher paints an intimate portrait that seeks to understand the commitment and sacrifice attendant to military service.
The Rademacher clan represents a compelling cross-section, with two of Jake's brothers, Isaac and Joe, serving as active-duty soldiers.
The film follows Jake to Iraq, where he shadows Isaac, a captain in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, on his second deployment in Mosul. Jakes also walks a mile in the shoes of Joe -- a 23-year-old staff sergeant sniper and Army Ranger also in the 82nd Airborne -- when he joins snipers at "hide sites" in the Sunni Triangle.
The culmination of Rademacher's multiple journeys to Iraq amounted to 35 interviews, 25 missions and 400 hours of tape, which he distilled into a feature-length film.
"Brothers at War" is being released today at seven locations. The film will be shown at theaters in Columbus, Ga., near Fort Benning; Fayetteville, N.C., close to Fort Bragg; Jacksonville, N.C., near Camp Leujeune; Arlington, Va., and here, close to the Pentagon, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Bethesda Naval Hospital and other military installations. The documentary also will play at theaters in Chicago and Warrenville, Ill.
"I wanted to dive right into the front lines," Rademacher said at the National Press Club here after an advance screening of the film. "And I learned about my brothers through their brothers in arms."
On the home front, the documentary illustrates the effects that repeated deployments have on spouses and children. But the film is far from a social commentary, and there is a distinct absence of a political or moral agenda.
After the Feb. 20 screening, Isaac revealed that Jake's motivation for making the film was two-fold. He wanted to document Isaac's life as a memento for his young daughter, Hunter, in case Isaac didn't return from duty.
Jake also wanted to open the eyes of the American public to the reality of the front lines, Isaac said.
"I've never seen anything that shows so much truth and then steps away," he added.
Gary Sinise, one of the film's executive producers, attended the screening along with a group of soldiers recovering at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center here. Sinise was eager to sign onto the project after it was screened for him last year, he said.
"Brothers at War presents such a positive depiction of military families," he said. "It's a great American documentary that speaks my language."
Army Sgt. 1st Class Jorge Pineiro, a liaison for wounded troops recovering at Walter Reed, said he could see the emotion on the faces of the 10th Mountain Division soldiers with him at the screening.
"Rademacher did an excellent job representing what the soldiers go through while stationed in Iraq," Pineiro said. "And you could see it on the faces of the soldiers over here.
"Some of them, you could see some emotion, some of them were reliving what they went through over there," he said. "It was pretty emotional."