"Thank You For Your Service" may be considered a biographical drama, but it is nothing short of a true story.
Disclaimer: this article contains spoilers.
Miles Teller plays the role of Army Staff Sgt. Adam Schumann who is finally reunited with his family in Kansas after three tours in Iraq. The film opens up with the homecoming of Schuman and two other soldiers, Tausolo Aieti (played by Beulah Koale) and Will Waller (played by Joe Cole).
Each one of these stories brings so much to light for civilians. There are plenty of long-term effects that come with military duty, one of which Americans associate the most with military veterans: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
What does having PTSD really mean? How do civilians recognize the symptoms? How do we respond to them?
The sound of a pen clicking, the knock on a door, or in this movie's case, the hushed whir of voices and echos in a mall food court-- all possible triggers to a physical tantrum. However, what we may not consider are the other consequences veterans face, many of which are personified by Tausolo Aieti and Will Waller.
After spending the plane ride bragging about his excitement for his future wedding, Waller arrives home from his tour to find his house, bank accounts, and life completely drained. His significant other left with no explanation, took everything and refused a number of his calls.
Schumann tried his best to keep Waller going by providing him with not only a house, but a home, yet Waller still shot himself in the head at the front desk of the bank where his ex-girlfriend worked after being refused an explanation. His suicide leaves everyone wondering if there was more that could have been done to prevent it.
Is fighting a war to protect your home worth it if you have no home to return to? Was there a way out for Waller? Is there a way out for other veterans in the same situation?
Tausolo Aieti was convinced from the very beginning that the military saved his life. From a civilian standpoint, this leads many to believe Aieti was mixed up with the wrong crowd and headed down a very dark path in life. Joining the service gives people like him a purpose. It provides discipline and financial security.
It could also mean getting blown up seven times and losing your memory, unable to remember your son's name or even what day of the week it is. It could mean losing a limb or two or three or four on duty, and waiting in line for hours – just to hope a doctor can see you within the next six to eight weeks.
When the military has become your crutch, what happens when you can't re-enlist? Where do you go? What do you do?
Upon his arrival home, Schumann comes face to face with the wife of one of his deceased comrades who begs him to tell her what happened to her husband, James Doester. Following some eye-opening experiences at home – including visiting the veteran who was sniped under Schumann's watch, who Schumann then carried and accidentally dropped while exiting the ambush – it isn't until the end of the movie when he had been home for several months that he's finally able to face her.
Aside from living with the guilt of someone else's life being ended and their family completely altered forever because of a personal decision, Schumann also faces the difficulty of living with the fact that Doester died because he told Schumann to stay back and recover while he took his place in a mission.
"I should have been there," he tells himself and others repeatedly. How do you move past something like that? How do you forgive yourself? Is there a way to find peace?
As a civilian, there's no way for me to know the answers to the questions this story poses, but as a civilian who has personal ties to a soldier, I can only hope that the passion and determination these servicemen have to make it home safe is even half as much as they have for their job.
At times, military personnel are faced with making unfathomable decisions that they and those their decisions have affected have to live with for years to come. They lie awake at night questioning their identity, their purpose in life, and whether or not anything in life is really worth it when they're constantly fighting death.
The sad reality is that there's nothing one can say or do to make these crisis thoughts leave a soldier's mind. Families wonder day in and day out what they can do to make the situation easier, and it's so hard to accept the fact that the only people who can ultimately change the situation are the soldiers themselves.
The only thing we can do is provide a sense of much needed stability, through unconditional love and support.
Something extremely humbling (aside from the film) is Adam Schumann's outlook on civilians saying, "Thank you for your service" to soldiers they see in public.
To him, and many other soldiers alike, the phrase has lost all meaning. However, there is an alternative way to show appreciation – a phrase he didn't realize held so much power until it brought him to tears:
"This man grabs my hand really hard, looks me right in the eyes, and he says, 'Welcome home, son,' and turns around and walks away. I sat down in my truck, and just started to cry.
Outside of family, no one said that to me, and it hit me hard. If you're going to say anything to soldiers, say, 'Welcome home.' That's all you have to say."
– Army Staff Sgt. Adam Schumann
To all active and retired veterans, Sgt. Schumann included, welcome home.
If you haven't had the chance to see Thank You For Your Service, book your tickets soon.
If you're a veteran seeking help or a civilian looking for more information on how you can help veterans and families of veterans, please visit the link above.