As a citizen with a limited understanding and an even smaller exposure to active duty soldiers, veterans, war, and service, the effects of military life have always intrigued me. For years, my understanding of war and the military was based largely on news and entertainment rather than real-life experiences. Along the way, I’ve wondered what it looks like, behind the scenes, for those who make such a monstrous sacrifice for our country.
Heroes of the Long Road Home gave me a chance to really see what men and women who serve our country experience and what the impact that experience holds for their lives after war. This documentary follows journalist Martha Raddatz, author of the book “The Long Road Home,” as she maintains and navigates her relationships with the Black Sunday soldiers in the years following that devastating event.
I first learned of these soldiers and their families in the drama miniseries, The Long Road Home, which was adapted from Raddatz’s book. But the stories and events of Black Sunday and its soldiers stayed on my heart for a long time. And I wondered those same questions I had always wondered: How did the families move on? Were the survivors able to return to life as they knew it before their deployment? How did they cope with loss?
Heroes of the Long Road Home features footage ranging from 2004 to 2017, drawing special attention to the lives of Staff Sgt. Robert Miltenberger, Sgt. Eric Bourquin, Lt. Shane Aguero, and Col. Gary Volesky to show how each one carries with them scars of Black Sunday and the aftermath of those events.
Throughout the documentary, Raddatz draws special attention to Robert Miltenberger’s story. While most of the men had found some method of coping, Miltenberger seemed to get more lost in his canyon of guilt over a lie he told a soldier on Black Sunday to keep him from going into shock. He cries when he remembers the paralyzed soldier, screaming that he was paralyzed after being shot. Miltenberger told the young soldier he couldn’t feel anything because the others were all laying on him. “But nobody was laying on him,” Miltenberger says.
Raddatz takes us along as Miltenberger wrestles with his guilt, finds the courage to get help, and reunites with the paralyzed soldier. Toward the end of the documentary, Raddatz joins Miltenberger on the porch of his new home to grill burgers and when she encourages him that he’s doing better, he agrees.
For the soldiers of Black Sunday, coming home was really just the first step of the long road home. Perhaps that road home never really ends, and maybe that’s okay.
I walked away from Heroes of the Long Road Home full of compassion and pride not only for the soldiers of Black Sunday, but for every man and woman that has ever served and will serve, and for their families, the brave ones who live in uncertainty, wondering if their own soldiers will one day make the long road home.