aaron isaacson, Afghanistan, ashley crandall, chad butrick, chad jukes, cody miranda, dan sidles, Erik Weihenmayer, heartland film festival, high ground, himalayas, invisible war, iraq, justin moore, Katherine Raggazino, kirby dick, lona parten, matt nyman, michael brown, mount lobuche, nepal, nicolette maroulis, Soldiers to the Summit, steve baskis, veterans, world t.e.a.m. sports
There stands a mountain – tall, snow covered peaks, formidable. What does one do? Stare at its beauty? Climb it? If so, why? Most would say simply because it’s there, that it’s one of the few ways to challenge nature and win.
For a group of 11 wounded veterans and one gold-star mother from the Afghan and Iraq wars, this is precisely what they set out to do in Michael Brown‘s documentary High Ground. This was the opening night film at this year’s Heartland Film Festival so as you can guess this one is a big deal. And it should be. Wounded warriors have gotten a lot of attention as of late and not just in the recent presidential debates/election. Their welfare is a serious concern that this nation faces as we wind down two wars that have lasted 10+ years.
With injuries both physical and psychological, these 12 heroes attempt “Soldiers to the Summit”, with the help of climber Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind person to touch the summit of Mt. Everest, and World T.E.A.M. Sports, a veterans support organization, to climb Mount Lobuche, elevation 20,075 feet.
Director Michael Brown gives an intimate introduction to the members of the group, most of whom give crushing details of their military service and their injuries. Brown also includes footage of the soldiers taken when they were on duty, helping fill in parts of their story, and intersperses actual combat footage, some of which showing explosions that may or may not have contributed to these soldiers’ wounds. It is unbelievably harrowing video that makes me appreciate what these folks do day in and day out when they are deployed.
The mental state of these soldiers is of particular note as it seems the ones with the physical injuries are more upbeat and positive whereas the ones with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are so unsure of their lives and their place in the world outside of the military. Ashley Crandall‘s story is one of the most tough. A Specialist in the Army National Guard, she suffers from PTSD despite not having seen combat itself. That, however, makes her no less a soldier than any of the others with whom she has served. Ashley is/was a helicopter mechanic that had been in Iraq since it’s initial invasion in 2003. Many people she knew have lost their lives or been injured. Couple that with the fact she was sexually assaulted (a gutting subject chronicled in Kirby Dick’s The Invisible War), and she has become suicidal. Her ascent on the mountain is one of the toughest to watch, but perhaps the most gratifying.
Chad Jukes, an Army Staff Sergeant, lost part of his right leg after being hit with an anti-tank mine in Iraq. An avid outdoorsman/climber prior to the accident wasted no time getting back on the mountain. His journey to Mount Lobuche is one that has helped him get back to where he was prior to his injury. His warmth and excitement about the trip is overwhelming, but certainly not the prevailing sentiment. While all are happy to be with other soldiers, the only family some of them have, others have too many issues to get them through the trip to the summit. But the best thing to watch is that they all have each others’ back. When one is down, there is another there to help pick them up. Truly a team effort
To relate each of the soldiers’ stories here would take up too much space and not do them the justice they deserve. Suffice it to say, each of those portrayed in this film have had hard times. We as a country need to rally around our returned, retired and active-duty soldiers and give them the support they need to reassimilate as best as possible. To not do so is national tragedy. This film is an example of what can be done, with the help of folks like World T.E.A.M. Sports, to aid the difficult transition back to civilian life, especially after incurring an injury. They should be commended.
This is difficult viewing. It’s not easy watching tough-as-nails soldiers break down when talking about what they’ve had to endure serving this country to help ensure our freedom. I hope that each of the soldiers in this film, as well as all who serve, are able to find their peace. It’s the least they deserve.
Visit the film’s website so you can find out more about each soldier here. With the Veteran’s Day celebrations happening this weekend and into this week, this is as good a time as any to watch this film and listen to these stories.
If you have Netflix, this film is available for streaming.
Here is the trailer: