Brothers At War – Interview with Jake Rademacher and Gary Sinise
Being a sniper’s an extremely challenging job, both physically and even just the decision you have to make to pull the trigger.
Brothers at War is a new feature documentary film in which a civilian follows his two brothers, members of the 82nd Airborne Division, into the combat zones of Iraq. In June 2009 it will be shown in theaters at military bases around the United States and will be available on DVD in July.
Director/producer Jake Rademacher and executive producer Gary Sinise sat down with ArmchairGeneral.com to express their views on how the film may impact the American public’s perception of the war and the U. S. and Iraqi soldiers fighting it.
ArmchairGeneral.com: The personal, close-up coverage of a current and controversial conflict is a unique feature of this film. What aspects of the project led you to see something special in it?
Gary Sinise: I spent a lot of time on military bases and I’ve been to war zones many times, trying to do as much as I can to support the troops and I do it because one, I just believe when you’re at war, you have to back up your defenders. But two, I’ve met so many extraordinary people and see so many dedicated folks, serving our country that, when I saw this film, it visualizes what I see very well. It’s a great story about a brother’s love for his two brothers serving in the military and these two guys and the men and women who are seen in this film are the people that I see on these trips. I wanted to back this film in hopes that my involvement in it might bring some attention to it because more people can see a little inside look from a very personal point of view of who our military service members are and what they’re doing in this war zone.
ACG: The Rademacher family is often in the spotlight in this film. Will their real-life performances give a good idea of what most military families go through?
GS: I think many military families will relate to what the Rademachers go through (such as) difficult deployments. There’s pride that the family has for the two sons that are serving. There’s a great love of this brother, Jake Rademacher, who wants to find out a little more about his brothers, why they’re serving, what they’re doing over there. And so he puts himself at risk and goes over to Iraq with a camera crew and tries to find out. And I think it’s a very well put together documentary. It has humor and it’s moving and there’s action in the movie, you fall in love with the characters, it’s really a compelling story and a very important movie.
ACG: Your brothers and family put their emotions on the line for your film. How did making this movie ultimately affect them?
Jake Rademacher: When the film started there was, obviously, a great love for my brothers serving overseas. But there’s also a little bit of a distance, that the magnitude of the experiences that they had gone through, and our willingness but inability to connect with that through the thirty second clips we were seeing on the news of the war created a distance between all of us. The film’s really allowed all of us to come back together and reconnect. I’m proud of my family to being willing to put their inner thoughts and emotions on camera like they did. They’re not necessarily very sharing (about these things). It was not until they saw a trailer from Isaac’s departure and the first thirty hours of the footage that I shot that my mom and dad and Jenny and Danelle saw what I was trying to do and what was possible and then they committed to go on the journey with me and open up their personal lives to the audience.
ACG: The soldiers you were around and interviewed were thoughtful and articulate. Did you coach them at all to help them summarize their thoughts succinctly on film?
JR: I didn’t coach them; they don’t need to be coached. In fact that’s the exact opposite of what I was trying to accomplish. My goal was to not have guys talk about something that happened ten years ago and have it all cleaned up through the prism of memory. I wanted to be on the front lines with the guys – the edge of the battlefield – and have them talk about what they were going through while they were going through it. If I hadn’t been willing to go outside the wire with them the guys would not have been in the film. They wouldn’t have been willing to talk to me. And I think that’s something that was really important to me.
ACG: The role of the snipers is fascinating and not very evident in most “war” films. What motivates them, your brother included?
JR: Being a sniper’s an extremely challenging job, both physically – the danger you put yourself in by going out in small teams – but beyond that, the amount of focus it takes, even just the decision you have to make to pull the trigger. It’s a very proactive profession.
One thing that’s very interesting for a sniper is your bullet goes where you aim it. So there’s a certain comfort level in knowing that you’re not going to potentially kill people you don’t intend to kill. At the same time, what is a certain challenge to that job is they know that while they’re pulling the trigger while somebody’s putting an IED (improvised explosive device) in the middle of the road that, by taking that life they are saving the lives of potentially many soldiers and lots of kids that might be in the area when (the insurgent) hits pound on that cell phone. So it’s a very important and effective part of the war effort, but to the guys who have to do the job it’s a big challenge and I’ve got a lot of respect for the guys who are able to do that.
ACG: As in the case of the snipers, we see National Guardsmen right in the forefront of the fighting. In your opinion, do Americans really grasp and appreciate the danger these part-time heroes go through?
JR: I don’t know that they understand that the National Guard guys really have gone out to the front lines and have done their part to win the war on terror. As you see in the film, those snipers are on the front lines in the Sunni triangle between Ramadi and Fallusia. And I thought they were doing an awesome job. There’s a lot of National Guard units that have been taking casualties right alongside the Army and Marines. I personally think the best part of my generation is currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
AGC: Having been among them, what is your impression of the Iraqi soldiers and their commitment and ability to bring peace and security to their country?
JR: I was with the Iraqi army at a very interesting time. I was there with them in 2005 and 2006 before the surge. We were attempting to take away the staging ground for much of the foreign fighters who had come into Iraq and were operating in Ramadi and Fallusia and the Iraqi army got tasked with taking that ground back. They take casualties, they get shot at, they return fire, and they go out the next day. I had a chance to go into combat with these guys, and they didn’t drop their guns and run away. For me I still think it’s fascinating to look at the Iraqi army and where they are this moment in time. You don’t just snap your fingers and all of a sudden “poof” you’ve got an Iraqi army that is like U.S. Marine caliber. From what I hear from Isaac – and he’s just gotten back from Iraq on his 4th deployment – the Iraqi army is beyond where they were in the film. They’ve progressed to the point where now they are leading the charge. The American army is in a support role with them.
ACG: On the recon patrol, one of the soldiers mentions the importance of having patience. Is this a metaphor for how we should view the United States’ role in Iraq?
JR: I think it becomes apparent that there has been an effort on the part of the 1.5 million people who served overseas, (and) the Iraqi soldiers they’ve worked with, that an ongoing effort – for a lot of these Americans, 12 hour days, 6 days a week – and that’s why we are where we are in the war right now. The reason why we have the current level of success in Iraq is because a number of soldiers and Marines, Guardsmen, airmen sticking their hand out saying, “Hi, I’m Sergeant Smith. What can I do to help you?” – making that bond and that connection with the Iraqi people. I think where we’ve gotten in Iraq is great and I think if we just keep going the way we’re going, keep transitioning it to the Iraqi army, we have an opportunity to have a bright future over there.
ACG: You’ve been awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal for your work with the USO and Operation Iraqi Children. You’ve played memorable military characters. What message can you offer Americans on how we can better understand and support our men and women in uniform?
GS: I do not ever forget what happened on September 11th when 19 terrorists with box cutters took down two of the biggest buildings in the world and attacked the Pentagon and crashed a plane into a field in Pennsylvania that was surely bound for the White House or the Capitol, and I hope and pray that this determined enemy never gets hold of more serious weapons than box cutters. And if they, God forbid, ever did and if they ever got into an American city with some of those weapons; if that happened, everyone would be asking “How could we let this happen? Why didn’t we see this coming? Why didn’t we connect the dots? Why didn’t we stop this before a terrible tragedy happened?” The folks who are out there on the front lines trying to prevent that from happening are our volunteer military service members. And in these dangerous times, for me it’s important to support them because I never want to see that kind of thing happen in this country again.
ACG: There are a lot of messages to be gleaned from this film. What do you think is the most important?
JR: I think the portrait of the American war fighter that comes through the course of the telling of the story is one that in my mind would cause the audience to have a profound, renewed respect and appreciation for the people we have serving overseas.
An account of the challenges Rademacher had in chronicling the experiences of his brothers and others in the conflict is: Brothers at War Takes Audiences Behind the Headlines in Iraq at GreatHistory.com. For more information on the film, visit the Brothers at War Website.