Injuries and Veterans

In an effort to understand how combat-related injuries affect both life moving forward as well as a veteran’s perception of their service, we dedicated a week to filming with four veterans who suffered their injuries in the line of duty.

Ret. TSgt Leonard Anderson (U.S. Air Force), Ret. SGT Lonnie Gaudet (U.S. Army) and Ret. Sgt. Matthew Kinsey (U.S. Army) travelled to Michigan from around the country for or production. All three lost limbs while serving abroad, and all three are members of the Louisville Slugger Warriors, a fast-pitch softball team comprised of retired and active duty service members, many of whom have combat injuries. They were joined by MAJ Ivan Castro of Special Forces, who lost his sight while serving in Iraq in 2006.

First up was the Hamburg Fitness Center, owned by film supporter Tom Rau. We knew it was important to film our veterans in a fitness-related setting, all of them being athletes in their own right.  Impressive bench-presses, push-up challenges with nationally ranked Ironman Ryan Rau, and the use of prosthetics to accomplish serious feats of strength were all on display. 

We then headed to Pinckney, where we met up with the cross-country team from the Pinckney High School.  Major Castro, a former drill instructor, introduced the students to marching in formation with the assistance of Leonard, Lonnie and Matt.  The group first marched around the school’s track as the four guys shouted out cadences, then sped things up into double-time.  By this time the weather was at least 90 degrees, but not once did the group’s spirits flag.  Joining in was Mark Bowen aka “Flagman”.  Mark Bowen, a veteran of the Vietnam War, has run one mile for every soldier killed in that conflict – over 58,000 – and continues to do so for today’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, carrying a POW-MIA flag to raise awareness for those who have left home and never come back.

As with many young people, it’s often difficult to gauge the impact of an experience – and this was no exception.  But as we wrapped up our day’s athletics, we pulled a few of the young runners aside to ask how meeting and training with these four veterans had affected them.  We were delighted to find that they had found the experience just as rewarding as it was to film.

The next morning marked the second leg of our production week, as we headed up north to remote Mio, Michigan, where Executive Producer John Kulhavi maintains 1000 acres of woodland retreat.  Well, more like 995 acres of woodland retreat – “Camp Kulhavi” as it was affectionately dubbed during our stay also is home to a Go-kart track, putt-putt course, carnival rides and military artifacts such as a Scorpion British tank and Huey helicopter – Kulhavi himself is a retired Brigadier General who flew over 300 chopper missions during the Vietnam War and is today one of Michigan’s biggest veteran supporters.

After an afternoon of cruising on ATVs through the woods, piling onto the tank for a drive (with Ivan at the controls!) and Go-kart racing, the four veterans settled in at the camp house’s great room for a filmed open discussion about how their lives have changed since their injuries.  Listening to them speak about their experiences and struggles with one another opened us up to both their perspectives as well as the dynamic between fellow service members when talking about their experiences in the military.

Our veteran softball players returned to Detroit once more in September for a 9/11 remembrance game at Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, hosted by American House.  It was great to see Lonnie, Leonard and Matt in action with the rest of the Louisville Slugger Warriors as they took on the Detroit Connection, a senior softball team from Detroit.

By bringing these veterans together, we gained a closer look at the day-to-day effects of PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury and physical injury on veterans’ well-being.  We were able to witness the importance of camaraderie among service members, and how the “found family” that develops between members of the military is a source of strength and direction after they leave the service.