If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
–The Apostle Paul
Peacekeeping was the goal for the members of the First Calvary Division when they headed to Sadr City, Iraq in 2004. It was a quiet area with one incident in the previous calendar year.
Two weeks later, that peace turned into war and a desperate fight for survival.
The first two episodes of National Geographic’s new series The Long Road Home (tonight, 9 PM/8 CT) chronicles the events of Black Sunday and paints a multifaceted picture of war and its effects on not only the soldiers but their families seven thousand miles away. Based on the New York Times bestseller of the same name by ABC Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz, it’s intense, violent, and sad—sometimes all at once. It’s definitely must-see-TV (or at least must-DVR).
Each episode focuses, to some extent, on one of the main players in the Black Sunday attack on April 4, 2004. 1st Lt. Shane Aguero (EJ Bonilla) is the focal point of episode one as the leader of the group initially attacked. The viewer sees him at the outset playing with his two kids, each of whom are taking his deployment hard. His daughter is clinging to his side while his son wants absolutely nothing to do with him. His wife Amber (Kate Paxton) is left to deal with things until he returns, but she has a group of wives on base who have banded together to provide support until the boys come back (if they do).
Life at Camp War Eagle seems quite boring, but who really wants action when it could mean dying in the process? When Aguero’s battalion is ambushed, it’s the first time many of the troops have ever experienced live fire of that nature. It’s easy to tell the soldiers are a band of brothers, and when one of their own gets hit, it’s a race against time to keep him alive.
The second episode looks at the situation through the eyes of Lt. Col. Gary Volesky (Michael Kelly, seen above), a calm, mild-mannered man who lives a life of faith back home. There are flashbacks to his family praying before dinner and a few situations where he is asking God for faith in what would become two days of nightmares. One of the most heartbreaking parts of the episode is when a soldier introduces his mom to Volesky, who promptly demands reasons as to why her son is being forced to deploy. After calming her, he promises that everyone on the journey will return home alive. You can see his resolve shaken when he later learns one under his charge was killed. Aguero’s team calls for reinforcements, and when they head out (inadequately protected, BTW), Volesky stands beside the chaplain as he prays a long prayer for them. It’s easy to tell that the situation is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.
I was immediately struck by how galvanized the troops were to each other. Sure, they got on each other’s nerves and struggled with making the right decisions at times, but in the end, they all came together and took care of each together. This was in direct contrast to the interpreter they had on board (Jassim al-Lani, played by Darius Homayoun), who seemed to be dispensable—especially to Sgt Eric Bourquin (Jon Beavers). The writer of Ecclesiastes notes that “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up” (Eccl 4:9-10 NASB). It works in friendship, it works in marriage, and it works in life-and-death situations. That writer was pretty wise! We were not made to life live alone, and the first two episodes of The Long Road Home are testimony that is the case.