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Bastards Road
by Karen Pecota

Filmmaker Brian Morrison debuts his first feature documentary with Marine veteran Jon Hancock in Bastards Road. Morrison collaborates with novelist and screenwriter Mark Stafford to tell Hancock's story of what it is like for a combat veteran to transition back into civilian life.

Today, only 1% of our United States population serves in our military. Only 1 in 100,000 experience combat. When veterans return home, their biggest challenge is living among their fellow countrymen and women who are vastly unaware of the psychological burdens they bring home. They will struggle with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), survivor's guilt and moral injuries for the rest of their lives. Each man and woman will return to their hometown or elsewhere, separated from their once all-encompassing network of relationships from the battlefield, to being alone with people who don't have the same intense shared experiences nor are they able to understand.

Listening to an interview with WWII (World War II) veteran, Major Dick Winters of Easy Company, which the HBO television mini-series THE BAND OF BROTHERS is based, mentions that after WWII many of the American soldiers married British, Dutch and French women because they had shared experiences. The women in these countries also lived through the tragedies of this war. Winters explains that there was a mutual admiration and understanding of what each went through to stay alive.

Morrison explains Hancock's background, "In 2004, Hancock fought in the Battle of Ramadi with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines (2/4) historically known as the Magnificent Bastards. During that deployment, 2/4 suffered the highest casualty rate in the Iraq War. One in four were wounded or killed. After Ramadi, Jon served in Human Intelligence for several more tours before getting out of the Marines in 2009."

PTSD is a term we often hear and try to understand. Combat-specific PTSD is different in that it's not the result of a singular traumatic event. It is many traumatic events that compound over the course of months or years that have never been processed. Living in a continual cycle of life-threatening experiences of acting and reacting is the cause for the trauma to be deeply rooted.

The Veterans Affairs report of 2019 states that more than 60,000 veterans committed suicide from 2008-2017. The suicide rate for veterans is 50 % higher than it is for non-veterans. The youngest veterans from recent conflicts, aged 18-24, have the fastest growing suicide rate, having increased 76% over the same timeframe.

Struggling with PTSD for years, Hancock eventually decides he will not join the statistics of suicide casualties of those veterans after returning to civilian life. He chooses a unique mode to heal from his battle scars by taking one step at a time. Hancock commits to literally walking on foot across America. Along his 6,000 mile journey, Jon confronts the demons that tried to rob him of an emotionally sound life and visits every one of his 2/4 Marine comrades still living and the families of those in their company that had fallen.

Morrison and Stafford say, "Most people understand the ultimate sacrifice some make on the battlefield, but few realize there is a different type of sacrifice made by those who make it home." Morrison gives us insight into the realities of why the bonds with such a military band of brothers are unbreakable. They note, "Those that serve in the military commit themselves to the purpose of becoming a link in a chain, to follow orders when commanded, to be trained into a cohesive unity that is able to operate under the dire and stressful conditions of combat." They continue, "War fighters learn to compartmentalize so they can do their jobs as effectively as possible. The most natural emotional reactions like griefs doubt, regret, shame, and fear are shoved away...until you get home."

Morrison's Bastards' Road hopes to shed light on the issues combat veterans face and how better to walk along side of veterans in their journey toward healing. Hancock's story is a hopeful one and truly an inspiration to all.