A horrifying attack that occurs in a war zone half-a-world away can leave lasting emotional pain on even the seemingly most removed local community. That was certainly the case in spring 2004, when a platoon was ambushed in Sadr City, Baghdad, in an attack that came to be known as Black Sunday. The action that occurred on the ground in Iraq personally affected families in Texas, where relatives waited for news for 48 hours about what happened to their loved ones in the attack.
To highlight those tense emotions that the soldiers’ families felt in America, author Martha Raddatz has released an emotional book she has written about the attacks. The book, which is titled ‘The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family,’ has become a New York Times and Washington Post best-seller. To help promote the book, ShockYa is debuting an exclusive Q&A interview with the writer, as well as a behind-the-scenes interview video clip with the war correspondent.
In addition to being an author, Raddatz is also the ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent and co-anchor of ‘This Week with George Stephanopoulos.’ She has covered national security, foreign policy and politics for decades. During her on-air career, she has reported from the Pentagon, the State Department, the White House and conflict zones around the world.
In the Q&A and video clip, Raddatz discusses the highly anticipated series premiere of ‘The Long Road Home,’ which will debut on National Geographic on November 7. Over eight episodes, the event series will cut between the action the soldiers experienced on the ground in Iraq, and what their families experienced back home in Texas, while they waited to hear what happened to their loved ones.
‘The Long Road Home’ stars Michael Kelly as Lt. Col. Gary Volesky, the battalion commander who leads a daring rescue operation when the 1st Cavalry Division comes under attack by Iraqi insurgents. Jason Ritter portrays Capt. Troy Denomy, who leads the rescue convoys into the city following the dramatic ambush of the 1st Cavalry Division Platoon, and is a devoted family man with a wife and newborn son. Kate Bosworth has been cast as Capt. Denomy’s wife, Gina. Sarah Wayne Callies portrays LeAnn Volesky, who’s the wife of Lt. Col. Volesky, and a leader in the family readiness community.
E.J. Bonilla has been cast as Lt. Shane Aguero, the leader of the ambushed men. Noel Fisher portrays Pfc. Tomas Young, the heroic 24-year-old soldier and later peace activist who is severely wounded in this battle. Jeremy Sisto will take on the role of Staff Sgt. Robert Miltenberger, a career soldier on the cusp of retirement who has been stop-lossed for this deployment.
Read the Q&A interview with Raddatz below.
Why do you think this story has stuck with you for so long?
Martha Raddatz (MR): I have been a journalist my whole life, really. I’ve done some amazing things, and I’ve been to extraordinary places. I have been in a backseat of an F-15 on a combat mission. I’ve been in the streets of Baghdad. I’ve been a moderator at presidential debates.
There is nothing that has been more meaningful in my career than this story, and not just because of the story itself or the interviews I did. I’ve maintained these relationships; these guys are my brothers, and their spouses are my sisters.
It was the first time I had heard those stories of the Iraq War so closely. To hear Staff Sgt. Robert Miltenberger — a tough soldier who I thought kept it all in — talk about what had happened to him with such emotion and power was remarkable.
I had talked and read about war, but I had never seen it in that way. I had never truly seen the human toll, as well as how much these men were carrying with them, and how much it changed them. They changed from men in a minivan the week before to real warriors.
What has it been like for you to keep up with these men and their families?
MR: When you think about these men as I have, and see them over the years, you know these are the things that people forget. They initially hear about an event and think, isn’t that sad?
But what happened to the soldiers lasts forever. They will forever be those warriors on the streets of Sadr City. Those families and spouses who waited at home to hear about them, and later saw them when they came back, will forever remember that day. They will be forever changed. In many ways, it is growth and power. But they will not be the same people.
I have watched these soldiers and their families. Many of them grow, change and suffer. All come out of it in some way. But to see them walking the streets on set with me, and see how powerful it is for them, is one of those moments where we don’t really have to talk about what we are thinking about. We just know.
MR: You have often talked about the fact that these were everyday soldiers, as opposed to the special forces types who are so often portrayed by Hollywood. What about that interested you in telling their stories?
MR: We have all seen the extraordinary work of the Navy SEALs or our special operations forces and the special training they have. The soldiers in this story are the everyday guys who are working in our volunteer army. They are the guys who a week before were out with their wives, driving their kids to school or mowing their lawns. They are as close to you and me as anybody can be.
But they faced up to extraordinary challenges. When I go over there and see these guys who we all could have seen in the supermarket a week before, they’re now rising to the levels that they did in this battle to fight, survive and help others survive. They put themselves aside and fight for their brothers, families and all of us, that is truly extraordinary.
You have said that this is not a political story, but a human story. Can you explain what you mean by that?
MR: I think this is a universal story. It is not in any way partisan. It is a universal story of war, bonding and family, and how we all cope and face challenges. These are the greatest challenges you can ever face.
I have covered war for decades. But this story captured it in ways I’ve never seen before. These soldiers and their wives and children are global children of the world. It is the same story that I can see in war-torn countries, where people don’t speak my language. Yet I know, and I can see the same sort of bond.
What was it like for you to visit ‘The Long Road Home’ set and watch scenes being shot in the re-created Sadr City?
MR: As I was walking down the re-creation of Sadr City, I seriously found myself looking around and expecting bombs to go off. I was walking the same way here at Fort Hood that I would be walking in Iraq-it’s that real. To look around and have the memories I do from that time was pretty astonishing.
For me, one of the most powerful moments was to peek in the doors of the aid station that has been re-created and see the bandages on the floor, as well as the bloody boots and uniforms that had been cut off. I have been in real aid stations and combat support hospitals, so I know what happens in there. I have seen the miracles they can perform. But for me, to see that re-creation of that aid station and know how many wounded were in there, I could almost hear the sounds.
Both you and showrunner, writer and executive producer, Mikko Alanne, have taken great care to tell this story, and paint a very real picture of the impacts of war, from all sides. One entire episode is told from the point of view of an Iraqi interpreter who worked with the stranded platoon. Can you tell us about that character?
MR: I think the interpreter’s perspective is so important. During the worst parts of the war and in Sadr City, it was almost impossible to get the story of that other side. Mikko has now told the story of the Iraqis and Iraqi interpreter. Those people saved lives, and they took incredible risks to help those Americans.
I saw the interpreter who our character is based on many times afterward. His life became very difficult. For a while, he had to live at War Eagle, because he couldn’t go back into his community.
Yet people like him made that decision to help Americans and whoever they could, and do what they believed was the right thing. That is a part of this story that needs to be heard.
What do you hope viewers take away from watching this series?
MR: I hope after watching ‘The Long Road Home,’ people will not only remember the event and the people who fought in it, but also that this still goes on. These people’s lives are forever changed by what happened that day.
So I want people to remember the power of war and decisions. I also want people to remember what happens when a country goes to war, and what happens when you have volunteers who go in and fight for us or other people in other countries, whoever and wherever they are. People are willing to go deep inside themselves and find whatever it is that enables them to go into battle.
I hope that people will also think of those families who are at home and have to say goodbye to their loved ones, and not know if they will ever see them again, or if they do, whether they will be changed. Yet they find that fortitude and the resolve to kiss their loved ones goodbye and know that what they are doing is trying to do what is best for their country — whatever country that is.
What was it about National Geographic that made you trust them to tell this story?
MR: From the very beginning, I felt like when I listened to [National Geographic Global Networks CEO] Courteney Monroe and [National Geographic EVP of Global Scripted Development and Production] Carolyn Bernstein talk about how moved they were by the book, I knew their feelings were genuine. I knew they genuinely cared about telling this story in a way that respected the soldiers, their families and the way things happened, and they wanted more people to hear about it.
I knew that the people at National Geographic knew the universal realities of the story. But most of all, they knew that these were real human beings and a real story they had to take care of, and that they had to tell it in a way that respected and honored those who were there.