Soldier behind the film: It’s everybody’s issue

In theaters from director Jason Hall, DreamWorks and Universal Pictures is a story based on the book by David Finkel that reminds us to sincerely say “Thank You for Your Service.”

Adam Schumann (Miles Teller) is a soldier returning from Iraq with wife Saskia (Haley Bennett) waiting. The transition is made more difficult when Adam struggles to fit in at home once again. Memories on the battlefield not only follow him home, but his buddies Solo (Beulah Koale), Dante (Omar J. Dorsey) and Doster (Brad Beyer) as well.

When his buddy Mike (Scott Haze) shows up, Adam understands what he is going through and offers him a spot on the couch. Each of these men needs so much more and feel that no one is listening. As Adam becomes more and more disconnected from everything around him, Saskia knows it’s time to find help where ever they can.

That’s when dealing with the VA begins, and the complications of helping returning vets are exposed. Hearing of a place that might have a space opening up soon, at the last minute Adam gives it to one of the others believing it’s his obligation to help the guys in his unit. But what he carries inside him about an event in Iraq finally comes to the surface, and Adam knows its time to speak openly.

He is one of thousands, and it’s time we hear them all.

I had the opportunity to speak with Adam Schumann about his experiences in watching his story come to the screen and how he is doing now.

Jeri Jacquin: Hello Adam. I truly appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today.

Adam Schumann: Hi Jeri. I have to thank you, too, for hanging out with me today.

JJ: My apologies in advance because I’m sure you have been asked this question before, but can you tell me your thoughts about hearing your story was being made into a film?

AS: I actually thought, “Great, if it happens!” and I didn’t give it much thought after that, really. I wasn’t sure how they were going to put my life into a movie at first actually. It seemed a task in itself.

JJ: What was the experience like for you?

AS: It has been a long process working on the film and helping this thing come to fruition. It has been a spectacular journey, and I’m so glad they let me be a part of it all.

JJ: What was your role in “Thank You for Your Service?”

AS: I was kind of a technical adviser, making sure all the uniforms were right and if something was off I would let them know. Jason (the director) says my fingerprints are all over the film! Oh, the radio in the Humvee that you hear is my voice, as well. I wrote all the dialogue and talk on the radio for the background. I had a cameo where I get to welcome “myself” home too. I also sing the final credit song with Bruce Springsteen.

JJ: Oh no way, seriously?

AS: Yes! That is an old Army cadence I was singing in the shower one day, and it turns out that Bruce Springsteen liked it. He sang it, and had me sing the back up and the chorus with him. It was amazing that we worked on it together.

JJ: So, that’s a little bit of a mind blower!

AS: Right? I mean… yea! I also got to work with the actors and do some weapons training too. I did everything I could and help in any way I could, and I would even carry things around the set because I wanted to be of help in all ways. I was so happy to be working on this.

JJ: These are hard questions sometimes for me to ask because, as a mom of a three-tour veteran, there is a line I don’t want to cross which conflicts with the writer in me who knows I need to ask the questions.

AS: What branch and did your son do?

JJ: He was in the Army and drove Humvees and tanks.

AS: Well, please ask whatever questions you like and don’t worry.

JJ: Thank you. So let’s go for the big question then — when you were participating and watching “Thank You for Your Service” being made, how was it for you to see it all come back in a way.

AS: It was very therapeutic, actually. It’s not often you get to take a trip down memory lane, and I mean really take that trip down memory lane. It’s a chance to dig into it, and I mean really dig into it and relive each experience and then have everyone around you sharing it and working on that very same memory in a movie.

There were tough days where we would shoot certain scenes, and it was difficult, but overall it was just very therapeutic. I actually think it was the best therapy I’ve had in the past 10 years.

JJ: I wasn’t expecting that answer.

AS: Well, you get to see your progress. You look back at how bad it was, and I look at myself in the mirror today and I’m still here. I’m still kicking, and I’m not stopping so – it’s good.

JJ: I’m sure it was strange to watch Miles Teller portray you because you are watching you.

AS: He’s great. I guess when I see Miles I see anyone who was in that position in Iraq at that time. He is an infantry squad leader trying to take care of his guys, while at the same time he has a wife and child at home. I guess I look at it like he represents hundreds of thousands of people in that situation, not just me.

JJ: With what you went through, digging into your life, how has what you experienced changed you?

AS: Wow. I would like to think it has changed me for the better. I think I have a better understanding of sensitivity toward humanity and maybe more empathy. I don’t know, I just think that now I’m here and can look back at it all. It’s made me a stronger and better person — that’s it.

JJ: The film deals a lot with PTSD, and once the film is over there are so many questions on how to deal with this issue. The barriers are heartbreaking. For you, how did you deal with those barriers?

AS: I really just wanted to get better, and I really wanted to be myself again. Every time I would run into a door or barrier, I would just figure out a way around it. It was probably the hardest fight of my life to just get back to who I was, and the biggest revelation of that is that you are not going to get back to who you were before. You are not going to be that person again after an experience like that. It was just fighting every step of the way because I wanted to be better for my kid and for my wife. I wanted to be happy again.

JJ: I know there are so many soldiers out there going through the same situation, and no one can understand that fight but the soldiers, themselves.

AS: I had my days where I wanted to give up, and you see that in the film. When some small little nuisance in your life trips you up, you want to throw your hands up in the air. I don’t know what kept bringing me back, I really don’t. It’s crazy thinking about it now, going through all of that.

JJ: When I was watching the film, knowing that there is more than one person going through this but actually thousands of people, it’s astounding.

AS: There are hundreds of thousands because there were 2.5 million soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 16 years. They say one in five has TDI or PTSD, so you are looking at 500,000 people at least — at least! That’s a big number.

JJ: That’s a staggering number, and as a parent you look at your child and see them struggling and you wonder, “How do other parents do this?” It’s not like when they were teenagers and you do the ‘”straighten up and fly right” parental attitude. How has this been for your family?

AS: Saskia and I divorced a bit after David Finkel wrote the book “Thank You For Your Service,” but now it’s actually been good. We live in the same town, and we split the kids week on and week off. The kids are extremely happy and thriving, and Saskia is remarried and happy. I’m just doing my thing, and I’m happy. Everybody is actually doing really well.

JJ: So what is your thing now?

AS: I hunt and fish a lot. That’s my thing! When I’m not doing the full-time dad gig, I do a little bit of work, and then I try to go hunting or fishing every day.

JJ: What are you fishing for? I saw a photo of you with a fish and it was huge!

AS: It doesn’t matter to me. If there is water, I’m going to fish in it. It does not matter. I usually go out and catch dinner, get some veggies, and that’s my day.

JJ: It’s not a bad day.

AS: I’m just trying to keep it simple and keep it light. I’m trying to go back to the things I missed when I was in really bad places. You have to keep it simple. The simpler it is the better it is, and that’s what I’m finding out.

JJ: The title “Thank You for Your Service,” I have had some military say it has a different meaning for them whether good, bad or indifferent. What does it mean for you?

AS: I use to get embarrassed when people said it, and I would think, “Why are you thanking me?” You really don’t know what to say because it’s the beginning and an end to a conversation. It’s a statement and that’s it. It’s not a “Hi, how are you doing?” kind of thing — that’s it.

I don’t know many military soldiers that signed up to be in the military for people to say, “Thank you for your service.” It’s not about free meals on Veterans Days and stuff like that. It can make it awkward.

I think the movie title is, however, you want to take it as a person. What does “Thank you for your service” mean to you, and what are we thanking them for? I think the title works well, but as far as saying it to a veteran there are other things you could say like, “How are you doing?” or “Welcome home,” which is a great one.

JJ: When people ask, “How are you doing now?,” how is it for you?

AS: I get asked that one, but I never thought of it being an odd or difficult question. That one doesn’t bother me at all ever. It shows a genuine interest, and it’s a conversation and it opens the door. At the end of this story, you genuinely want to know how that guy is doing.

JJ: Sort of feels like a “mom” question right? You want your child to be happy and well, and you want that part of their life to not be their life.

AS: Absolutely. You want to take that pain away and absorb it, but you can’t. I can’t imagine my own children going through what I did. My mom, sometimes she will walk in on a conversation I’m having with my little brother where I’m telling him some gnarly stuff, and she has to turn and walk out of the room. She has always been there for me in that nurturing way, and she is my best friend. We have dinner once a week together and we hang out having a good time. I wouldn’t be who I am without her. We have talked about how hard it all was and being gone so much. As a parent, you sit and watch the news and wonder how your child is doing 5,000 miles away.

JJ: From you, when people walk out of the theater after watching “Thank You for Your Service,” what do you hope they take away with them?

AS: I hope a few things. I hope it gets people thinking, I hope it gets people talking about this issue. It’s not just a military issue. It’s everybody’s issue. None of us get through life without experiencing some pretty severe trauma, and if you do you are fortunate.

Trauma is universal, and it’s not biased and doesn’t care who you are.

I think this will help people accept that, and start talking about it, and if they know someone who has experienced something bad that they will lend an ear and help relieve some of that weight. I hope people help each other and have hope. I wish for a little more love and happiness and help each other out. We are all in this together, and when you are in a position to help, do so. And if you need help — ask for it.

JJ: You are amazing Adam, and I want to thank you so much for spending time with me today. I know you have heard it a million times but this is from me — a mom — thank you.

AS: My pleasure, Jeri. I wouldn’t change it for the world, and I would go back and do it again if I had to.

JJ: Take care of yourself Adam, and my best to your family.

AS: Yours as well, Jeri.

Speaking with Adam today brought double emotions for me. Listening to him speak about the story of his life from the film’s perspective is thought provoking and a call to action. There are soldiers who are struggling in ways we cannot understand, and that struggle hits some of us very close to home. It is a complex issue, but one that needs our military to step up and help the soldiers who have done everything asked of them.

The other side of the emotional sword is that of any parent who has a child (yes, adult, but still our children) that comes home wanting to be helped. The struggle for that help should be first and foremost in our country, and parents of these soldiers are becoming loudly vocal in calling for better access for returning soldiers.

That is what “Thank You for Your Service” brings about. It is a story of not just one soldier, but many who come home with stories they feel cannot be shared and emotions that are stifled to make everyone else feel better. Adam’s story speaks volumes, and we need to listen to every one of them.

In the end — this is one man’s story that speaks for thousands!

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About the Author

Jeri Jacquin

Jeri Jacquin covers film, television, DVD/Bluray releases, celebrity interviews, festivals and all things entertainment.