TELLER: We need to close gap between civilian and veteran
In theaters is the film “Thank You for Your Service,” based on the award-winning book of the same name written by David Finkel. It tells the story of soldiers returning home and their difficulty in readjusting to civilian life and family. This film centers on the life of one such soldier, Adam Schumann.
Schumann returns home to discover that fitting back into a life he once knew isn’t happening. Trying to do what’s best, he keeps what happened in Iraq to himself — only discussing it with other soldiers in his infantry. It becomes clear that they, too, are having a difficult time finding their place in life.
When one of their friends chooses a different way to handle it all, it becomes clear to his wife that Schumann needs help. They turn to the VA, and learn that getting help is frustrating and the system is overloaded with bureaucracy. Schumann tries to come to terms with an event that happened in Iraq while also continuing to help his men find help.
“Thank You for Your Service” is a startling look at the soldiers who return home to a broken system, and demonstrates how PTSD shows itself in different ways and cannot be labeled quite so easily.
JJ: That’s good to hear. What drew you to “Thank You for Your Service?”
MT: I have always had a lot of respect for the military, and I felt like Adam’s story was extremely powerful, so I wanted to help tell it. I felt a responsibility actually.
JJ: I spoke with Adam, what an amazing young man.
MT: Adam is an incredible person.
JJ: When you read the script, is there anything that jumped out at you the most?
MT: I think just the struggle is what I find actually incredible. We don’t have any integration programs for our soldiers who are in war one day and the next week are home making pancakes for their family, as in the case of Adam. It is something that he’s not able to talk to his wife about, and that’s extremely difficult.
JJ: It’s a story of the struggle to go from one extreme to the other so quickly.
MT: Yes, it is incomprehensible to us as civilians, but I felt by doing this film, I was able to empathize and appreciate in such a way that I am grateful for. It helps you understand the struggle these soldiers are going through. Millions of soldiers are dealing with PTSD, and it’s tough.
JJ: It’s a big issue and a difficult one as well. How did you prepare to play that role?
MT: I read some books and I watched a lot of interviews and documentaries. I was able to spend some time with Adam and other veterans as well. They put us through a boot camp as well, and through all of these resources, I was able to come up with this portrayal.
JJ: When you first began filming, was it hard to find your step when it comes to the scenes dealing with PTSD?
MT: Absolutely. Every day on this film I was nervous about messing it up. I know how heavily this film and this performance was going to be scrutinized because I am representing our military. I was representing a staff sergeant in the Army, and I am aware of how much they sacrifice to have that job title. I was extremely nervous. Every day on set I was telling myself, “I hope I don’t mess this up.”
JJ: You probably had a lot of military eyes watching what you were doing.
MT: Our cast was really strong in this, and the fact that we all went through a boot camp helped us with the sense of responsibility we all felt. This is a real-life responsibility to the men and women we were portraying, and I think everyone wanted to get it right. We had a lot of people steering us in that direction.
JJ: Speaking of boot camp, how did you like that?
MT: It was tough and a kick in the guts, but I think we were all grateful for it, to be honest with you. When we were doing it, it sucked and it was really uncomfortable and tough to do, but once we got done it was good. It was team work oriented, and if you are making a film like this, it is a feeling that we are all in it together and it’s not about just one person. We got to experience that in the boot camp, and we all benefited from it.
JJ: They must have put you all through the ringer.
MT: It was a very intensive boot camp for sure.
JJ: During that time, did you feel like there was a sense of coming together?
MT: Absolutely, I don’t think anything bonds people like collective suffering.
JJ: The film bounces between what happens in Iraq to what happens at home. The scenes in Iraq are very intense. How was that for you to deal with?
MT: I think we were actually excited at that point because we had been trained tactically and trained to move as a unit. We learned to shoot M-4s and wear the gear that came along with an objective and a mission. When you are a kid, you play cops and robbers or soldiers — you know, make believe — but this is that at its highest level. Of course, I’m not glorifying that because the difference is that what the soldiers did was very real and in filming the scenes we got to go home at the end of the day.
JJ: I understand what you are saying. You are all portraying an event that is very intense, and you have to use that build up of the training in boot camp in order to do the scene justice.
MT: Yes, exactly. What was specific about this is that it’s not a lot of taking shots at the enemy — it was a 360 warfare. It wasn’t just about waiting to be shot at but driving around in Humvees not knowing what could be on the road. They are going out multiple times a day every day, and still not knowing what could be on that road.
JJ: I was talking to Adam about the phrase “Thank you for your service.” What does that mean for you?
MT: It’s just something that has become part of the national lexicon when meeting somebody who is in the armed services. I’m interested in it, and it’s something that people say who don’t have the full understanding of the soldier’s experience.
These guys don’t want to be thanked. Adam didn’t do what he did to be thanked or congratulated by civilians. He was doing his job.
It’s also the end of a conversation where civilians distance themselves from soldiers. It’s thanking them without actually getting into a deep conversation with a soldier. I think that’s unfortunate. I think the divide between soldier and civilian is wider than it has ever been. I’m hoping this film shortens the divide and brings us all together making us all part of it under the flag.
JJ: Instead of “Thank you for your service” we can change it to “How are you doing?” to really bring out a conversation.
MT: Yes, that’s great. A guy shook Adam’s hand and said, “welcome home,” which turned out to be the most powerful thing anyone had said to him. He said he broke down in tears after that.
JJ: This is such an intense film in the sense that it’s about both the physical and emotional pain of reaching out for help. When viewers leave the theater, what do you hope they take with them?
MT: I hope that the film creates some empathy, and I hope it creates a discussion. I think in our country these soldiers are the biggest group that needs help. These soldiers are suffering, and it’s so much more than PTSD. It’s not like previous soldiers who came home and just didn’t talk about it. I hope this film can be informative, enlightening and humanizes what our soldiers are dealing with. I hope there are a whole range of emotions that bring about a discussion of what they are going through. We need to close that gap between civilian and veteran most definitely.
JJ: I want you to know I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me, Miles. This is a tough subject to bring to film, and thank you for taking on the role.
MT: Thank you, Jeri. These are the kind of stories I want to tell, and I’m glad that it’s getting to see the light of day.
Miles Teller has taken the role of Adam Schumann and given us every range of emotion possible. Some are subtle and most are heart breaking, and it is for the viewer to come away realizing that our military needs us just as much as we need them.
Embracing this story is just the beginning, as more films about our military and their struggles come to the forefront. “Thank You for Your Service” is one such telling of a young man who wanted to stay strong for his platoon and the men he felt responsible for while also finding the life he left behind.