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An Arizona State University academic and service program is leveraging a Hollywood movie about recent war veterans to start a dialogue on military service, combat and coming home.
ASU’s Public Service Academy will host a Friday screening of “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” a new $40 million war drama directed by Ang Lee to discuss when soldiers return to civilian life.
“It’s time we move the conversation beyond ‘thank you for your service’ and get to know who our veterans are and what shapes them when they come home,” said Brett Hunt, founding executive director of ASU’s Public Service Academy.
“It’s an appropriate time to talk about this topic and how we can support our veterans who are coming home.”
The academy, which launched in 2015, boasts that it’s the nation's first undergraduate program “to integrate cross-sector and civilian-military experiences to develop collaborative leaders of character.”
Co-hosted with the military advocacy group Arizona Territorial Chapter Association of the U.S. Army, the movie will be preceded by a 6:30 p.m. panel of military veterans at the Harkins Tempe Marketplace 16 theater.
Based on the 2012 novel by Ben Fountain, the movie follows 19-year-old Billy Lynn, along with his fellow soldiers in Bravo Squad, who become heroes after a violent Iraq battle and are brought to the States for a victory tour hosted by the Department of Defense. Through flashbacks, culminating at the halftime show of the Thanksgiving football game in Dallas, grim details are slowly revealed, contrasting the realities of the war with America’s perceptions.
Hunt said more than a million military veterans will be coming back in the next five years from overseas deployment, and they’ll need support at every turn. Some may be dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, adjustment to civilian life, or a general lack of understanding by the public.
“So often when veterans come back, we only hear the negative aspects, but the fact is most veterans come home and go on to positive, productive lives,” Hunt said. “We also don’t want to shy away from talking about some of the jarring events that may occur while on deployment.”
Lt. Colonel David Clukey, Army recruiting commander for the Phoenix Recruiting Office, who will also serve on the panel, said only 1 percent of people in the armed forces who are deployed will actually see combat.
“There’s a misconception that if you serve, you’ll see combat,” Clukey said. “We have more than 150 jobs in the Army alone, and they range from X-ray technicians, to cooks, to chaplains, to mechanics, to media relations officers.”
Panelist Jeanne Blaes, president of the Arizona Territorial Chapter Association of the U.S. Army, said having an honest dialogue about some of the more negative aspects of military service is healthy.
“I don’t believe the military is trying to sweep anything under the rug these days,” she said. “We did that in Vietnam, and there’s not a desire to do that again. It’s not a negative to be aware, it’s a positive.”
Meanwhile, Clukey, who has seen 11 different military deployments, seven in combat, hopes the film will touch on certain themes. He wants to see if it addresses family and spousal support, post-combat services offered by the military, and the bond that soldiers share while in combat.
“That bond is real, and it’s lasting,” Clukey said. “I wouldn’t trade my experiences in the military for anything.”
Tickets are $8 and include the panel, movie admission, food and raffles. Proceeds will help fund a team of Next Generation Service Corps and Army ROTC cadets' trip to the annual Association of the United States Army convention in Washington, D.C., in October 2017.
Top photo: Actor Joe Alwyn stars in "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk," which is based on a 2012 novel by Ben Fountain. Photo courtesty of IMDB.com