Death of a Soldier
Author: Karin Assmann
“Hmmm, someone loves me” he wrote in his blog, sarcastically describing his reaction to the priority overnight draft letter the Army had just sent him. Although Jacob Blaylock had long been discharged from active duty, his name is still on the roster of the Individual Ready Reserve. And when he is reactivated it never occurs to him not to go to war. Instead, he reports for duty and quickly forges a bond with fourteen other men whose fates are similar to his. They had been so close to the end of their contracts as reservists, none had expected to be recalled and deployed to Iraq. Now they dub themselves “the involuntarys” and take over the most dangerous positions in the National Guard’s 1451st Transportation Company.
As tank commanders and gunners they are always on the front line, manning the scout vehicles during countless convoys through the IED infested Iraqi desert. It is their friendship, their common love of music and their weakness for playing practical jokes that both helps them survive and creates emotional ties some of them have never experienced before. And for a young man like Jacob Blaylock, known as “Jackie” to his comrades, it is what keeps him afloat. Alongside his tank commander, Josh Schmit, he grows into his new role as watchdog, as the eyes and ears at the head of the convoy.
Somewhere along the line they discover that this, their big wartime adventure, would make a great movie. Armed with video cameras, they document and narrate not just their pranks but also intimate moments of fear and loneliness. As “Jackie” begins to crack under pressure, he sets the camera up in his room and begins to play: his songs about loneliness, war and death become the soundtrack to the film he wants to make.
A year into his deployment, “Jackie” is burned out. When his friend, Brandon Wallace, offers to take his place in the scout vehicle, he agrees. Josh Schmit, his companion on so many suicide missions, remains up front. No one questions the decision: it is an honorable deal made between “involuntarys”. Just hours before they head out on their last mission, “Jackie”, camera in hand, asks Brandon to switch back. He declines. It is a brief, almost unnoticeable exchange.
As their convoy moves along the familiar route one last time, their luck runs out: the scout vehicle, carrying Josh Schmit and Brandon Wallace, hits an IED. Both are killed on site.
A week later Jackie again turns the camera on himself. He is alone in his room, his eyes darting nervously as he exhales and tries to focus on the confession he struggles not to make. “Hey, it’s Jackie, it’s the 20th of April, we go home in 6 days. Lost two good friends on the 14th .... I am having a hard time dealing with it.”
Instead of celebrating the end of his ordeal, he and his comrades begin a journey back to a life that could never be the same. Blaylock’s return home marks the beginning of his true fight for survival – one he would ultimately lose.
“Jackie’s” story unfolds through the lens of his camera, as he narrates his way through eleven months of war and six months of homecoming and as he and his brothers in arms embark on a pilgrimage to the parents of their fallen comrades. As friends and family remember Jacob’s struggles, the portrait of a man emerges who should never have gone to war and who should never have died so close to home.
year of production: 2010