What Mission Accomplished?

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(These kind of "missions" are never accomplished Mr. President).

Since President Bush landed on that aircraft carrier to declare “Mission Accomplished!� more documentaries than I care to recount have been released about the Iraq War. While a few have been special, such as Fahrenheit 9/11, Occupation Dreamland, and Gunner Palace, none quite measures up to The Ground Truth, a powerful picture which takes an intimate look at the mental and physical challenges faced by about a dozen veterans upon their return to the States.

What makes this movie special is that it has no political ax to grind, but instead simply places the plausible everyday concerns of our servicemen and women above patriotic claptrap. For although the Department of Defense would have us believe that their readjustment to civilian life has by-and-large been smooth, this unflinching flick reveals that reintegration process to be an emotional ordeal which tests both the vets sanity and their fractured relationships with loved ones.

Some of the subjects seen here are suffering from obvious ailments. Robert Acosta lost a hand and shattered a leg when he tried to toss a hand grenade out of his Humvee. Denver Jones was in another Humvee accident which shattered his spine and left him completely disabled. And Josh Forbess’ can’t even remember the helicopter crash near Mosul which claimed the lives of the rest of his company and left his face a disfigured mess.

It’s easy to understand how paraplegics, amputees, burn victims and the shell-shocked this might be saddled, long-term, with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but the film amply illustrates that just as many who emerged from the field of battle totally unscathed still find themselves in need of ongoing counseling and medical help. But with the Army Forces inclined to play down such metaphysical ailments, the resulting fallout can be found in the skyrocketing breakdown, divorce and suicide rates among members of the military.

Take the normal-looking Demond Mullins, a black man from Brooklyn who enlisted in the National Guard five years ago for the educational benefits. He returned home from Baghdad with all his limbs intact this summer. Yet, depressed and suicidal, he really ought to be counted as one of the walking wounded. Today, he’s channeling his suppressed rage and self-destructive inclinations constructively as a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Others weren’t so lucky, like Jeff Lucey, a soldier who hung himself with a hose 12 months after his discharge when he couldn’t exorcise his demons. According to his sister, he considered himself a murderer due to executions he had been ordered to perform while in Iraq.

Overall, The Ground Truth defuses some potentially-incendiary material and presents it in an informative, impartial and thoroughly-absorbing fashion which no one who truly supports the troops could take issue with. These individual accounts add up to paint a pretty persuasive picture which makes a convincing case that there are thousands upon thousands of veterans who are ticking time bombs in dire need of ongoing attention.

Thus, kudos to Patricia Foulkrod for creating an Oscar-quality documentary with this, her directorial debut.

Excellent (4 stars). Rated R for profanity and for disturbing violent content. Running time: 78 minutes. Studio: Focus Features

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