Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. ~John 15:13
Few can know the feelings of actually being in a situation faced with the decision to sacrifice their life for their friends. Each and every service member has taken on that burden; some have put themselves within the reach of enemy fire time and time again. Those who have been injured in the line of duty wake up each and every day itching to join their friends in the fight once again.
In a story of true heroism, raw emotion and genuine love, Chaplain Justin Roberts shares the stories of his unit as they spent a year in Afghanistan. "It's not a movie about soldiers, it's a movie about my friends and what they did," Roberts said. "These aren't uniforms, they aren't statistics, they aren't numbers – these are my friends. People I'm proud to know."
How to be an Infantry Chaplain
Like most soldiers, Chaplain Roberts learned valuable lessons from a First Sergeant (1SG). Upon his arrival at "No Slack," then 1SG Randy Wright was leading his soldiers in such a way that demanded respect and response. "He truly loved and cared for his soldiers, and they would do anything for him," Roberts said. "He was the crusty, foul-mouthed version of what a Chaplain should be." And so Roberts followed in Wright's footsteps, emulating his strong but caring leadership.
The history of the Chaplain Corps was made on the front lines, being with soldiers in battle, holding their hands when they lay dying. Roberts felt the only way to truly be connected with his soldiers was to be there with them, and Wright agreed. 1SG told him he needed to go out with each platoon at least once, and to be at the front line of each major event to do "your chaplain stuff." Combined with advice from a platoon sergeant-turned-infantry chaplain, Roberts grabbed his camera and followed his soldiers.
"A bad chaplain has clean boots, a good chaplain has muddy boots and an infantry chaplain has bloody boots. Be an infantry chaplain." This advice from a former mentor spurned Roberts into action, and he encourages other Chaplains to follow this example.
The Mission Continues
While the original purpose of compiling the images and film from deployment into No Greater Love was to bring healing to himself and his No Slack soldiers, Roberts has no intention of stopping there. "Being able to come together with everyone was incredibly healing and really tough," he said. But now it's time to take that healing process and help others. Roberts' plan is two-fold: a suicide prevention program within the military that actually works and financial support for veteran organizations.
"My second day on the job in 2009 at No Slack we had a suicide in the unit," Roberts said. "Then we had one the next week. And a month later. We had suicide attempts and cases of suicidal ideations at least once a week for the first six months. Something had to change."
The Army loves their PowerPoint training, and for some methods of training it is effective. For suicide awareness and prevention, it's not. The evidence is easy to see since after 16 years of this methodology, suicide rates are still increasing. When Roberts decided to do something about it in 2009, he started to see a difference.
"Guys aren't going to talk about their feelings over a cup of tea, but they will over an activity," he said. Roberts set out to develop relationships and connections between his soldiers so they would feel comfortable talking to each other. "If we're willing to die for each other over there, what are we willing to do for each other here at home?"
Roberts admits it's hard for outsiders to understand the culture. It's hard for spouses and family members to understand what their soldiers went through. So it falls on the relationships developed within these units. It ultimately, Roberts believes, falls to leadership to start the conversation. If the alpha in the relationship stands up and invites others to talk about their hardships, offers himself as a listening ear, the rest of them will respond, Roberts explained.
I watched this documentary with my active duty soldier husband, and we were both blown away. I knew immediately that others needed to see this. Sharing these stories opens the door to conversations within military marriages, military families, and outside of the gates.
Are you ready to watch and learn? To hear the rough stories of men at war? To support them when they come home? Start by watching No Greater Love, in select theaters starting Friday, November 10th, 2017.