‘Citizen Soldier’ shines dramatic light on National Guard

By Michael Kinney

MOORE – Shurama Prince had watched the movie before. In the more than two years that it took “Citizen Soldier” to get made, she had seen rough cuts of the documentary at least five times.

Because of that, when Prince came to the premier of “Citizen Soldier” Sunday at the Warren Theatre in Moore, she thought she had gotten through the shock of seeing her husband’s death on film. But seeing it on a giant movie screen, surrounded by a packed auditorium, was just too much for her.

During the film’s most dramatic scene, which involves the death of Prince’s husband, Sgt. Mycal Prince, she rushed out of the theater crying.

“When they were having to carry my husband’s body up the side of the mountain, it showed a lot more than actually what I thought it did,” said Prince, a native of Minco. “It kind of made all of those emotions from five years ago come back up. Seeing it in a much larger screen than a TV screen gives it a whole different point of view. It showed a little bit more, so it was a little bit harder. But I still think that no matter what size, it was still great.”

Citizen Soldier” is the story of a group of soldiers in the Oklahoma Army National Guard’s 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team during the 2011 surge in Afghanistan.

Directed by David Salzberg and Christian Tureaud of Strong Eagle Media, the live footage was taken from body cameras the soldiers wore during their tours of duty. It gives viewers an up close and personal look into what the men of the Oklahoma National Guard experienced in their daily lives while fighting a war.

The film-makers and the stars of the film were on hand for the big screen premier and were visibly shaken as they watched the most emotional moments of the film as many watched it for the first time.

“Watching the film for the first time, it just rips your guts out, you know,” said Captain Tyler Brown. “Having to relive something on screen like that.”

Brown was a 1st Lieutenant in 2011. He said he was hesitant at first to agree to be part of the documentary because it shows the raw emotions of what he and his men went through, including watching two members of their unit die in the line of duty.

But after Brown and other members of the platoon got together, they decided it would be a good idea to have the film made to address issues such as PTSD.They also wanted to let the public know the National Guard has been a key part of the war since the very beginning.

“I think what stood out the most was just the sacrifices,” Brown said. “Just to see the sacrifices that we all make. It being able to be portrayed the way that it has for the public and for everybody to see and feel the way we feel and come close to experiencing what we experience.”

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The brainchild of the film was Sgt. Eran Harrill, who is a single father and head of the Oklahoma City Black Chamber of Commerce. After returning home after his deployment, Harrill said he came across all of the body camera videos on his laptop. At that time he knew there was a message he and his team members could get out about what the National Guard really does during times of war and dispel the misconceptions.

“It’s been a surreal monument just getting to this point,” said Harrill, who is a producer on the film. “The purpose came from misconceptions that the state had had on the deployment that we had went on. We had the largest deployment in the state in 2011 since the Korean War. Coming back from that in 2012, there was just a disconnect between the state, its citizens and its citizen soldiers. For me there was something I felt there could be done to tell a story. Not just a story about our unit that was there in Afghanistan, but really the story of a nation and its Citizen Soldiers.”

“Citizen Soldier” will hit select theaters Aug. 5th, including the Quail Springs Mall in Oklahoma City. According to Salzberg, after the limited theatrical run, the film willopen nationally Aug. 30 on all major video on demand (VOD) and cable/satellite OnDemand providers, as well as DVD and Blu-ray.

At the very end of the movie, during the credits, the film makers put up the statistic that 803 National Guardsmen from around the country have died in war since 9-11. One of those was 1st Lt. Damon Leehan, who was killed in action Aug. 14, 2011 by an improved explosive device (IED) in eastern Afghanistan . Leehan, a native of Moore, was the platoon leader with Company A, 1st Battalion, 179 Infantry Regiment.

Leehan’s wife, Audrey Leehan Brasee, had tried to move on since her husband’s death but found she needed to see Citizen Soldier before that could truly happen.

“When it first came out, it was very heart-wrenching,” Brasee said. “It definitely ripped off a scab that I had healed over after Damon passed away. But looking back on it now, it needed to be ripped off because there were areas I still wasn’t healed in. Watching this movie helped me heal on those areas. Seeing how it turned out it really helped me close the chapter on wanting to know exactly what Damon did over there. It helped me bring closure in areas like that.”

Yet, there were still moments while watching the movie that still get to Brasee.

“I think the toughest thing was seeing all the things that led up to Damon’s death,” Brasee said as she began to tear up. “You see the time-line and date at the bottom of the screen. You know that when it reaches Aug. 14 that it’s Damon’s time. Also seeing Sgt. Mycal Prince carried up the mountain after he is deceased and seeing his soldiers and his brothers going out there in harm’s way and carrying him up there because they don’t leave a man behind. It was was really touching to me because it shows how strong the brotherhood really is.”

Michael Kinney is a freelance writer. Go to Eyeamtruth.com

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