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“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,” Shurama Prince said.

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Sgt. Eran Harrill returned home in 2012. He and his National Guard unit had just completed a tour of duty in Afghanistan, and he was ready to sink back into his civilian life of being a single father and head of the Oklahoma City Black Chamber of Commerce.

However, there was something poking at Harrill when he got home. His latest tour of duty had been a traumatic experience for his unit.

There was a story he felt a need to get out, but he couldn’t figure out how.

“It’s really hard for infantry guys and guys who’ve served on the front line, men and women who had done and seen some of the things we’ve seen, to tell that in words,” Harrill said.

Then one day Harrill had to get a new computer. From that mundane task came the foundation of groundbreaking documentary Citizen Soldier, which is the story of a group of soldiers in the Oklahoma Army National Guard’s 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, the Thunderbirds, during the 2011 surge in Afghanistan.

“The concept came really six months after I’d been back,” Harrill said. “It started with getting a new laptop, and with that new laptop, I’m transferring files. I see this folder that says ‘military film.’ I opened it up, and I spent hours and hours just going through footage and reliving so much. It was really at that time I said, ‘If there is a way to tell a story, this is it.’”

Produced by Harrill and directed by David Salzberg and Christian Tureaud of Strong Eagle Media, the live footage was taken from the helmet cameras the soldiers wore during their tour of duty. It gives viewers an up close and personal look into what the men experienced in their daily lives while deployed.

“So this was helmet cam footage that we had was taken for no particular reason,” Harrill said. “We didn’t take the helmet cam footage to make the documentary. It’s something that we did that, after we came back, I started to process. I think that’s an important part to understand because that makes it more real. It makes it a lot more realistic to understand that what you see wasn’t soldiers that were acting because they knew a camera was capturing what they did. They were doing what they do as soldiers, and the footage you see is what ends up out of it.”

Moving moments

The film’s most dramatic sequence involves the death of Sgt. Mycal Prince of Minco. It was so intense that when Prince’s wife saw the scene for the first time on the big screen at the Warren Theatre in Moore, she hurried 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,” Shurama Prince said. “It kind of made all of those emotions from five years ago come back up.”

Captain Tyler Brown, who was a lieutenant with the unit in 2011, said he was hesitant at first to agree to be part of the documentary because it shows the raw emotion of what he and his men went through in the mountains of Afghanistan, including watching two members of their unit die in the line of duty.

But after Brown and other members of the unit 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.

“It’s been a surreal monument just getting to this point,” Harrill said. “The purpose came from misperceptions 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.”

According to Salzberg, the term “citizen soldier” goes back to a time before the Revolutionary War.

“Citizen soldiers are your neighbors, your doctors; they’re your firemen, they’re your policemen, they’re your lawyers. They are everybody that all come together from every background in every state to help make a difference. They make a difference sometimes with natural disasters, like Moore (tornado) or Katrina (hurricane). Or they make a difference when they are deployed over and over again to fill the void that the regular army and Marine Corps can’t.”

One of those citizen soldiers was 1st Lt. Damon Leehan, who worked as a radiology technician at Integris Southwest Medical Center when he wasn’t on duty with the National Guard.

Leehan was killed in action Aug. 14, 2011, by an improvised explosive device (IED) in eastern Afghanistan, and his funeral is highlighted in the film.

“I think the toughest thing was seeing all the things that led up to Damon’s death,” said Leehan’s wife, Audrey Leehan-Brasee. “You see the timeline 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 really touching to me because it shows how strong the brotherhood really is.”

The film had a limited release Aug. 5-11. According to Salzberg, it can be seen on all major video on demand (VOD) and cable/satellite On Demand providers as well as DVD and Blu-ray.

Visit citizensoldierfilm.com.

Print headline: Courageous compatriots, Documentary Citizen Soldier, now available on demand, follows the deployment and return of Oklahoma soldiers.

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