When Jake Rademacher released "Brothers at War" in early 2009, his documentary film fed Americans' desire for the truth about what their soldiers were facing on the front lines in Iraq. The film also delivered a stirring portrait of two brothers who chose to serve their country, and the quest of a third brother to understand why.
Rademacher, who directed and produced "Brothers at War," embedded with four combat units in Iraq to tell the story of two of his brothers – Maj. Isaac Rademacher and Sgt. Joe Rademacher of the 82nd Airborne Division – as they served during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and what effects their deployments had on loved ones left behind. But Rademacher is more than a filmmaker who stepped into a soldier's boots for a few months – the Decatur, Ill., native is a Boys State alumnus, an Eagle Scout and a recipient of the Best Documentary Feature Award at the 2008 GI Film Festival.
The American Legion spoke with Rademacher about his film and participation in Legion youth programs.
Q: What was your experience at American Legion Boys State like?
A: Illinois Boys State was the first time I ever put myself out there for any type of election. I don't know what came over me, but for some reason I decided to run for secretary of state, and there was a really amazing moment that happened during my speech. (It) was going really well until I said, "Now I offer my mind, body and spirit." You don't offer your body to a bunch of 17-year-olds, so that was greeted with vocalizations of "Ooh." I don't know what came over me, but in that moment I just stopped in front of about 450 of my peers, who I'd known for two or three days, and I said, "Please give me the respect that I deserve and allow me to continue." You could have heard a pin drop. I ended up winning the primary by more votes than the other eight candidates received. I then won the overall election.
With Boys State, you really learn how the whole system of government works, how you support people and give speeches, and how to have civic pride. I was blown away by the experience.
Q: And you're an Eagle Scout, too?
A: Yes, four out of five of us (brothers) are. I'm so glad that I joined Boy Scouts ... the people leading were these really cool guys who were only two years older than me. For me, that was a huge draw, and all the experiences that go along with it. My Eagle Scout project was to clean some wooded trails at a park near where I lived. We cleaned about 20 bags' worth of trash, and then marked the trails and created a map.
Q: When the film premiered at the GI Film Festival in 2008, did you have any expectations about how it would be received?
A: I put my family's life up there on the screen, and the same for the servicemembers with whom I'd been embedded. I was anxious to see if people would like it, since I put my heart and soul into it. It received a standing ovation. The GI Film Festival gave a great launch to the film, and celebrated it in a great way.
Learn more about "Brothers at War" by visiting the film's website: www.brothersatwarmovie.com