Military stories are once again en vogue in Hollywood, with three new dramas about various types of soldiers all premiering on network TV this season. The film industry is also getting into the game with the new film Thank You for Your Service, which focuses more on that aspect of military life that many find difficult to talk about: What happens after the soldiers come home from war. The film's brutal depiction of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) seems pretty realistic, but is Thank You for Your Service a true story?
It is. The film is based upon the nonfiction book of the same name by Washington Post journalist David Finkel, and it follows the lives of a number of soldiers — specifically those serving with the U.S. Army's 2-16 Infantry Battalion — after they return home from their tours of duty in the war zones of Iraq. The book largely focuses on those soldiers coming home who are suffering from some sort of psychological impairment, PTSD or otherwise, that makes this return — something most people just assume is a happy experience — extraordinarily difficult. Adjusting to home life and attempting to return to the lives they had before doesn't come so easily for many soldiers after fighting in a war, and if they're suffering from PTSD, this adjustment can at times seem impossible.
While films of this nature tend to sometimes fictionalize characters to maintain the privacy of the real people involved, that's not what Thank You for Your Service does; at least when it comes to the main character, Adam Schumann, who is portrayed by Miles Teller in the film. Schumann is a sergeant of his battalion, and the movie largely deals with his struggles once he returns home to his wife, Saskia Schumann (Haley Bennett), and their children in Kansas. Both Adam and Saskia are real people who went through much of what shows up on screen (though some of it has of course been dramatized and embellished), and Adam even has a small cameo in the film. Here's how Finker, writing in the Post, describes the scene in which Adam appears:
"Nine years had gone by since Adam’s homecoming, and on this day, the scene being filmed was its movie version. It was a big, complicated scene, involving hundreds of people. Miles Teller, cast as Adam, was there. So was Haley Bennett, cast as Saskia, in her last seconds of being a hopeful wife ... And Adam was there, too, dressed in an Army uniform because [director Jason] Hall, in a moment of generosity, had decided to write him into the scene. This was the filming of the forgettable moment. Here came Miles Teller as Adam Schumann, walking across the tarmac. Here was Teller, handing his weapon to the soldier checking him in. And here was Adam, taking that weapon and looking at it, and then looking up at the wounded man he used to be. 'Sergeant Schumann, welcome home,' he said."
In addition to the Schumanns, a handful of other characters in the film also have real life counterparts. Amy Schumer portrays Amanda Doster, an army widow who can't get over the death of her husband, James Doster. There's also Tausolo Aieti (Beulah Koale), a member of Schumann's unit who suffered from tremendous guilt over a man whose life he was unable to save. According to Teller, the movie was able to handle all of these difficult true stories accurately. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune's Adam Lukach, the actor said, "(Schumann’s) buddy saw it last night, and he was deployed with Adam. If anybody knew what was accurate and what wasn’t, it was this kid. He said, 'You guys got the feel of it right on.'"
Thank You for Your Service certainly doesn't glorify war, nor does it get into stereotypes about the difficulty of veterans returning to civilian life. And the reason for that is simple: It's based on real veterans, and the actual hardships they experienced.