When I was a kid, having a dad in the military meant Kiwi Shoe Polish, hugs that smelled of tobacco and sweat ,and never knowing when he would be deployed or when we'd be moving again. For me, my father leaving would mean heartbreak, but for our country, it could mean the world. In the new movie Sand Castle, Matt, based on a real person, is tasked to occupy Iraq along with other American soldiers in 2003. With little interest or experience, the private does his damnedest to get back home, and his journey will likely hit home for anyone like me who's familiar with military life.
Sand Castle's story was inspired and written by Chris Roessner, an Army Vet. Obviously, every soldier's experience is a little different from the next; this could range from wanting to be there to fight for their country to having empathy for the community but an eagerness to return home. In an interview with the Pat Tillman Foundation, Roessner revealed that he decided to enlist in the military to get money for college, and make himself a first-generation student. After returning, he sought acceptance from a father he never met but who was ex-military. "Part of me was kind of bullied into the military by the ghost of the father I didn’t know," the writer explained.
This may have influenced his fight to push through even when times got tough for him. As revealed in the interview, Roessner ended up graduating from USC with a Master's and taking an assistant job that exposed him to producing, where he started jotting down his experience in the military. His ideas ended up becoming an actual screenplay, which later became Sand Castle, a story chronicling his two years and more than 200 missions as a machine gunner. "There was also the desire to hold on to some of the memories and tiny little moments that had happened in Iraq as time goes on – and I didn’t want to lose those," Roessner explained in the interview of his writing. "While I was in Iraq there were awful and beautiful moments, and I wanted to have a document so I wouldn’t lose those memories. At the same time, my screenplay was a big pie in the sky dream."
Ultimately, Roessner was able to connect his experience in the military with his passion for film to produce a real-life account of what being in the army looked like during a pivotal time in both his own life and American history. I'm looking forward not just to Sand Castle's April 21 release, but seeing what his stories could mean for families who are transitioning to or experiencing the military life.