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Edward Kivlahan January 21, 2018

Moral wounds are a classification of trauma that describe when one suffers from being unable to reconcile certain actions (i.e. war, torture) within their morals. This is common among soldiers as a result of their training and assignments when deployed as well as the dramatic shift between moral requirements that separate war morals from home morals. Some question their own morals and some question those of a higher power, but either way the horror persists and causes pain in the lives of those who suffer from these moral wounds.

Almost Sunrise is a documentary about two war veterans returning from Iraq and their journey to overcome the pitfalls and dangers of leading a civilian life while living with their moral wounds. Their journey consists of seeking help from those who understand their plight and taking a 2,700 mile trek on foot across America. The ultimate goal in this undertaking was to achieve peace within themselves and in creating this documentary to show some of the unspoken and unrecognized realities that soldiers and veterans face every day. It shows the damage done by war but mostly urges the citizens, the communities, and the government to employ practices shown to heal rather than treat the wounds of those who serve and have served this country.

The two veterans featured in Almost Sunrise are Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson. They were deployed together to Iraq and faced similar but individual traumas that they carried home and tried to handle, but Voss’s moral wounds were driving him beyond what he could handle without a big shift and a different direction. After spiraling towards rock bottom for years, he decided he had an ultimatum before him. He took the road to hopeful recovery by deciding to walk from Wisconsin to California. He called Anderson for a rucksack on his journey, and he got one, but he also got his pivotal partner to join him on the walk.

During the film we also see testimony from the vital women in Voss and Anderson’s lives, and they discuss the difficulties that face them as well as their respective partners while these moral wounds remain. Voss’s girlfriend was near her limit when he decided to take the walk, and Anderson’s family had a father who wasn’t the father he wanted to be. Over the course of the walk, they both grew and learned and came to be more like the people they wanted to be. The people they met, both planned and random, all helped in their journey and learned themselves about how to effectively support returning war veterans.

At the end of the film, each titular member went home healing and happier. Their change was visible, Voss became warmer and talkative and Anderson became the father that felt and gave the love he couldn’t feel before, and the road they walked showed them that through grit their road to recovery could be walked and the end reached as well. Taking the initiative was the key step in the right direction that sent Voss down the road to recovery, and in the Moral Wounds panel earlier in the day before the showing of Almost Sunrise, Voss spoke alongside Matt Smith and Jamie Bariabar. Their varying perspectives and individual experiences drove a discussion to leave a lasting impression on each member of the audience.

Their messages all had similar notes and distinct motives, but the theme of the panel came to be that each individual needs to take initiative for healing themselves and helping those around them. Those who are trying to support someone in their life who is struggling with moral wounds are urged to be proactive and understanding while those who are struggling themselves are urged to look within and forgive those who they blame, whether it be themselves, others, or their god. The journey to healing is deeply personal and difficult, and in an interview with the panelists they each conveyed the road they’ve walked.

Voss found that one big thing that helped with his recovery and will help other veterans is rebuilding trust with the community. Smith noted that Iowa is better at supporting veterans than most states, but he agreed with Voss that there is a divide between veterans and civilians that needs to be bridged. Bariabar, coming from a position of witnessing the deterioration of her late husband, impressed that a key element in supporting people who may be good at hiding pain from others around them is paying attention and being proactive in showing and suggesting care.

Overall, the interview, panel, and documentary were all revealing, educational, and important to promoting the conversation that is veteran support and reintegration. It is recommended for each individual who wishes to promote this discussion in their community to buy a copy and/or stage a screening of Almost Sunrise through and take an active role in local and regional veteran support groups. The nationwide effort of supporting the troops is a process that all can back and promote a culture with a better understanding of PTSD, moral wounds, and support the health of veterans.