In 2010, Army Chaplain Justin David Roberts traveled to Afghanistan with the No Slack division of the 101st Airborne (motto: "No breather from work, no relief from combat, no request for respite”). As a chaplain Roberts was not allowed to carry a weapon, so he asked and was given permission to carry a videocamera.
The result is “No Greater Love,” an acclaimed documentary about combat soldiers in the Kundar Province of Afghanistan.
“No Greater Love” features both the difficult battles the soldiers won and the hard time many had transitioning back to civilian life. The film has just been released on DVD and is enjoying a 100 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning there have been no bad reviews.
“‘No Greater Love’ is about my time as an army chaplain and the lesson I learn from the soldiers I served with,” Roberts tells MRCTV. “Namely, behind every act of valor is a selfless love…I didn’t want these moments to be forgotten. I didn’t want us to come back and the world not know about it.”
He continues: “My hope was to show the cause and effect of a deployment - what happened during the deployment, if someone is injured what caused it, and not just the physical but the mental distress.”
Roberts argues that poor media coverage of the military results in civilians being aware of things like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but not the brave acts that lead to it.
“A lot of civilians, if they encounter anything with a military individual or veteran, they meet someone with PTSD, they just meet the person who is struggling," he says. "They just see the struggle. What they don’t see is what caused it - the combat trauma. What they also don’t see is the acts of courage and valor on the battlefield. My hope was to give them the full context - the combat, the wounds that can come from war, and then they transition home.”
In "No Greater Love" Roberts documents not only the trauma of battle, but the exhilaration. Many of the soldiers interviewed talk about the "high" they got form being in combat. “You don’t really realize the physiological affect,” Roberts says, He recalls that when he retuned from Afghanistan he “was really craving” a fist fight. He finally realized that he wasn’t craving the fight, but the adrenaline that comes with it. “You get that rush. I couldn’t find it at home.” Roberts notes that’s why so many returning soldiers buy motorcycles and engage in other physically and emotionally charged hobbies.
Roberts grew up in Stephenville Texas. An inspiration to him, was his grandfather, who served in in Japan and Korea and beginning of Vietnam. When Roberts was 13 he became a Christian. Becoming an army chaplain was a way to combine his respect for his grandfather with his faith.
Roberts hopes that “No Greater Love” can be a corrective to a mainstream media that often report on a soldier doing something illegal or violent, but not the majority who perform acts of valor every day. “If one soldier does one bad thing in Afghanistan or overseas it will get blasted in the airways by every major channel. But whenever one soldier does something courageous or heroic or selfless it doesn’t get covered usually…Nine times out of ten the news stories that get blasted out and there’s going to be negative coverage and the heroic stories are often lost, when those are the norm, that is the identity of our military, that is our common action. It’s heartbreaking.”
He adds that the same situation applies to the police. “The problem is that that shapes the public perception of who they people are. They are creating the assumption that that negative thing is the norm.” In “No Greater Love” a soldier breaks into tears as he recalls staunch the bleeding of a critically wounded insurgent responsible for the IED that killed one of his friends. Another marvels at a comrade who returned to Kundar after flalling of a cliff and receiving a head wound: "Where do we find such people?"
“No Greater Love” also reports on the alarmingly high rate of suicide among soldiers unable to deal with the traumas that have been tormenting them since returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. 20 Veterans commit suicide per day (Suicide Data Report, Department of Veteran Affairs, Mental Health Services, 2015) 10%-18% of Veterans suffer from PTSD (Litz BT, Schlenger WE. PTSD in service members and new veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars: a bibliography and critique. PTSD Res Q 2009;20(1):1-2.)