By Joseph McAleer
NEW YORK (CNS) — “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 13:15).
That biblical truth is vividly reinforced in “No Greater Love” (Atlas), a compelling documentary about the experiences of U.S. combat soldiers in Afghanistan and their postwar struggles to resume their lives back home.
In 2011, Justin D. Roberts, who directed and co-wrote the narration with Alan Wain, served in Afghanistan as an Army chaplain. He carried a camera to document his service with the 327th Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division.
Known as the “No Slack Battalion” for its dogged perseverance in the line of fire, the 101st is one of the most famous and highly decorated divisions in the Army.
“Why are they risking their lives for others?” Roberts wanted to understand. “And after they’ve been wounded, why in the world would they want to come back to this hell?”
Roberts comes to appreciate the intense familylike bond of the soldiers, a band of brothers dedicated to one another’s safety and the fulfillment of the mission, whatever the personal cost.
“No Greater Love” takes viewers into the heart of an epic battle in the Barawala Kalay Valley in the province of Kunar. There, U.S. forces fought to shut down a vital Taliban supply route and liberate the region from the enemy.
Using war footage, Roberts follows the unit as it faces constant sniper fire, explosions and suicide-bomb attacks. Medics struggle to save the wounded while paying equal attention to treating Afghan casualties.
This struggle won, a fresh one begins as soldiers return to America. As depicted in the recent feature film drama “Thank You for Your Service,” the men (and their families) battle post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and, for many, the lingering effects of damaging brain injuries.
For survivors, “regret is the curse of war,” Roberts discovers, as the men ponder if more could have been done to save their six comrades killed in the strife. “The residue of war can be just as deadly as the war itself.”
“No Greater Love” shines a light on a devastating fact: veteran suicides — more than 20 every day — are currently the leading cause of death in the military.
Roberts hopes his documentary raises awareness of the plight of veterans who sacrificed so much in the cause of freedom, and highlights the need for greater outreach, support and healing.
“The only way that you can really come back from war is with love,” Roberts concludes. “And it has to come from friends, it has to come from family members, neighbors and the people you were fighting for — and it has to come from each other.”
The film contains graphic wartime violence and bloodshed, mature themes and some rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America.
McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.