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Coming Back with Wes Moore – Review

As U.S. military service members return home from the long war in Afghanistan in ever greater numbers, Americans may justifiably feel like celebrating the end of a conflict that has spanned more than a decade. Many see the end of the war in Afghanistan, like the war in Iraq, as being a chance to turn inward and forget the high cost of those conflicts. But, as a new three-part PBS series reminds viewers, veterans face decades of adjustment. Coming Back with Wes Moore, premiering May 13, follows 10 veterans as they navigate the difficult journey of coming home after being forever changed by war.

“As a nation coming off of two of the longest wars in our history, we need to consider what deployment means to the men and women who have left their home lives behind in service to their country.”

Executive produced and narrated by U.S. Army veteran Wes Moore, each episode of Coming Back focuses on a certain aspect of the veteran story. The titles of each episode, “Coming Back,” “Fitting In,” and “Moving Forward,” tell just what aspect that is. “As a nation coming off of two of the longest wars in our history, we need to consider what deployment means to the men and women who have left their home lives behind in service to their country,” said Wes Moore in a PBS press release.

Issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) have been thrust into the public conscience for years, so Coming Back isn’t likely to break new ground for viewers there. What is does do, and does well, is humanize the struggles of veterans for a public too often disconnected from their struggles. “We’re capturing portraits of veterans as they share their stories of reentry into civilian life,” as Wes Moore explains in the trailer for Coming Back. This makes for compelling television.

“We’re capturing portraits of veterans as they share their stories of reentry into civilian life.”

Part of Coming Back’s strength is aided by Wes Moore, the New York Times bestselling author of The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates. Besides doing a capable job as a narrator in drawing out the stories of the profiled veterans, Moore has selected a diverse list. The most well known of whom is Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a double amputee and a veteran of the Iraq War. Andy Clark, a former Army veteran, who became a contractor in Afghanistan in order to pay for the medical bills of his autistic son, is another poignant example. Adding some humor from an unexpected place is Army Sgt. Bobby Henline, who suffered burns to 40 percent of his body from an improvised explosive device in Iraq. He now works as a standup comedian.

 Coming Back with Wes Moore

Executive producer and narrator Wes Moore (left) , retired U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Stacy Pearsall (middle), and retired U.S. Army Sgt. Bobby Henline (right) discuss the struggles of returning home from war during an advanced preview and Q&A following a screening of Coming Back with Wes Moore at the Capitol Visitors Center, Washington, D.C., April 29, 2014. Both Henline and Pearsall are profiled in Coming Back. PBS photo by Scott Henrichsen

Others include an Army veteran working as a counselor for the Veterans Crisis Line, a National Guard sergeant assigned to a Warrior Transition Unit far from his family as he copes with PTSD, and a U.S. Air Force captain deployed to Afghanistan while her husband is home with their daughter. In the case of the husband, an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department, he was formerly in the U.S. Marine Corps and is also profiled in Coming Back.

“No one comes back from war unchanged.”

Together, their stories make up a mosaic of the veteran experience. Long after the yellow ribbons come down, veterans will be dealing with these issues. “No one comes back from war unchanged,” says Moore. If we don’t want them to do so alone, we shouldn’t forget that.

Wes Moore

Wes Moore, the executive producer and narrator of Coming Back with Wes Moore during a session at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 21, 2014. A veteran himself, Moore followed 10 veterans as they dealt with various reentry issues related to their military experiences. PBS photo by Rahoul Ghose

Coming Back airs on consecutive Tuesdays beginning on May 13. Check local listings.

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Steven Hoarn is the Editor/Photo Editor for Defense Media Network. He is a graduate of...