Almost Sunrise

Two veterans' efforts to heal their moral injury

Almost Sunrise Almost Sunrise tells the inspiring story of two young men, Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson, who, in an attempt to put their haunting Iraq combat experiences behind them, embark on an extraordinary journey – a 2,700 mile trek on foot across America. Will this epic pilgrimage be enough to release them from their self-destructive impulses and give them the chance to begin life anew?

Still healing from the trauma of war, two veterans work to free themselves from the anger that continues to burden them.

After suppressing their emotions and isolating themselves from their families for years, the weathered pair embark on a pilgrimage from Wisconsin to California in order to seek forgiveness. Over the course of the trek, Tom and Anthony, who have both served extensive tours overseas, strive to rid themselves of the personal demons that haunt them, while also raising awareness of the terrible and lasting effects of war. The beautiful and moving Almost Sunrise addresses the unrelenting torment of moral injury and urges those suffering to seek treatment.

“The rocket hit and sent shrapnel into his face and neck area – there was just blood everywhere. They were even trying to manually pump his heart.” Unable to escape from the harrowing and distressing memories that continually plague them, Tom and Anthony's conditioned military mindset bleeds into civilian life. More and more often, they find themselves being sucked into the survival mentality with which they are all-too familiar. Anthony recounts that “you resign yourself to the fact that you might as well consider yourself as already dead”, and that desensitising himself in this way was the only way that he was able to retain some level of sanity.

What does remain engraved in a soldier’s mind, however, is moral injury and that “raw primitive feeling of ‘I did something terribly wrong and I just don’t know whether I was justified – whether I can be forgiven.’” With over 20 veterans taking their lives daily, Katinka Hooyer, postdoctoral fellow at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Tom’s girlfriend, advocates addressing the soldier’s feelings of guilt and shame rather than their fear. In memory of the individuals who have lost their lives during their deployment, as well as those who have committed suicide upon their return home, Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson seek catharsis and relief from this guilt on a 155-day, 2700-mile trek from Milwaukee War Memorial to Santa Monica Pier, Los Angeles.

With the help of the spiritual advice of Native American shaman and Father Thomas Keating, a trappist monk who has counselled veterans for over 60 years, and the incorporation of meditative techniques such as the ‘Power Breath’, the men do adopt a more hopeful outlook of the future. “I was in this area where I thought that this was all that life had to give me and all I did was take three steps and here’s everything else.” Upon finding firmer ground, Father Keating affirms that the “human psyche has an extraordinary capacity to revive, so if it only has a crack or a few moments of peace, it knows there’s something beyond the immediate horrors that it saw and that is what frees them.”

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