Debut documentary examines veterans' re-assimilation after war

Press Republic-5 years before

In Iraq, he was assigned to Logistical Support Area Anaconda — “Camp Anaconda” — near Balad, Iraq, in the Sunni Triangle 40 miles north of Baghdad.

His life and those of two other local veterans, Kevin LeBoeuf and Jeremy Smith, are the subject of the documentary “On Home Ground” by Mountain Lake PBS producer Tomeka Weatherspoon.

“College wasn’t for me,” said Paiser, who lives in Chazy Lake with his wife, Mary Noel-Paiser, and their four children: Ryan, Tori, Dylan and Livi.

After infantry training at Fort Benning, Ga., Paiser returned to the North C...untry, where he worked as a correction officer for a decade.

Paiser and his wife were raising their kids and living a good life when he was deployed to Iraq.

Their lives were forever changed when he was blinded in a July 14, 2004, rocket attack on his day off.

He and his fire team were at the PX getting haircuts and combat patches sewn on their uniforms.

He never got as much as a hangnail outside the wire when he and his platoon patrolled villages, in vehicles or on foot, while assisting the Iraqi National Guard or Iraqi Police Force, or providing Al-Bakir Air Base over watch.

“Two (fire-team members) went inside, and one member was standing next to me,” Paiser said. “He got shrapnel in his right triceps and behind his right ear.”

Paiser was flown to Baghdad and had shrapnel removed from his right eye. Three days later he was flown to a hospital in Germany and then to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

He returned home blind and suffering from PTSD and a traumatic brain injury. His children were ages 3, 4, 6 and 8 at the time. Now, they are 14, 15, 17 and 19.

“It was very traumatic on the whole family for a long time,” Paiser said. “They lost their father. I was in a bad place. I had a lot of denial and anger. It was very hard on my wife. She lost her partner.”

“On Home Ground” is an intimate look at Paiser, LeBoeuf and Smith’s re-acclimation to civilian life.

“There’s no way I can understand what someone whose has been overseas and in war has been through,” said Weatherspoon, a Kansas City native who majored in convergence journalism at the University of Missouri.

“When we were going to film, the only way to that made sense to me was to be fairly intimate with the style of shooting. So, the camera is often in someone’s home with their family, following someone day to day and seeing an individual person’s life and what they’ve carried from war and how that has become a part of who they are.”

LeBoeuf, a Saranac resident, served in Afghanistan from 2003-04 and Iraq from 2005-06 with the 10th Mountain Division.

“They were all at different points in their lives when they were serving, so it affected them differently,” Weatherspoon said.

There’s the honeymoon period when the veteran first returns, followed by a period of uncertainty and inner conflict while the veteran tries to feel out who he or she is when reality sets in.

“Overall, I wanted the film to reflect different stages in the process that isn’t actually the same for everyone,” Weatherspoon said.

“I wanted to start that conversation based on the people I had connected with to make the film.”

Her crew was Mike Hansen, editor; Daniel McCullum, director of photography; and Daniel Swinton and Thom Hallock, executive producers.

“A really small crew,” Weatherspoon said. “I think that lends itself to the intimacy we were trying to capture.”

“Something to help show the good that the VA does and what the veteran goes through when they do come back.”

Both of Paiser’s grandfathers served during World War II. His father served in the U.S. Air Force and his uncle in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.

“My oldest one has talked about attending West Point,” Paiser said. “He makes me very proud. I will support any decision they make.”

Email Robin Caudell: rcaudell@pressrepublican.com

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