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Guide to Nat Geo Channel's THE LONG ROAD HOME: Q&A w/ Cast, Overview, Episode Guide, Photos

Maj Canton - November 6, 2017



National Geographic Channel premieres the eight-part global event series THE LONG ROAD HOME, a gripping and intimate look at the toll war takes on soldiers and their families, on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017 from 9-11pm. The series moves to its regular date and time of Tuesdays at 10pm beginning Nov. 14. Based on the New York Times best-selling book by journalist Martha Raddatz, THE LONG ROAD HOME tells the story of "Black Sunday," when a small platoon of soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division was ferociously ambushed in Sadr City, Baghdad, in April 2004. Eight Americans would make the ultimate sacrifice that day and more than 65 would be seriously wounded. No soldier fights alone. The soldiers in this story are no exception. The scripted series offers viewers an intimate window into the experience of war as seen through the eyes and the hearts of the soldiers themselves and their families back home. It is an adrenaline-fueled and emotional journey that follows the action of the battle on two simultaneous fronts — the chaotic, terror-filled streets of Sadr City, where a group of inexperienced young soldiers faces an unexpected and unimaginable attack with bravery they never knew they had, and the homefront at Fort Hood, where family members, desperate for news of their loved ones and fearing the worst, discover their own courage and determination as well. Across eight hours, reflecting the exact amount of time the soldiers were pinned down, each episode highlights a different character's unique and compelling journey as we come to understand their heroism and humanity.


The series stars Michael Kelly as then Lt. Col. Gary Volesky the incoming battalion commander who was in his first hours of assuming authority over Sadr City as the battle broke out; Jason Ritter as Troy Denomy; E.J. Bonilla as stranded platoon leader 1st Lt. Shane Aguero; Kate Bosworth as Gina Denomy, a young wife and new mom battling her own fears while reaching out to the families of the fallen and wounded; Sarah Wayne Callies as Family Readiness Group leader and Gary Volesky's wife, LeAnn Volesky; Jeremy Sisto as reluctant hero Staff Sgt. Robert Miltenberger; Noel Fisher as a heroic 24-year-old warrior and later peace activist Pfc. Tomas Young; and Jon Beavers as the hot-tempered and heroic young Sgt. Eric Bourquin.

  Kate Boswoth and Jason Ritter in THE LONG ROAD HOME. Michael Kelly and Sarah Wayne Callies in THE LONG ROAD HOME.

This past August at the Television Critics Association (TCA) Summer Press Tour the National Geographic Channel presented a panel which included cast members Jeremy Sisto, Sarah Wayne Callies, Kate Bosworth, Michael Kelly, Jon Beavers, E.J. Bonilla as well as author Martha Raddatz and series creator/writer Mikko Alanne. Here are a few highlights (edited for clarity and readability) from that panel.


Kate Bosworth (left) and Sarah Wayne Callies (right) at TCA Summer Press Tour.

Question: Kate and Sarah, did you get to meet with any of the wives or family members of the soldiers?

Kate Bosworth: I had the great fortune to speak with Gina regularly.  She was just so incredibly generous and willing to share intimate details of her life and marriage, things that are a little strange to share with a total stranger.  She's been so supportive of us telling the story.  I communicated with her every day, either speaking directly or with text.  There were some very heavy moments in this for all of us and she just knew when to send me a text and say, "you will be great today."  It would just move me.

Sarah Wayne Callies: This is a war story that passes the Bechdel test. That's not something you can say very often and I think it's a privilege for us to represent the women's courage and strength in balance to what the guys were doing up here, too.

Michael Kelly as Lt. Col. Gary Volesky in THE LONG ROAD HOME.

Question: Did you actually film in Fort Hood, Texas, and Killeen?

Mikko Alanne: We built the set for Sadr City in the actual site where the soldiers from our story actually trained before going to Iraq. It gave us the opportunity to film in the actual soldiers' homes, in the actual chapels, the Family Readiness Center – which was something unprecedented for television in terms of the level of authenticity. We worked very closely with all the families, all the principal soldiers that we could in making sure that we had the details right.

Michael Kelly: We lived on the base. As actors, we're usually pretty fortunate in getting to live in nice hotels. I think it was such an advantage to all of us actors. It had this real communal thing for the actors that I think was invaluable to us. The training really brought us all together.

E.J. Bonilla: There's something about going home every day from set and being reminded why we're doing this, that the military is made up of millions of little pieces. And each of those little pieces are individuals with families and problems and money issues and everything. That was vital for me, just having those people around, getting to bond with my guys and just hang out. If we were in L.A., it'd be "Later guys, I'll see you on set."

Jon Beavers: It was immersive and I think that translates in a huge way to the finished product. We were in the facility that these guys trained at before they went overseas and experienced what we're portraying – there's the weight of that responsibility. Not only that, some of the background actors are enlisted men so we're literally in the trenches with actual soldiers. We felt an amazing inclusion and an amazing responsibility being there.

Jeremy Sisto at TCA Summer Press Tour.

Question: Did this series change your preconceptions about war and combat in any way?

Jeremy Sisto: It was a unique experience from everything else I've ever done because the experience we're trying to portray is something that is virtually impossible to really fathom unless you've gone through it. We wonder if we would have the courage that these men showed on that day, if we could find it within ourselves to show up in the way they did and the way they have since. It was hard not to be affected throughout the experience in that way.

Question: Do you look at people in uniform differently now?

Michael Kelly: It's an enormous responsibility to take on. We're portraying people that are still alive. It's just such a responsibility to do it the best you can and tell this story. I want people to take from this exactly what these guys did – the sacrifice. We all see soldiers and we all say, "thank you," but what you really see is that war is not just that guy dying in his brother's arms, it's the families at home, it's that woman who has to tell her child, "you're never going to see your dad again." I think we, as a country, need a reminder of that, of what it is that these guys are actually doing and to respect those veterans when they come home. That's the most important thing to me.

Jon Beavers: I think we start that by recognizing ourselves in the soldiers, by recognizing the human element. It was terrifying to do it because I'm going to play a decorated soldier who's been hired to watch me do it. From an intimidatingly close distance, by the way. And what motivates these guys is the man on the right and left of them, the man and the woman that they're in the trenches with and waiting for orders with. It's the incredible bond between soldiers, it's the human aspect in the inhumane. If we connect with that, we'll better understand and better respect what sacrifice these soldiers and these families and these communities make.

Martha Radditz at TCA Summer Press Tour.

Question: What do you hope the viewers will understand from THE LONG ROAD HOME?

Michael Kelly: The show offers a bunch of different perspectives of both the families at home and the soldiers on the ground. It's very well rounded and I don't think that's been done before.

Martha Raddatz: They tell the story about real people. You've all seen war movies but with this one, I think you immediately identify with these soldiers and with the families at home. You know who they are. And to see these actors evolve in these parts is one of the most remarkable things to me. I know these people care deeply about these soldiers and families. I've seen it. They've cooked meals for the Gold Star Families. The families who lost people in that battle are so close to the actors.

E.J. Bonilla: What I've experienced here with these awesome people has changed my life. I didn't understand anything about what soldiers go through. I can't even pretend like I know much now, but I know a lot more than I did. I respect you guys so much. And if the audience could just get a little bit of that, the whole show was worth it. This shows real humanity behind war, behind soldiers, behind the families involved with that.

Mikko Alanne: It was our aspiration from the beginning to try to create an intimacy and immediacy to the experience that no one had ever really done for television before. It's not one of those stories where it begins with the soldiers deploying and then we're at war and then we're back home. Every hour we reset the clock, meet a family all over again, and get to live through the day almost in real time. The way that the cast has brought these real people to life is just astonishing to watch.


If you want to know nothing about the episodes at all, skip this section. Provided by Nat Geo Channel, this episode guide includes general episode descriptions and specific plot details.

Tuesday, Nov. 7, at 9/8c
The soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas, say goodbye to their loved ones as they depart for Sadr City, Baghdad, on a peacekeeping mission. The area, without incident for a year, is known as the "safest place in Iraq." It's Task Force Lancer's fourth day in country, when the troops under Lt. Shane Aguero are ambushed during a routine sanitation support mission. The first shots sound like popcorn, and within minutes bullets pound the vehicles in a relentless hailstorm. With two vehicles down, Aguero's Platoon has no hope of getting back to base. Braving an intensifying rain of bullets from rooftops, the men head down a long, narrow and nameless alley, where they find refuge in a house — with a terrified Iraqi family inside. Back at Camp War Eagle, Lt. Col. Gary Volesky and Capt. Troy Denomy launch the first of three rescue missions to retake the city and free their men before it's too late. On the homefront, the soldiers' wives and families continue on with daily life, willing themselves to maintain normalcy during their loved ones' deployment and unaware of the mounting situation in Iraq.

"Into the Unknown"
Tuesday, Nov. 14, at 10/9c
Denomy leads the first rescue into Sadr City under heavy fire, facing an overwhelming Iraqi militia. It's clear insurgents have been preparing for this ambush for weeks. Volesky launches the second rescue convoy. Both rescue convoys take heavy casualties, while Aguero and his men struggle to hold their position in the Iraqi house. Meanwhile, back on the homefront in Fort Hood, Texas, Gina Denomy faces challenges of her own as she adjusts to being a new care team leader in the Fort Hood Family Readiness Group and the mother of a newborn son.

"In the Valley of Death"
Tuesday, Nov. 21, at 10/9c
Before Staff Sgt. Robert Miltenberger's deployment, he is overcome by a strong premonition that he will die in Iraq. He's so certain, that's he's already said his goodbyes to his wife and family. Now in the thick of battle, the premonition returns, causing Miltenberger to abort his troop's advance in the rear of one of the rescue convoys, narrowly saving his men. But Miltenberger's vehicle – an open LMTV truck – has been hit, and as night falls, he and his men get stranded in the city under increasingly dangerous conditions. Elsewhere in the city, Denomy evacuates his wounded and regroups with Volesky for another rescue attempt, while Aguero and his men brace for contact. News of the ambush reaches stateside, and LeAnn Volesky and Gina Denomy try to reassure worried families as tension and fear mounts.

"The Choice"
Tuesday, Nov. 28, at 10/9c
Originally a bitter opponent of the U.S. occupation, interpreter Jassim al-Lani was once strongly drawn to the militia behind the ambush, but left it following the murder of a close friend. A devout Muslim, the quiet al-Lani is not trusted by all the soldiers, especially Sgt. Bourquin. Tensions rise in the house of refuge as the insurgents change tactics and force Aguero to make a decision that will scar his platoon forever. Back at Fort Hood, LeAnn and Gina learn about the casualties overseas and do their best to prepare themselves and calm the families that rely on them for support.

"A City Called Heaven"
Tuesday, Dec. 5, at 10/9c
Pfc. Tomas Young believes strongly in the ideals of justice, but he also believes in war and retribution. He quickly learns about the realities of war when Miltenberger's troop comes under a blaze of bullets. Casualties mount in the rear of their LMTV truck as Denomy tries yet again to rescue the stranded platoon. Still on the roof of the Iraqi house, Aguero's men reckon with the destruction they were forced to cause. For Young, this exact moment on April 4, 2004, marks the beginning of a lifelong struggle and a mission of peace, through which he'll touch countless lives.

"Abandon Hope"
Tuesday, Dec. 12, at 10/9c
Sgt. Eric Bourquin's tough facade hides a heartbreaking past, which led him to drop out of high school at 17 years old to join the Army. Now 23, Bourquin finds himself stuck in the mazelike suburb of Baghdad — Sadr City. The ammunition supply is quickly diminishing for the troops in the Iraqi house. Bourquin is struggling to signal helicopters in a desperate last-ditch effort to get located, leading to a final battle. At Fort Hood, the families are engaged in their own challenges as more news trickles in from Sadr City.

"Always Dream of Me"
Tuesday, Dec. 19, at 10/9c
The climactic final chapter of the eight-part global event series, THE LONG ROAD HOME. On the eve of the battle, Spc. Israel Garza has a dream of returning home to his wife, Lupita, and their two kids. Rescuers finally punch through to the stranded platoon, but the battle hasn't finished taking its toll — both in Sadr City and Fort Hood. As the hours grow darker and the causalities mount, the now-wounded Garza holds on to a dream he had the previous night, determined to get back home. Eight hours after the first shots were fired, the men of the 1st Cavalry Division are reunited and must cope with the new realities of the war that has just begun. The soldiers and families honor their fallen.


• While there had been signs of unrest for months, before the attack, the U.S. military was not overly concerned with Sadr City. Since its residents were Shiites who opposed Saddam Hussein, they were expected to welcome the U.S. presence. In the year following Hussein's capture, most violent clashes involved Sunnis, who had backed Saddam.

Jason Ritter as Troy Demony in THE LONG ROAD HOME.


• As it was a peacekeeping mission, the Army hadn't brought its heaviest equipment to Sadr City. A number of Bradleys — heavily armored tanks — had been left behind in the U.S. The thinking was that too much armor created a barrier between the soldiers and residents, which would make the residents less trusting of the occupation forces. During the ambush on April 4, the soldiers in vehicles called LMTVs (light medium tactical vehicles) had the least protection and suffered the worst casualties.

A scene from THE LONG ROAD HOME.

• The ambush came just as two Army battalions were in the midst of transferring command. So, the soldiers who knew the city best had their bags packed. And the soldiers who were just arriving didn't know their way around yet.

A scene from THE LONG ROAD HOME.


• The medical station was not set up for casualties on the scale of this ambush. Capt. David Mathias, the camp doctor, expected to be treating intestinal problems, dehydration and bug bites. The camp did not have a blood supply for transfusions and so could only stabilize people to be airlifted to the hospital in the green zone. The camp was so short on space that people were being treated outdoors, encircled by vehicles whose headlights provided illumination.

• The eight soldiers killed in Sadr City marked one of the worst single losses for American forces since Baghdad was captured the year before.

Behind-the-scenes look at THE LONG ROAD HOME.


• During the battle, Mahdi militiamen and their sympathizers hauled obstacles into strategic intersections and roads, from old rusting freezers and fruit stands form the markets to rows of metal spike strips. A Bradley might have been able to plow through, but not a Humvee.

• Battalion leadership estimated that 200 to 300 Mahdi militiamen had positioned themselves along each of the major streets in Sadr City.