Chris Roessner, an Iraq war veteran turned screenwriter, is tired of the stereotype that millennials are often selfish, unmotivated, and narcissistic.
Following high school, Roessner was accepted to a top film school in California, but had no means to pay for it. He decided to join the military instead to utilize the GI Bill incentive, which is designed to help servicemen cover the cost of their education. He enlisted in the Army in 2001. Little did he know that he would soon have his boots on the ground in Iraq.
Based on his time overseas, Roessner wrote the film, Sand Castle, which shares his experiences as a young machine gunner in Iraq after 9/11. Roessner, now 33, won the “Make your Mark” award from the Pat Tillman Foundation on Saturday. In his acceptance speech, he took the opportunity to put the spotlight on a top issue that he sees affecting his generation.
“I’m of the opinion that one cannot disrespect our generation and respect the military at the same time. Those two thoughts are in opposition,” Roessner said in his speech.
Tired of the stereotypes, the filmmaker said he’d like to see people change their mindsets on young Americans and be more mindful of the sacrifices they have also made for this country. According to the Department of Defense’s latest demographic report, 76.2 percent of all active duty and selected reserve members are 35 years old or younger.
Roessner told Red Alert Politics that his message is clear to those who negatively characterize the entire generation of millennials.
“Every generation is defined by the few who answer the call to the problems of their time. Problems I may add that we didn’t ask for. We were asked to shoulder two of the longest wars in our country’s history, weather a great recession, surmount crippling student loan debt, and return from war at a young age and navigate a society that, as a whole, is quite disconnected from the sacrifices made by the military,” he said.
In the 7-year war, over a thousand deaths were soldiers 22-years-old and younger. The average age of a soldier who lost their life in Iraq was 26 years-old.
Roessner argues that people are widely disconnected from the sacrifices that young service members are making for their safety. He does understand that there are some millennials who fit the bill as ‘quantifiably lazy and unmotivated,’ but doesn’t think the minority should dictate the narrative for the majority of the generation.
The young military veteran questions those that stereotype his generation.
“Why does one feel the need to separate the honorable deeds of my generation from the less-than-honorable? There is a dangerous confirmation bias happening that blinds us to millennial potential. If we don’t see it, it will be wasted,” Roessner explained.
Roessner is one of the first to tell his story through film on the Iraq war. He hopes that through his motion picture, civilians get a better understanding of just how young the soldiers were, and how Iraqi-American relationships were on the ground. At the same time, he aimed to give veterans who served a story that they can resonate and revisit when thinking of the war.
“I witnessed young men and women do amazing things and I knew they’d never get a billboard or a magazine spread.” Roessner continued.
“That bothers me. It bothers everyone, regardless of politics. So I wanted to do something about it. My film is about stating the authenticity of my experience so that I can bridge the civil-military divide, and it’s about creating a tangible experience for vets so they can revisit their time at war, maybe feel a bit closer to that experience, so it doesn’t fade with time.”