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Identity: The Impact of Life as a Soldier

At Sun Valley High School, Acacia Sammons' English II classes and Bill Vivian’s Film Production classes came together to create documentaries concerning the identity of military personnel that have witnessed war.

While reading excerpts from Chris Kyle’s American Sniper in class, students decided to make documentaries concerning the identity of a veteran. “Mrs. Sammons was having us read American Sniper and she wanted us all to really dive in about a real perspective of a veteran and how they view their own identities and how [war] really changed them,” sophomore Ashley Brian said.

Each group of students created their own questions to ask the veterans and conducted the interviews. All students had the chance to interview both active duty and former soldiers with a focus on how their experiences in the military have affected their identities. As expected, the answers to the question about this subject were very involved.  “As a soldier, I’ve always thought of identity as personalized, but the military teaches you that you're an individual, but you're part of something so big and something so huge that you have your individual identity, but you also have your military identity which is [to say] you’ve got my back. It’s that mindset that nothing’s going to stop us. We’re here, this is where we fit into this groove, and whether it’s one person or one hundred people, identity is well held together. It’s meshed. It’s a well held machine, and it can make anything happen. That's the mindset I think a lot of military people have when they get into that cohesive group,” ADR Robert Funderburk said.

The interviews with the veterans were filmed and edited by Bill Vivian’s film classes.
“[My favorite part was] just having [the veterans] share their own personal experiences. I just thought that was pretty awesome. I had a big part in this because I had to take the video, edit the video. Some of it was hard because I am not experienced, but I try my best,” sophomore Peter Williams said.  

The experience was an educational one for all those who took part in the project. With 71 students and 16 representatives from the military involved in the task, even those who planned the event were greatly impacted. “I felt very connected to this project, and this whole idea of exploring identity in English II has always been around, but I saw Chris Kyle’s book on the news, I went and got it, and I read it in a day. This man, regardless of whether he was a hero or not, he went through some changes in his identity, and this was going to be something that my [students] could relate to. So, I took a gamble and let the students read it, and they loved it. I knew this was something special, and for some reason this unit has grown near and dear to my heart. This is something so relevant and so important to this generation that I want them to know exploring your identity doesn't always have to be through the classic novels that your read in English; it can be through anything,” Sammons said.

This activity revealed more than the identity of those who have served in the military, as personal stories were sparked through questions asked.  “[Being in the military] still affects you. It’s just the way you cope with it. If you let it consume you, then you're asking for trouble, but there’s positive aspects. Instead of thinking about blowing the building up where this family had their cranberry factor, I [think about leading] a convoy of state department people back to that place three months later and [giving] them money, a grant, to help rebuild that plant. So, that’s what I try to think about. I escorted these guys out to help get this family money to rebuild so this little kid is growing up, making money, taking over that family business one day. That’s just one success story, you know?” Funderburk said.

Overall, the project was meant to reach more than just an idea to show the identity of a veteran. “[As a class] we read parts of  American Sniper to be able relate to the veterans in how they perceive things and [to see] how things [change] in their minds. This project has opened up windows for people to be able to see how identity can change and how [it] can be altered by events. It can be as simple as reading a book when [studying] identity,” sophomore Taylor Coleman said.

Examining the identity of a soldier was the main goal for the project, but many benefitted in additional ways. “ I’ve learned a lot from examining their perspective, and you just don’t get it until you have seen or you can feel something [similar to the way they do]. The best thing that I have taken away from this is that the military individuals that I’ve spoke with said they want to come and watch the final outcome, and that they felt if they didn’t know their identity before they walked into that room, they definitely know it now,” Vivian said.

Click here to view the collaborative final product, Documentary of Military Identity.


Written by: Shane Rich, senior and staff writer for the school newspaper, The Spartan Shield
Posted: Mar 19, 2015 by Carrie Mabry

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