I’m sitting here in tears. I’m honestly not sure anyone, with or without ties to the military, would be able to escape the emotional upheaval of what I just experienced…at least not without allowing their eyes to leak, even just a little.
As a writer, whenever I have the opportunity to review a film, I typically take a few hours, or a day, to process the message and convey my thoughts in a meaningful way to the reader. In my line of work, writing about emotionally charged events immediately after experiencing them could lead to miscommunicating the message that I am tasked with sending (i.e., I’m a blubbering mess that makes zero sense, and the message inevitably gets lost in translation).
This time, however, is different. This time, I need to write in the moment so that the message doesn’t get lost in translation. This time, it is imperative that I be raw, real, and completely honest with you…and myself.
FAMILY MISSION: THE TJ LOBRAICO STORY is a feature-length documentary about 22-year-old U.S. Air Force (USAF) Staff Sgt. Todd “TJ” Labraico, Jr., who was killed in action when his unit was attacked in Afghanistan in September of 2013. While on patrol, TJ and his fellow Airmen–including a K9 unit–interrupted the enemy trying to deploy an improvised explosive device (IED), leading to gunfire between them. TJ ran into enemy fire to protect his unit. Several of his teammates with him on patrol that evening provided an intimate account of the chilling event.
Aside from the gritty, yet very necessary details of what occurred on September 5, 2013, FAMILY MISSION, takes you on a trip through TJ’s life and heart, told by his friends and family. He was raised in small-town Connecticut and was born into military life. His mother, a USAF Lt. Colonel, gave birth to him while his father, USAF Master Sergeant was deployed during Desert Storm. Both of TJ’s parents served in the 105th Security Forces Squadron at Stewart Air National Guard Base in New York–the same squadron he belonged to at the time of his death. In fact, when TJ enlisted in the Air Force, his mother was the one to swear him in.
There are various divine connections throughout this film that I really don’t want to spoil for you. However, I am compelled to tell you that every single interview given and each account of TJ’s life and death will make you feel as if you knew him.
FAMILY MISSION is more than just the story of a fallen service member. It’s a story of patriotism, sacrifice, and healing. This film is a front row seat into the realities of war, and a glimpse into the hearts and minds of those who have lived it. It’s the story of a military family and the legacy of someone who made the ultimate sacrifice.
While we may not know TJ or his family personally, we do know they are one of us. They are a part of our military family.
I’ll be honest, this film hit me pretty hard, especially with Memorial Day just around the corner. I have to remind myself that it may have been difficult for me to watch this, but TJs family, and so many others, have lived this.
I needed this film in my life. I needed this gut check to remind me that more than 300,000 of our military men and women are still forward deployed, and every single one of them has a story, too. The one thing they all have in common is they all raised their right hands and swore to defend the Constitution of these United States against all enemies, both foreign and domestic. They all signed their names on a blank check to Uncle Sam for the amount of ‘up to and including’ their LIVES. This film gave me that perspective this Memorial Day.
In his brief 22 years, TJ impacted and saved a lot of lives. Today, May 23rd, FAMILY MISSION will be released on DVD and digital so the whole world can hear his story. Let’s honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in exchange for our freedom by watching this film Memorial Day weekend.
Freedom, most certainly, isn’t free.