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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, November 07, 2017 1:00 am

Series tells the story of brutal Iraq War battle

George Dickie | Zap2it

In 2004, a platoon of American soldiers found itself fighting for survival after being fiercely ambushed in Iraq, a story told in a series premiering this week on National Geographic.

The eight-episode series, “The Long Road Home,” premiering tonight, recalls the events of April 4, 2004, when the 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas, came under fire from militia in Sadr City, a day that became known in military annals as “Black Sunday.” Coming 11 months after President George W. Bush's “Mission Accomplished” speech, the incident would change the American military's view of Iraq from a peacekeeping mission to a fight against insurgents.

The story is based on the best-selling book by Martha Raddatz and stars Michael Kelly (“House of Cards”) as Lt. Col. Gary Volesky, the battalion commander who leads the rescue of the troops; Jason Ritter (“Kevin (Probably) Saves the World”) as Capt. Troy Denomy, who leads the rescue convoys into the city; E.J. Bonilla (“Unforgettable”) as Lt. Shane Aguero, leader of the ambushed troops; and Kate Bosworth (“The Art of More”) as Gina Denomy, Troy's wife. Sarah Wayne Callies (“The Walking Dead”), Noel Fisher (“Shameless”) and Jeremy Sisto (“Law & Order”) are also in the cast

The series was shot mainly at Fort Hood, on whose grounds the Sadr City set was constructed. The male cast members prepared for their roles by living on the base, doing military training and picking the brains of Army staff. Some got to meet their real-life counterparts, including Kelly, who came away impressed from his conversations with Volesky but slightly unsettled by his interactions with some of his men.

“I showed up and a couple of the soldiers who he'd been working with said, 'Hey guys, this is Michael, he's playing Gary Volesky,'” Kelly recalls. “And not faulting them for it but every one of them looked at me up and down just like, 'Good luck, buddy.' Or they'd be like, 'You? I don't know.' I respect them for the filter they don't have or don't (care) to use. But at the same time as an insecure actor, I was like, 'God dang, this is hard enough, guys.'”

“But the second I met the man,” he continues, “I was like ... I see what they mean.' Like I had had him on this pedestal but those guys had him on that pedestal, and I met him and I was like, 'Wow, he deserves to be on one even higher than that.' He's just an incredible, incredible man – and now a three-star general.”

As the fighting raged overseas, wives and families waited for word on their imperiled loved ones. Bosworth, who stayed just off the base with the other female cast, got to know the real Gina Denomy and even became friends with her. She says confidence her real-life counterpart had in her was invaluable.

“It was a moving relationship to have,” Bosworth says, “and it's a rare experience to have something like this with someone because – I dyed my hair her color and I would send her photos and I'd say, 'I'm turning into you. It's part of the process. I'm on my way.' And then she'd say, 'Oh, you look great.'

“So I think it's a polarizing experience for people who are having actors portray them. ... I was just lucky to have someone who was so willing to share her life with me.”