Justin Springer served in the First Infantry Division out of Fort Riley, Kan. Shortly thereafter, in 2004, he was deployed for nearly a year to Iraq. He went back for a second tour in 2007.
Springer became familiar with traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). He tells WTOP, he had conversations about whether soldiers should return to battle or go home after a brain injury.
According to Springer troops would say, "I'm good, I'm good, I'm good," but the commander decided they weren't "good," so they sent them home for treatment.
Springer says his commander took an aggressive stand about getting treatment for wounded troops, even if there were no visible wounds.
Springer recalls some of his once-sharp fellow soldiers becoming sleepy, forgetful and anxious and recognized the signs of invisible wounds.
When Springer returned from war and was honorably discharged from the Army, he began to research traumatic brain injuries. Then he decided to take on a two-year effort to chronicle his battle to recover from a TBI.
Springer thought the Army would balk at his request but allowed him to spend more than a year at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. The hospital treats some of most seriously wounded.
Springer chronicled the recovery of four male soldiers, ages 22 to 37. Some dealt with pain, others combat or post traumatic stress.
Springer wasn't sure at first how to boil his research down to an hour and a half for a film, but decided his focus would be strictly from the soldiers themselves.
"I wanted to do 90 minutes of just a soldier's perspective," says Springer. "And to show this is what happens when you come back with this injury and this is what they're going to face."
Springer points out that the war in Afghanistan is expected to wind down in 2014.
"We're still going to have hundreds of thousands of soldiers who've experienced these injuries that still need help."
That's why Springer hopes his film will "create a healthy dialogue about this injury and not just a lot of fighting and speculation."
Springer is honored to have served his country and proud his film will be seen at the GI Film Festival. It will be shown at 4 p.m. at the Naval Heritage Center.
Forty-three films are featured all week, including animation, fiction and documentaries.
The film festival is the nation's only military-focused film festival.
(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)