National Geographic’s The Long Road Home: Cast Members Talk Real-Life Counterparts

The Long Road Home — Michael Kelly and General Gary Volesky on the set of the National Geographic event series

The Long Road Home Actors Talk Their Real-Life Counterparts

Based on ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz’s 2008 bestseller, National Geographic’s The Long Road Home mines the human impact of war via a cadre of American soldiers, their Iraqi interpreter and their terrified families awaiting news during 2004’s “Black Sunday” ambush on a newly arrived 1st Cavalry Division platoon in Sadr City, Baghdad.

RELATED: The Long Road Home: We’re On Set As Martha Raddatz’s Moving Tale Of Military Sacrifice Comes To National Geographic

An impressive nine-year effort, The Long Road Home filmed on Killeen, Texas’ Fort Hood military base, where writer/showrunner Mikko Alanne, production designer Seth Reed (a two-time Emmy nominee) and their team erected the largest working set in North America and a jaw-dropping replica of the Sadr City neighborhoods where the ambush and an ensuing daring rescue took place, leaving eight men dead and some 50 others injured.

But the buildings, the military vehicles, the jaw-dropping arsenal of prop weapons and ammunition were not what impressed most on the set. Actual soldiers from the Black Sunday ambush and rescue milled among the reverent actors and crew. A few, retired Charlie Company Sergeant Eric Bourquin and his fellow veteran Aaron Fowler, served as consultants on the series.

Jason Clark (Executive Producer), Benjamin Hayhurst, Eric Bourquin, Matt Fisk, Mikko Alanne (showrunner, executive producer and writer), Heriberto “Eddie” Arambula and Clay Spicer on the Texas set of “The Long Road Home” Lori Acken

“We are our own band of brothers,” says retired Charlie Company Lt. Clay Spicer, during a break in shooting of the actual ambush scene. “We didn’t ever need to tell that story to the world. We had that together. But the fact that it’s being told, and the brothers that we lost over there, that their stories are being told, it’s moving for us. We feel very blessed and humbled.”

With this being told, everyone gets to see what the price of this really is — and what the sacrifice really was. The loss and the pain,” adds Bourquin. “Because we all know the loss and the pain of the people that aren’t here right now.”

We asked The Long Road Home cast members to share their thoughts on the real-life heroes they played.

 

Michael Kelly on Gary Volesky: Martha had done this little thing at a honky-tonk for us and Eric Bourquin and a couple of others were introducing me to all the guys who were [in Baghdad] at the time. Eric was like, “This is Michael. He’s playing Volesky.” And they literally looked me up and down and were like, “Good luck.” Every one of those men looks up to Gary Volesky to this day — said if he’d call them, they’d follow him to hell. They’d rob a bank for him. Anything he asked, they’d do it. Thirteen years later. Four or five days later, I actually met General Volesky. He came to the set and we had an incredible time together. But it was overwhelming to play someone who’s still alive, who is such an incredible man.

The Long Road Home Michael Kelly and Gary Volesky
The Long Road Home — Michael Kelly and General Gary Volesky National Geographic/Van Redin

Sarah Wayne Callies on LeAnn Volesky: LeAnn is a woman who is better described by other people. Because if you ask Gary and LeAnn what they did, they would say, “Nothing. Didn’t do anything.” But when you talk to other people, they say, “I couldn’t have gotten through it without LeAnn. LeAnn was our rock. LeAnn had the strength that allowed us all to move through the emotions that we needed to.” So, playing LeAnn became more about playing the truth. Which is: Can I find that spirit of absolute devotion, total service and selflessness?

Long Road Home Gary LeAnn Volesky
General Gary Volesky and his wife LeAnn Volesky. National Geographic/Van Redin

Jason Ritter on Troy Denomy: The thing that struck me the most about him, and what I took away from our conversations, is — and this is a common thread for everybody that I’ve talked to — very rarely do you hear any sort of complaint about themselves or what was happening for them. Their wounds were secondary to what was happening for everybody around them. That was what my conversations with Troy were like. He’s talking about Eddie Chen and other soldiers that fell and are still on his mind, all these years later. It’s just something that never goes away.

Troy Denomy, left, Jason Ritter on the set of The Long Road Home (right) Denomy photo: U.S. Army, Ritter photo: National Geographic/Van Redin

Jeremy Sisto on Robert Miltenberger: What I was going for was this feeling that he was slightly removed from his own existence — that he was at a distance from his own emotions, from his own experience. He’s not in a great place to be a soldier. He’s got one foot out the door, and that’s what his troops see in him. But then, as the story goes on, you see another side of him. And the other side is someone who loves these kids a lot, and just knows what the effect war can have on these kids. He hates it. And yet he also loves it. Says that it’s great, that there’s a camaraderie that you have … There’s a real contradiction within him. He’s like no one I’ve ever met.

The Long Road Home Jeremy Sisto Robert Miltenberger
Jeremy Sisto (left) and Robert Miltenberger (right) on set of The Long Road Home at U.S. Military post, Fort Hood, Killeen, Texas. National Geographic/Van Redin

Jon Beavers on Eric Bourquin: You come in extremely intimidated to play an actual war hero who is not only still very much alive and kicking, but is going to stand 10 feet from you while you pretend to do what he actually did. And then you meet the guy. It’s tough to feel uncomfortable around Eric. I worked on a kid’s show before this for Nickelodeon and Eric’s kids used to watch it. So, he was like, “How do you feel, man? Is this weird for you?” And I was like, “I’m glad you asked that, because it’s really weird for me. And it must be weird for you.” And he’s like, “Hey, I’m talking to Twist from the Fresh Beat right now!” … He calls himself a circus bear because he’s 6-and-a-half feet tall and a big, bubbly presence — but he’s also capable of defending himself and his brothers when it’s necessary. He’s a shepherd. But he’s a violent shepherd.

The Long Road Home Eric Bourquin and Jon Beavers
Sergeant Eric Bourquin and Jon Beavers on the set of National Geographic’s The Long Road Home. National Geographic/Van Redin

E.J. Bonilla on Shane Aguero: What everybody keeps talking about him is he is the unassuming hero. You wouldn’t expect this guy to be an incredible soldier, based on what’s there typically. But he is. He’s @#$%ing brilliant. He’s not the most physically imposing guy. He’s not the most aggressive talker. But when the shit hits the fan? He’s an animal. Eric told me, “Shane, he’s like everybody’s little brother, but he’s also a ‘break glass in case of war’ kind of guy.” He’s like, “If I’m in a firefight, that’s the guy I want with me.” That’s such an interesting dichotomy, right? That everybody’s favorite little brother, who’s like a buddy, is also the guy who, if something is going down,  you want with you. I hope I caught a little of that.

The Long Road Home
E.J. Bonilla on the set of “The Long Road Home” (left) ; Lt. Shane Aguero in Baghdad (right) E.J. Bonilla: National Geographic/Van Redin. Shane Aguero: U.S. Army

The Long Road Home two-hour premiere Tuesday, Nov. 7 at 9/8c on National Geographic

About Lori Acken 1195 Articles
Lori just hasn't been the same since "thirtysomething" and "Northern Exposure" went off the air.