SILVER SPRING, Md. – In November 2006, more than 50 veterans of the U.S. armed forces from around the country will be vying for seats in Congress. At no other time in history have so many veterans run for national office at the same time. The award-winning filmmaking team of Brent and Craig Renaud (OFF TO WAR) follow five of these veterans as they criss- cross their districts asking constituents for their vote. TAKING THE HILL tells the story of a group of veterans, most with no prior political experience or aspirations, who have chosen political action as a means to further answer the call of service to their country. The two-hour world premiere of TAKING THE HILL will air on the Discovery Times Channel on December 12, 2006, at 9:00 PM ET/PT.
Beginning in February 2006, when U.S. Army veteran Mike Lyon brought together the veteran candidates in Washington, D.C., in a loose coalition called the Band of Brothers 2006, the Renaud brothers have followed the candidates as they travel throughout their home states: Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas. Although most of the veterans considered themselves politically independent, or in some cases Republican, during their active military careers, they have come together this year to run as Democrats.
Though each of the races is unique, what binds the candidates is their shared intense disagreement with the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq war and their dismay with continued cuts to veterans’ programs back home. From Eric Massa, a retired Navy commander in rural New York State; to Rick Bolanos, a Purple Heart recipient in Vietnam; to Tammy Duckworth, an Army captain who lost both her legs when a grenade hit her helicopter in Iraq, this documentary will follow the stories of these veterans as they head into their respective political battles.
Having spent much of their working lives in the military, these veterans do not have personal wealth to fund their campaigns, nor do they have the political connections it takes to easily raise the vast amounts of money necessary to compete politically at the national level. Tammy Duckworth says that “all of us are underdogs,” running largely in conservative districts and often against entrenched Republican incumbents. Eric Massa calls himself a “no name, no money” candidate who, like the other Band of Brothers candidates, nevertheless believes he has what it takes to win.
TAKING THE HILL is about a group of outsiders fighting political battles and motivated by a desire to serve their country — not by going to war this time, but by going to Washington.
* A Purple Heart recipient, Sgt. Rick Bolanos is running in the 23rd District of Texas against Republican incumbent Henry Bonilla.Bolanos and his three brothers have the distinction of being the only four brothers to have served at the same time during the Vietnam War.Since their return from Vietnam, the Bolanos brothers have continued to fight for veterans’ rights.The national Democratic Party does not consider Sergeant Bolanos’ district to be “in play,” and so like many of the veteran candidates who have very little personal wealth from which to draw, he is running a bare-bones grassroots campaign.
* Capt. Tammy Duckworth was flying in a Black Hawk helicopter north of Baghdad in 2004 when a rocket-propelled grenade struck the cockpit, leaving her with both legs amputated and a shattered right arm. Duckworth, now a major, disagreed with the decision to invade Iraq and says, “When it comes to making decisions about sending our young people to war, we need strong voices in Congress who understand the consequences of those decisions.”Eloquent and determined, Major Duckworth early on garnered the support and encouragement of the national Democratic Party; however, like the others she faces a tough uphill race to win a seat in Illinois conservative 6th District against State Sen. Peter Roskam.
* As a Marine officer, Lt. Col. Andrew Horne led his troops into combat during the invasion of Operation Iraqi Freedom.Since enlisting in the Marines in 1979, Horne has been registered as an independent voter, believing that as a military officer his duty was to his country and his loyalty to the Constitution, not a particular party or president. However, while commanding an area the size of Montana in the Sunni Triangle of Iraq, Colonel Horne became disillusioned with the leadership of the Bush administration, which he said was not providing the troops with the support they needed to secure the peace. When he returned from Iraq, he changed his party registration from independent to Democrat and decided to run for Congress to oust the incumbent, Rep. Anne Northup in Kentucky’s 3rd District, who he felt was a rubber stamp for the Bush administration.
* Cmdr. Eric Massa spent 24 years on active duty as a Navy officer and served combat tours in Beirut and in Operation Desert Storm.Commander Massa was the first veteran candidate to declare his candidacy for Congress, doing so the day after George W. Bush was reelected. Commander Massa declares, “I will no longer stand by and watch while this president uses our troops as a political backdrop.The Iraq war will undoubtedly be remembered as the single greatest strategic blunder in our nation’s history.”Commander Massa is running against Republican incumbent Randy Kuhl in the 29th District of New York, which is rural and conservative.Commander Massa, along with Mike Lyon, is one of the original founders of the Band of Brothers 2006.
* Capt. Patrick Murphy was awarded the Bronze Star in February 2004 for his bravery during combat missions in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division.The son of a Philadelphia police officer, Murphy, at 32 years old, is the youngest member of the Band of Brothers.He is running for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 8th District against incumbent Mike Fitzpatrick.Arriving in Baghdad in a Humvee with no doors on it, Captain Murphy saw first-hand in Iraq the lack of proper training, equipment and armor that many in the armed forces received, as well as the benefits many were denied on their return.Murphy made it home, but 19 men from his unit did not.”I walked in my own combat boots and saw with my own eyes that we need a change in direction in this country,” he says.
In addition to the individual candidates, the Renauds will follow the many prominent personalities with whom the candidates come into contact as they seek the nomination of their party and then a seat in Congress itself. Those appearing in the film include President Bill Clinton, Sen. Hillary Clinton, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Gen. Wesley Clark, and triple-amputee and Vietnam veteran Sen. Max Cleland, who serves as a mentor to many of the Band of Brothers.
TAKING THE HILL is produced by Downtown Community Television (DCTV) for the Discovery Times Channel. Brent Renaud and Craig Renaud direct and produce for DCTV. Diana Sperrazza is executive producer for the Discovery Times Channel; Jon Alpert is executive producer for DCTV.
Discovery Communications, Inc. is the leading global real-world media company. Discovery has grown from its core property, the Discovery Channel, first launched in the United States in 1985, to current global operations in 170 countries and territories with nearly 1.4 billion cumulative subscribers. DCI’s over 100 networks of distinctive programming represent 27 network entertainment brands including TLC, Animal Planet, Travel Channel, Discovery Health Channel, Discovery Kids, Discovery Times Channel, The Science Channel, Military Channel and Discovery Home Channel.