By Adam Carranza
JulieHera DeStefano, an aspiring filmmaker, returned last year from Afghanistan, a warzone where she saw a different story that needed to be told: the experiences of U.S. female combat soldiers during their time in war and then their life after returning to the United States.
DeStefano spoke on November 3 at Montgomery College Germantown as part of the Frank Islam Athenaeum Symposia, where she announced that she and her team planned to release their work documentary, “Journey to Normal,” nationwide by 2015.
A Carnegie Mellon Graduate, DeStefano soon became a business manager of film and photography. DeStefano had previously served as a managing director and producer of an award-winning Broadway company and was inspired to make the film after watching an Oprah episode in which a woman veteran had found it difficult to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after losing an arm at war.
“Journey to Normal” features what DeStefano claimed to be the largest interview collection of women at war. She stated that she had met “Over 100 female veterans.”
During her speech, DeStefano introduced four returning female veterans who were interviewed as part of the documentary. One female medic veteran described the grisly moment of practicing for a mortar explosion drill, which eventually became a life saving procedure. “You had to drop on the floor, cover your ears, and open your mouth.”
The unexpected journey led the filmmaker and her team to a three-and-a-half month long stay in firefight-prone Afghanistan. With no “military background” DeStefano admitted that although at times she was treated as a soldier, she felt “well cared for and safe.”
DeStefano elaborated that what all the women felt, the guilt of leaving their team behind to come home, the adjustment to a normal life, and the changes expected to come were all part of “the loss of mission.”
“The willingness of these women and there families to share their experience with me has allowed my team to begin to understand their passion, their commitment, and the abundance of resiliency that they each have within them,” said DeStefano, “We must fundamentally change the conversation we are having about veterans in this country. We must move towards a more comprehensive understanding and appreciation of their service and their experiences and support them in a way that recognizes and fosters their innate inner resiliency.”
Recently, DeStefano and her team partnered with the National Service Organization of Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and in September 2014, the DAV presented a 20-minute edited version of the Journey to Normal Women to congress and other officials.
Besides the film, The “Journey to Normal,” DeStefano’s team has also procured an “online video archive which the journeytonormal.com states is “a searchable, public, web archive of our Afghanistan interviews accessible to historical researchers, healthcare professionals, academicians, and students, as well as our communities and veteran’s families,” according to her website.
“We continue to present at colleges and universities both locally and nationally and we have some additional partnerships which will be announced in the next few months,” DeStefano added.
For More information, visit journeytonormal.org, which includes the film trailer, the timeline of the film, and detailed information of DeStefano and her team.