In the stories told on television and the research conducted by experts on military families, the narrative of the children is often left out. But one film maker dared to reach out to this population and bring to light the fears, joys and true emotions of military children. Claire Corriveau’s documentary “Children of Soldiers,” gives the public a never before seen glimpse into the lives of the children of soldiers.
Long-time journalist and military spouse, Corriveau decided to make the documentary as a second installment to her debut documentary “Nomad’s Land,” on the lives of military spouses. She decided to focus her second documentary on the lives of military children, which she filmed seven years ago.
“Nobody cares to do that. Whatever you see on military families or on TV, you barely hear the kids talk about their own experience of war. You see stories on TV about soldiers coming back from war and happy families but the kids, they have an experience they need to talk about it, and we need to know as Canadians that they too have an experience of war that the majority of the public doesn’t know about,” said Corriveau.
The documentary follows the lives of several military families from Petawawa. Namely, the Kruse family, the Mills, and the Perreaults.
“I had to choose the ones [families] that would be best to really explore the subject of what it is like to grow up in a military family. Especially during the years of the Afghan War and Petawawa was just perfect for that because their soldiers were deployed to Afghanistan.” stated Corriveau.
The film starts off with the tale of the Perreault family who is trying to reconnect with their father, Roger, after his deployment to Afghanistan and his diagnoses of an Operational Stress Injury (OSI). The Perreault children are shown expressing their emotions, thoughts and the impact the OSI has had on the entire family.
“It gave us a chance to tell our story and not only our story, but the story of other people who might be going through something very similar,” said Alisha Perreault.
Today, each of the Perreault children is chasing their ambitions. The eldest, Marissa, is now 22 years old and a mother of an eight-month-old baby. Alisha, 21, is studying to become a social worker at the University of Ottawa. Mathew, 19, recently finished Grade 13 and will go to nursing school in the fall. And lastly, Derek, 16, is in Grade 10.
Years after the filming of the documentary, the children are still trying to figure out their relationship with their father.
“I’d say none of the children are really close with their father. That’s because he puts on this persona that I’m tough, I’m okay, and he doesn’t let no one in,” said Frances Perreault, mother of the Perreault children.
The film also weaves together the tale of best friends Cyndi Mills and Jill Kruse and their children. Both families await the return of their husbands, who were deployed to Afghanistan. The two families support each other through the deployment, especially after the Kruse family received the heartbreaking news that their father and husband, Gregory Kruse, would not be coming home.
“I don’t think I could really understand. I seemed to be in a state of denial when that interview was filmed because I was using present verbs…I was very young, and for me to be calm and collected in front of cameras about something that had just happened four months ago, I guess it was amazing,” said Kari Kruse, who was interviewed in the documentary after her father’s passing.
Since her father died in Afghanistan during the course of filming the documentary, Kruse holds the documentary dear to her.
“I hold that documentary very close to my heart because that period of time was very difficult. It was a very traumatic experience. Even the music, the opening music to the documentary, I can always remember it,” explained Kruse.
Kari finished high school last year and then joined a program called Foundation Visual Arts at New Brunswick College of Craft and Design. The two twins, Victoria, and Megan, are currently in Grade 8.
“The audience, our fellow Canadians who support our military, who don’t really understand everything and what we go through. Again, they needed to see what the real impact of loss was the real impact of someone who had an injury from war was and what the impact was on the families,” said Jill Kruse, mother of the Kruse girls.
The Mills family was fortunate to welcome their father, Scott Mills, back home from the war, captured in a tearjerking scene of the documentary.
“It was just a moment in our lives that was documented and it was an opportunity to let other Canadians see what it was like for children in the military. Especially ones whose parents have been overseas because not a lot of people understand what that’s like,” said Maddie Mills, eldest of the Mills children.
Maddie graduated from the Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston in May of 2015 and is working at 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron as a finance officer and deputy of the reserve flight. Evan, the second eldest, is finishing his second year of the mechanical engineering program at RMC, working to become a pilot. The younger two Mills children, Delaney, and Connor, are in Grade 8 and Grade 4.
“When I recently watched the documentary my heart ached for military children, including mine. There is a burden they bear that either makes or breaks them,” said Cyndi Mills, mother of the Mills children. “I think Claire was able to capture how innocent yet mature military children are.”
Lastly, the film also captures the story of Audrey Menard, a teen helping her mother care for her younger kid brothers during her step father’s deployment.
The documentary was published in 2010 and is available online at the National Film Board Website.