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Kyle Hausmann-Stokes: A Soldier and Filmmaker Part 1

January 23, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

Jordan Poast

Kyle Hausmann-Stokes with Iraqi children

Upon returning from a yearlong tour of duty in Iraq, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Kyle Hausmann-Stokes was disturbed by a decided lack of support from civilians back home.  Despite having witnessed horrific sights and experienced grave trauma, Stokes discovered that the affluent youth he shared a classroom with at the University of Southern California displayed scant interest in his travails as a national defender. In his rare conversations on the subject, he would receive little more than superficial inquiries about warfare, with a complete avoidance of weighty issues like his psychological and emotional transition back to daily life, which left Kyle alienated from the country he had just finished protecting. Fueled by this general public apathy, Stokes soon discovered his life’s ambition, to relay the oft-overlooked soldier’s story to the masses. In a matter of a few years, Kyle’s dream has become a reality, as his professional film company, Blue Three Productions, has succeeded in creating content that addresses veteran affairs while standing firm on its goal of employing as many cast and crew members with military backgrounds as possible.

Raised in Verona, Wisconsin, Kyle exhibited an early passion for filmmaking, one which led to his decision to study production in college. Lacking the funds to pay for higher education, however, Stokes decided instead to enlist in the army right out of high school.  Kyle’s timing proved inauspicious, as his duty became active shortly before the events of 9/11. Within weeks, the green 19-year old found himself fighting alongside an anti-insurgency training group at the Joint Readiness Center in Fort Polk, Louisiana. Informed by real Iraqi and Afghani insurgence experts flown in from overseas, Stokes was tasked with conducting three-week training regimens that nearly all soldiers deployed to war in the Middle East were required to participate in. These regimens consisted of elaborate combat simulations, complete with explosions, tanks and live weaponry. The explosions, however, were controlled by Hollywood pyrotechnics specialists, while the tanks and firearms were outfitted with a military-grade assortment of laser tag devices.

Kyle Hausmann-Stokes on set

Despite the overt game-ness of these exercises, Kyle found the three-week preparatory trials to be grueling experiences. To assuage his near-constant anxiety, Stokes began carrying a film camera with him wherever he went, documenting his training activities in the process. After edited copies of his raw footage began circulating on base, Kyle achieved a sort of celebrity status from his troop, as he soon became known as the “film guy.”  The amateur director’s movies became so immensely popular that a monthly tradition developed for the 1,000 soldiers in his company to congregate at the post theater to watch his footage of war games and parachuting exercises.  In addition, many soldiers would send DVD copies of Stokes’ films home to their families as a way of sharing their experiences. “I feel like one of the reasons I enjoy doing what I do, and why the films were such a hit, is because many of my fellow infantrymen were not as skilled in modes of self-expression.  I tried to provide that for them.”

In 2004, as Stokes’ three years of duty were coming to an end, the Pentagon instituted a stop-loss mandate for all active soldiers. Despite reaching his discharge date, Kyle would be required to enter a new war, this time in Iraq. Mere days before his deployment, however, Stokes’ commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Griffith, requested him to his office. Admiring Kyle’s gift for storytelling and his films’ positive effect on morale, Griffith offered an exceptionally rare and coveted gift, a get-out-of-war-free card. Stokes would be exempt from duty under the stipulation that he seek out and attend the nation’s best film school with the intent purpose of relating the soldier’s experience to the general public. Beset by guilt, Kyle reluctantly accepted, and soon found himself studying production overseas at Universidad de Madrid and Arizona State before applying to the Mecca for aspiring filmmakers, USC.

Kyle Hausmann-Stokes in a foxhole in Iraq

In addition to his undeniable talent, Stokes’ harsh experience in the military provided a unique perspective for USC, and in 2006 the budding director was accepted to the prestigious and exclusive School of Cinematic Arts Master’s Program, home of film gods like Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis. To the chagrin of Kyle, though, the same week he was accepted into USC, he was recalled to Iraq. Incredulous of history’s repetitive nature, Stokes again submitted exemption forms for deployment, which, unexpectedly, were granted. After thoughtful consideration, though, Kyle decided to tear up his exemption and honor his commitment.

Despite being out of military duty for two years, Stokes soon found the next chapter of his tremendous journey set halfway across the world in Iraq. Once there, he would endure harrowing personal ordeals in warfare, the effects of which continue to follow him to this day.  Instead of traveling down the path of denial or submission like so many of his contemporaries, Kyle began embracing the stark reality of his circumstances. Marrying his military obligations with his love of cinema, Stokes would find a constructive means of reaching his dream through the establishment of his self-made production company, Blue Three Productions.

 

To watch Hausmann-Stokes’ film, “Now, After,” click here.

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