It is a long way away — the distance between the Iraqi province of Al Anbar and the American state of Wyoming…yet, somehow, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl (USMC) felt like making a trip out of it with some of his fellow Marines.
But this was no random road trip with your college roommates. Okay, it was a voluntary trip. Sure, he had a chum or two ready to join him on a moment’s notice. Of course, the trip was long and crossed many time zones, yet this trip had a few things separating it from the spontaneous adventures of Bill and Ted. This trip had a little bit of Chance, and a whole lot of honor and respect.
The trip Strobl and his brothers-in-arms made from Al Anbar to Wyoming was not just a trip — it was a mission. That mission was to make sure 19-year-old Corporal Chance Phelps, a young Marine who had been killed by hostile fire in Iraq, got home in order to rest in peace.
A real-life story that is both noble and heart-warming, Kevin Bacon brings the story of Chance Phelps to a wide audience this weekend, when HBO Films presents Taking Chance. An account of a few brave Marines as told through the eyes of Strobl, Bacon takes on the lead role of the Lieutenant Colonel and his quest to give the proper respect due to a fallen soldier. “Once in a while, you do something where you feel as though there’s a little bit more weight to it,” Bacon said about playing Strobl. “Certainly, this story and the story of Chance and the story of Mike, and the story of…service people throughout history who make this kind of sacrifice, lends a certain importance.”
It was a story that was not just important to Bacon but also to the person he portrayed in the movie. For Strobl, requesting military escort duty to accompany Chance’s remains to his family in Dubois, Wyoming was more than just important — it was a duty he took personally. On a recent tour of duty in Iraq, Strobl was scrolling through a list of fallen Marines when he came across the name of Chance Phelps. When Strobl noticed both he and the 19-year-old were from the same town, there was no doubt in his mind he would lead the escort duty.
What happened after was an outpouring of support from everyone in Strobl’s path between Al Anbar and Wyoming, including the groundskeepers he passed along the road to the cargo handlers at the airport and many others in between. Moved by the amount of love and respect for his journey with Chance, Strobl chronicled his escort mission in a personal journal, giving a first-person account of the military’s policy of providing a uniformed escort for all casualties.
“I found the telling of this kind of simple story and journey with this young Marine very moving,” said Bacon. “It was a story that I hadn’t seen before and wasn’t really aware of.”
“In terms of what surprised me — everything. I mean, from the way that the remains are transported to building the uniforms and the medals…escort duty in general I had no idea about.”
Bacon was not alone — very few people outside of the military are aware of such casualty escorts, yet such escorts occur a lot more frequently than one realizes, and Taking Chance is a tribute not only to Strobl but to all others who give their lives to military service. “[The message of Taking Chance] says the same thing [to those serving in the military] that it says to people who are not in the military and don’t have families in the military — they won’t be forgotten. There’s always a human being behind the policy, and I think that’s an important thing for us all to remember.”
In the process of making a film honoring those who dedicate their lives to defending the United States, Bacon stressed that Taking Chance avoids typical Hollywood clichés. “How do you make people enter into the film-going experience without a whole bunch of preconceived notions such as ‘it’s an Iraq movie’ or ‘it’s a political movie’?” Bacon candidly said. “It’s difficult to say it’s going to be a thriller or it’s going to be a comedy. You know it’s going to be a war movie. You almost just have to kind of give up on that front and just check it out. I think it will take you by surprise.”
In attempting to categorize the movie, Bacon said there is one thing Taking Chance is not — it is not a movie about the Iraq War or any other specific war. Instead, Taking Chance is a movie about honor, respect, and the noble service of the United States military.
“This film could take place during Vietnam. It could take place during Korea. It could take place…next year in Afghanistan,” Bacon quipped. “It’s not an Iraq movie. I would hope that it has a certain kind of timelessness and universality about it. I think it says more about war and America than it does about the actual time that we’re living in right now.”
While Taking Chance is not a film focused on any particular conflict, Bacon was honored to specifically highlight the life of a man who served in Iraq with nobility and honor. “It’s great to play someone who’s alive. I’m very fond of Mike,” Bacon said about Strobl. “I have a lot of respect for him. The whole thing was just an amazing journey. It’s just a film that I’m very proud of.”
Taking Chance is also a film every American can be proud of. As it chronicles a journey that is silent and virtually unseen despite its everyday nature, Taking Chance pays homage to the fallen and all those who, literally and figuratively, carry them home. Paying tribute to the people who gave their lives in military service, the film is a heart-warming movie based on real-life events.