Most Americans couldn’t find Micronesia on a map. And yet young men from the island nation (located 2,000 miles west of Hawaii) serve and die in the U.S. military.
That unusual relationship is explored in “Island Soldier,” a new documentary by Nathan Fitch that plays at DOC NYC this year and is touring other film festivals in 2017.
Fitch was a Peace Corps volunteer serving in Kosrae, one of the islands in the Federated States of Micronesia when he met a man who claimed to be an U.S. Army veteran who had just flown home from Iraq.
The FSM, a chain of four states and over 600 islands, is an independent nation. But, formerly a United States territory, it has an unusual agreement that lets America maintain military control over it, and allows men from the FSM to enlist in the United States armed forces.
“Island Soldier” follows three men (one posthumously) from the FSM who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s visually jarring to watch them go from this verdant island paradise to the snow-capped mountains of Colorado where one of the soldiers is stationed, then on to the flat desert of Afghanistan.
Like the young men in any small town, they enlist in the military for a combination of patriotism and economic reasons. The FSM’s economy is a mixture of past and present, relying heavily on fishing and farming.
The average income in the FSM is just $2000 per year, and a soldier can make nine times that, so it’s not surprising that the enlistment rate is twice that of the average United States community. But accessing military benefits is difficult when the nearest VA hospital is 2,000 miles away by plane.
“Island Soldier” follows a couple of soldiers on their journeys halfway around the world, as well as stays back in FSM with their parents. It tells a story that’s universal – of sacrifice and loyalty, the bravery of young men at war and the worry of parents back home.
And it tells a story that’s specific, of these families a half a world away that seem to identify as American more than Micronesian. America ought to identify with them too.