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The Long Road Home

The long road home

Denomy and First Cavalry Black Sunday experience featured in NatGeo miniseries

In March 2004, three days after the birth of his first child, Col. Troy Denomy ’96 deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II.

“We were largely in the mindset that we would be doing a lot of stabilization. We were rebuilding infrastructure,” says Denomy, who, at the time, was a captain and the commander of Charlie Company, 2-5 Cav in the First Cavalry Division out of Fort Hood, Texas.

Less than a week into his tour, however, the peace-keeping mission changed when militants ambushed soldiers on a sanitation mission in Sadr City, Baghdad. The ensuing eight-hour, citywide firefight between 800 soldiers and more than 2,000 enemy combatants left eight soldiers dead and more than 60 wounded, including Denomy.

“There were very special Americans who did very heroic things that day for their brothers to the left and to the right,” says Denomy, who, along with Lt. Gen. Gary Volesky (then a lieutenant colonel), led the mission to rescue the patrol pinned down by the initial attack. “As Lt. Gen. Volesky says, ‘uncommon valor was common that day.’”

ABC war correspondent Martha Raddatz retold the story of Black Sunday – April 4, 2004 – in her book “The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family,” and the National Geographic Channel has shared it again in a powerful eight-part miniseries by the same name that aired between Nov. 7 and Dec. 12, 2017. Episodes are available on YouTube. Jason Ritter plays Denomy, and Kate Bosworth plays his wife, Gina. Although portrayed throughout the miniseries, the Denomys are featured in three episodes: “Black Sunday,” Part I and Part II and “Into the Unknown.”

“There was the potential that we would fight, but intelligence was that it would be a fairly peaceful year,” he says. “We never envisioned the citywide ambush we experienced on that day.”

Between debriefs, the book, media interviews and now the miniseries, Denomy and the other soldiers in his battalion have had to recall those days and that tour of duty repeatedly over the past 14 years. It’s been both a blessing and a curse.

“In a way it’s been therapeutic, but time passes and healing – both emotionally and physically – occurs at different rates for different people,” says Denomy. “Pulling those memories back out and talking about them is not the easiest thing to do. Reading it in a book almost makes it more academic, but seeing it projected on screen ... it’s a more visceral reaction.”

Producers of the miniseries painstakingly created Sadr City at Fort Hood, where they shot the miniseries. According to Denomy, many families spent time on the set. “One of the things that was absolutely remarkable about the experience was that the Gold Star families could walk re-creations of the same streets where their loved ones served and made the ultimate sacrifice,” says Denomy. The way the actors, producers and directors connected to the story and to the families made the miniseries a success by Denomy’s standard. He also appreciates the way the book and the miniseries told the story of the impact back home.

“In Iraq we were dealing with what was right in front of us,” he says. “Back home they were working, keeping families running, taking care of each other and the wounded that returned, and worrying about us. Separation always creates a level of stress. When the environment is dangerous, stress increases.”

In 2004, families had to wait for the 24-hour news cycle to learn about conditions in Baghdad. Now the prevalence of Facetime, Skype and social media eases the burden of separation. “These are critically important for keeping the connection with families,” says Denomy, who majored in history and played soccer at Wofford. He met his wife via email through a fellow soldier while deployed to Bosnia in 1999.

“Our joke is that we did online dating before it was a thing,” says Denomy. They kept up the correspondence and eventually met back home at Fort Campbell, Ky. Now Denomy and Gina, a teacher, have two sons, Merrick (14) and Luke (10). They currently are stationed in the Washington, D.C., area where Denomy is assigned to the Pentagon and is working in the development and acquisition of weapons systems for the U.S. Army. Next fall he will transition to a colonel-level three-year command at Fort Belvoir, Va., for a project called Soldier Warrior.

When asked, Denomy talks about Black Sunday, but almost reluctantly and always with reverence and respect for his brothers in arms.

“That day was absolutely a watershed day for the war in Iraq, but it wasn’t the seminal part of my life,” he says. “The book and miniseries are about a particular set of circumstances and a particular group of people. Many units have experienced similar situations, and those stories will never be told.”

Denomy is quick to say that the story is not about him. “It is about a collective group of unbelievable soldiers, who I had the privilege to serve with, and their families. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’m alive today because of their sacrifices.”

 

by Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington ’89