The Team Jesse Foundation
Mission: To provide education and support for families of fallen soldiers in honor of SSG Jesse Williams


Mission: To provide education and support to families of fallen soldiers in honor of SSG Jesse Williams

Filmmaker Brett Bowker Shares Army Heroes' Stories from Florida


'The Long Ride Home' made its Florida premiere at the 8th annual Gasparilla International Film Festival last week in Tampa with two screenings.   I proudly represented the film and the foundation, spreading the message to more people across the country.  The unique and historic Ybor City of Tampa provided a wonderful setting, making a comeback in recent years as a center for the city's cultural and artistic celebration.  Filmmakers and talent, including myself, strolled in style across the red carpet as camera bulbs flashed.  A few celebrity sightings provided the nuance of the traditional Hollywood glamour.  It is the first time the film was seen in the South and its impact on audiences was again profound. However, for me the most memorable moment was meeting the parents of a young soldier honored in the final minutes of the film.  In spirit with the mission of Team Jesse to keep memories of the fallen alive, I will tell his story.

Army 1st Lieutenant Dimitri del Castillo was killed June 25, 2011, a day that infamously remains the most difficult of 'The Ride'.  The high heat of the Utah desert challenged Kevin and Matt on their bikes, pushing them to the limit.  It is a sequence featured in the film.  Simultaneously the same day, the young 24-year old Dimitri, a 2009 West Point graduate was killed in combat in the high mountains of Afghanistan.  He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division at the Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.  In my meeting with Dimitri's parents Carlos and Catherine I discovered some striking coincidences; Dimitri's birthday is the same day as Jesse Williams’- June 9.  They were also both rugby players and Dimitri was the captain of the team at West Point.  Dimitri was an excellent athlete and an even greater soldier, earning his Airborne wings and completing Ranger School.  He was committed to the Army, his comrades and family as much as Jesse was.  He met his wife, Katie Pulliam, a fellow cadet at West Point.  They were married before they deployed to Afghanistan.  Her story, in her own words of their love and life together can be read here.  Dimitri was buried later that summer at West Point, a location Kevin and Matt visited just prior to ending 'The Ride' on September 11, 2011.

Whether this meeting was by fate, faith, or coincidence there is an overall benevolent serendipity that this was the right place to be.  It made me think the message of 'The Long Ride Home' is for everyone, those fallen and those left behind to find their way home.  The way home is always the most difficult, but the journey is something all people make in one way or another.  It is a place where we know we are loved and where the future looks bright and 'every little thing is gonna be alright'.  I will not forget Dimitri’s story.

Much of the magic of filmmaking is what occurs off screen in the hearts of the audience.  I take immense satisfaction in knowing that making this film so profoundly touches a family who shares the same sentiments and emotions captured on the screen. As a filmmaker, it is the vindication of the labor and emotion put into the production, knowing that in the chronicling of this story, you have done a good deed.  It also bears a stark reminder of reality, when later that day on the local news I saw that another young Tampa Bay local, Spc. Zachary Shannon, 21 of Dunedin, FL died of wounds sustained from a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.  For his story please visit here.  As the wars continue we must be aware of the daily sacrifices of soldiers and the families left at home.

I would like to thank the Honorable Suzanne Sexton for her support, GIFF directors Joe and Megan Restaino for hosting me and allowing us to screen the film at the festival.  Also thanks to all those staff, volunteers, sponsors and donors at the festival for their contributions for creating a great event.

Brett Bowker