'I Married the War': Kuna couple shines spotlight on veterans' wives

BOISE - Two years after releasing a documentary about one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War, a Kuna couple is back with a new film, called "I Married the War."

The documentary shines a spotlight on the wives of war veterans. It is told from the spouses' perspective, giving them a voice and showing the true impact of war at home.

"There are wives from World War II who are still alive, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Middle East wars and everything in between," said Betty Rodgers. "This is a group of people who have been silent."

Ken and Betty Rodgers brought the Vietnam War to the forefront in their 2014 documentary, "Bravo! Common Men, Uncommon Valor." It told the story of the siege at Khe Sanh from the perspective of the men who lived through it. 

"During our journey with 'Bravo,' it became very clear that there was another story out there," said Betty. "Think about how around the nation and around the world, how many wives are living with PTSD, traumatic brain injury, physical injury."

Betty knows how that feels. Her husband, Ken, is a Vietnam War vet.

"You come home from war, and I'm speaking as a man, a combat veteran, and you have all this pent-up emotion that you are not supposed to show because you are tough and this is what it took to get through combat," Ken said. "It all gets passed on to your family."

That was the inspiration for the Rodgers' latest documentary, "I Married the War," which tells the stories of the wives of war vets - women who have fought to keep their marriages and families together. 

"We are reaching out to women from around the country," said Betty.

They started in Idaho. Terri Topmiller is a mother and grandmother who lives in Star. She was married to a Vietnam War vet for 39 years before he passed. Her husband, Bob, lived for years with severe PTSD.

"My husband had nightmares from the day I met him," Terri said. "Every single night, he had the same nightmare over and over and over.

"The first 10 years we were married, he did not talk about the war, because back then nobody talked about the war," she added.

Years later, Terri joined a support group of military wives and realized she wasn't alone.

"It was about then that I really truly understood the ramifications of Vietnam," she said.

Laura Nickel is also featured in "I Married the War." Her husband, George, was the only survivor of a 2007 roadside bombing in Iraq. The blast left him injured both physically and emotionally.

"He struggled with undiagnosed PTSD and untreated traumatic brain injury for two years after he came back from Walter Reed," Laura said. "He started to have some severe problems re-adapting to civilian life."

In 2009, George Nickel was involved in an armed standoff with Boise police. Over a dozen rounds were fired, but incredibly, no one was injured. George went to jail, got treatment and went back to school, where he earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and his master's degree in social work.

He's now one of the Boise Police Department's allies, helping to make training videos for when police encounter veterans in crisis.

The Nickels are also the proud parents of a baby boy.

"It's been a long haul, but he's really turned things around and inspired other vets to get off their couches and make a positive difference and re-adapt," Laura said.

She had her own reasons for being a part of the documentary.

"For me it was therapeutic, because it helped me examine my relationship with my husband and come to a better understanding of what he deals with on a daily basis," she said. "I think unless a person has skin in the game, they really don't understand the human cost of war."

The Rodgers hope to share these stories and many more, to send a powerful message.

"That when we ask someone to go off to war, it's much bigger than what they think," said Betty. "When they come home, there is a cost afterwards."

These women who married the war are now sharing that experience to help other women just like them.

"I want people to know you are not alone," said Terri. "There are so many people who go through this every single day."

Ken and Betty are in the process of shooting the documentary now. You can follow their progress on Facebook. The new film is set to be released in late 2017.

Copyright 2016 KTVB


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