By John Rutherford, NBC News Producer, Washington
Ami Neiberger-Miller lost her brother Chris (below, left) to a roadside bomb in Iraq last summer. Army Spc. Christopher Todd Neiberger, 22, of Gainesville, Fla., was killed Aug. 6 in Baghdad and buried at Arlington National Cemetery. In her grief, Ami turned to TAPS, a national support group for families of fallen service members.
"I find that within the TAPS community, I'm surrounded by people who understand what I am going through, who are caring and loving, and who want to help support each other in dealing with loss," Ami said.
Ami and TAPS organized a screening Wednesday night in Washington, D.C., of a new movie, "Grace is Gone," starring John Cusack as a father who grapples with telling his daughters their mother has been killed in Iraq.
"There is this sense of - now what do I do?" Ami said. "I can relate to that feeling of just wanting to shut down and tune the world out. After my brother's burial at Arlington, I just felt like closing the door of my house and not going outside for a week."
Ami found the movie "remarkably poignant and touching." "Grace is Gone" is out now on limited release. You can view the movie's trailer here.
In the real world of war, eleven American service members died last week in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, and the Arabian Sea.
1. Army Pfc. Joseph Berlin Jr., 21, of Chelsea, Ala., was remembered as a fun-loving kid who liked football and computers. "He did a lot of computer stuff," his father told WTVM. "He was really, really smart with computers. He built his own." Berlin joined the military in 2006 as a fire support specialist and deployed to Iraq in December with the Fourth Infantry Division. He died Dec. 20 in Baghdad of injuries suffered in a non-combat incident. His death was under investigation.
2. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Victor Jeffries, 52, of Honolulu was a high school physical education teacher and Navy reservist who deployed to Kuwait in September on a six-month tour to expedite the customs process for service members returning home from Iraq and Kuwait. He was injured in a vehicle accident on Christmas Eve and died on New Year's Eve. Jeffries, a Gulf War veteran, was one of the oldest service members to die in the Middle East conflict.
3. Army Sgt. Reno Lacerna, 44, of Waipahu, Hawaii, died Dec. 31 in Al Qayyarah, Iraq, of an undisclosed illness. Lacerna, with the Third Infantry Division, was a contact for AnySoldier.com. He agreed to receive goods from people in the States and give them to soldiers who received little or no mail. Lacerna represented 10 male and three female soldiers who requested foot powder, beef jerky, body lotion, razors, noodle soup, can goods, and phone cards.
4. Army Pfc. Brian Gorham, 21, of Woodburn, Ky., was remembered as likable and helpful. "When my dad was sick, Brian and his mother would come over and help him up and get around the house," a neighbor told the Associated Press. Gorham, with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, suffered severe burns from a roadside bomb on Dec. 12 in Afghanistan and died Dec. 31 at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. "My son was a fighter," his father told AP. "He fought the whole time."
5. Army Sgt. Shawn Hill, 37, was an all-region high school football player in Wellford, S.C. "The biggest thing about Shawn you remember is that he had one speed and that was full," his high school coach told the Spartansburg Herald Journal. Hill, a self-employed electrician and member of the South Carolina National Guard, was killed Jan. 2 by a roadside bomb in Khowst Province, Afghanistan. He leaves his wife of 16 years, Julie, and their three sons, ages 15, 13, and 11.
6. Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, 24, of Pittsburgh was an Army Ranger and Green Beret. At one time, Maseth, his twin brother, Brandon, and their younger brother, Adam, were all fighting in Iraq. Ryan was electrocuted Jan. 2 in Baghdad while taking a shower. Brandon, a sniper in Iraq, was brought home, at least temporarily. "I don't want to lose another boy," their father told KDKA. "Who wants to lose one?" Ryan was the latest of nearly 800 non-combat deaths in Iraq.
7. Army Pfc. Joshua Anderson, 24, of Jordan, Minn., enlisted in 2006 and deployed to Iraq in October as a combat medic with the Third Infantry Division. He spoke online with his wife, Hannah, on Jan. 1. "He said he loved me, and I said I loved him, and those were our last words," Hannah told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Anderson was killed Jan. 2 by a roadside bomb in Kamasia, Iraq. He is survived by Hannah, 20, his wife of four years, and their 3-year-old daughter, Savannah.
8. Army Maj. Andrew Olmsted, 37, of Colorado Springs, Colo., was killed Jan. 3 in As Sadiyah, Iraq, by small arms fire. Olmsted, with the First Infantry Division, was a prolific blogger who posted regularly for the Rocky Mountain News on his experiences in Iraq. He prepared a special blog in the event of his death. "I'm dead," he wrote in part, "but if you're reading this, you're not, so take a moment to enjoy that happy fact." Olmsted is survived by his wife of 10 years, Amanda.
9. Army Cpt. Thomas Casey, 32, rode mountain bikes, played soccer, and was on his high school swim team in Albuquerque, N.M. He joined the Army out of college and retired three years ago after his first tour in Iraq. He re-enlisted last spring and redeployed last summer. "He liked the discipline," his mother told the Atlantic City Press. Casey died in the same fire fight that killed Maj. Olmsted. Casey leaves his widow, Leslie, and sons, Joseph, 3, and Michael, 16 months.
10. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Menelek Brown, 24, of Roswell, N.M., was declared dead Jan. 4 after apparently going overboard from a guided missile destroyer in the Arabian Sea the day before. The USS Hopper was conducting maritime security operations when Brown, an information systems technician, disappeared, prompting a 30-hour sea search. It was initially believed he had a good chance of surviving in the calm, 79 degree water, but he was never found.
11. Army Pfc. Jason Lemke, 30, of West Allis, Wis., had a family history of military service. "His grandpa was in the Marines, his uncle was a Marine," Lemke's father told the Associated Press. "My father was in the Army, and my older brother was in the Army. He wanted to make a mark, I guess." Lemke, proficient in Arabic, was killed Jan. 5 by a roadside bomb in Ibrahim Al Adham, Iraq. He was with the Second Infantry Division. He leaves two children living with his former wife.
Washington Producer John Rutherford is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He posts a weekly tribute to service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.