Taking Chance (2009) - full transcript

In April, 2004, casualties mount in Iraq. At Quantico, choices focus on increasing troop strength or only replacing casualties. Lt. Col. Michael Strobl crunches numbers. Stung by his superior's rejection of his recommendation because he lacks recent combat experience, Strobl volunteers for escort duty, accompanying the remains Pfc. Chance Phelps, killed at 19. From Dover to Philadelphia by hearse, from there to Minneapolis and on to Billings by plane, and then by car to Phelps' Wyoming home - person after person pays respects. Kind words, small gifts, and gratitude are given Strobl to deliver to the family on this soul-searching journey. What are his own discoveries?

Blue one to blue two,
checkpoint alpha bravo has been reached.

Copy, leader one.

Blue two,
we have a suspicious vehicle on the right

Moving pretty fast.

Army corps four,
is he slowing down?

Blue one,
why are you driving so slow?

You worried about
getting a ticket? Over.

Sorry, guys.
Just rubbing one out.

Phelps is down!
Phelps is down!

- Good morning, sir.
- Good morning.

Man: once we're quartered,
we'll give you a rundown

On battalion-
And squadron-Level readiness

And today's brief will focus
on first marine division.

The slide indicates that
personnel readiness 1st mardiv

Is not as bad as
they are reporting.

However, sir, as you are aware,
last friday they made a request

For 300 additional

Uh, given the insurgency
in al-Anbar

And the recent spike
in casualties,

It's not surprising that
they made this request.

Sir, it's my recommendation
to just send enough augments

To cover their casualties
of last month.

How many of you have
been in iraq since 9/11?

I know you've spent a lot of time
on these reports, but i cannot have

A bunch of analysts contradict
the commanders on the ground.

Man: i don't know.
With all this administrative crap,

It makes you wonder if we're losing
focus on what really matters.

Sometimes i wish
i was over there.

I don't know, sir.
Be careful what you wish for, right?

Hey, dad.

- Hello, everybody.
- Hi.


Guess who came in first
in her swim meet.

Let me guess.

You? High-Five.
That's great!

Hey, listen, guys, how about we get
some homework done before dinner?

- I think that sounds like a great idea.
- Hup hup hup.

What are you
cooking here?

White chicken chili with
a balsamic reduction.


- You're getting creative.
- Oh, shut up.


Let us pray.


- Ready, two...
- Man: present arms!

Forward march.




Bearers, halt.

That is not nice.

Dad, i think i got
all of the words right,

But i'm not sure.

I'll throw a quick one at you right now.


I don't know.

Sir, last night i read the d.O.D.
Announcement about p.F.C. Phelps.

He is from my home town,
clifton, colorado.

I don't know if
this falls to us

Or to the pentagon,
but, sir,

If the duty does
fall to us,

I would be honored
to escort him home.

It's a little unusual for an
officer to escort a p.F.C.

Yes, sir, i know that,

But i would very much
like to do it, sir.

I'm going out of town for a few days.
I'm being picked up at 6:00.

- Tomorrow morning?
- Yeah.

I volunteered
for escort duty.

There was this private first class
killed in iraq... young kid.

He's from clifton.
I volunteered to take him home.

Wh-What is
this about, mike?

It's not about anything.
He's from clifton, that's all.

It's gonna be
a quick trip, stace.

I'll be back
next week.

Please tell the family i'm
so sorry for their loss.

I will.

I love you.

Man's voice:
the remains are to travel feet first

When being transported
from one point to another.

At every stop, you must ensure that the
remains have been correctly loaded.

At each transfer point,

Regardless of
the mode of transport,

You will render honors.

Your duty is
not complete

Until you have delivered the
remains to the funeral director.

Escorts are not required
to stay for the funeral.

However, should
you decide to stay,

There are specific guidelines
for meeting the family.

At no point
are you to discuss

The nature of
the deceased's death,

Nor are you to speculate on the
activities surrounding the death.

You may deliver the personal effects
directly to the next of kin.

These effects must
stay on your person

At all times
until delivery.

we have our first departure of the day.

We form about in the drive and
render honors as all remains depart.


Present arms!

Order arms!

Present arms!


Woman: i'm afraid we've taken
a lot of casualties this week.

He's not ready
for departure today.

Woman on tv:
...but not what he completes in his lifetime.

Imagine an evolution
occurring over eons...

the attack tonight comes amid rising violence

Between insurgents and coalition
troops throughout iraq.

Marines in fallujah today pushed into the
chaotic city from several directions.

They met with heavy fire from assault
rifles and rocket-Propelled grenades.

I bet you didn't know
marines could sew.

He was quite impressive,
your p.F.C.

He's so decorated
for such a young man.

I didn't know him.

Well, you can be sure that
his uniform will be perfect.

Appreciate it, colonel.

You know, whether it's now or later,
it doesn't matter.

But just in case...

He's a military shrink.
It's all confidential.

Oh no.
I'm good, thanks.

It's just an f.Y.I.

Colonel strobl, sir,
you'll be leaving in about 15 minutes.

Transport will deliver you
to philadelphia airport

With your final destination,
dubois, wyoming.


I thought i was on my way
to colorado... clifton.

He joined up out in colorado,
but his parents lived in wyoming.

That's where his family
wants him buried.

- That all right?
- Of course.

I have p.F.C. Phelps's
personal effects.

We'll now do our
inventory and turnover.

Sir, phelps's parents
are divorced,

So you'll have an extra
flag to present to them.

That way,
the mother and the father will each get one.


If you could make sure everything's here,
then sign the inventory.

I also have a letter

Phelps's platoon commander
wrote to the family.

Colonel, the mortuary specialist
did the best that he could.

However, these remains are not
recommended for viewing.

It's been my privilege
to care for him, sir.

That's everything.
We'll need you to make

A final identification
before departure.

Sir, i need you to verify that
this is p.F.C. Chance phelps,

And that you are
ready for departure.


Present arms!

- Feeling okay?
- Yeah yeah. I'm good.

We're almost there.

- Do you always do these routes?
- Yeah.

- I just started six months ago.
- Ah.

Nobody in my family's
in the military

And none
of my friends.

But i thought
about joining up.

Yeah, but i was
too chickenshit.

Sorry. I mean
too chicken.

You can say shit.

Oh. Cool.

And plus the whole
haircut thing.

I'm in a band
and, you know,

You got to keep it long
to keep the ladies happy.

What about you?
What's your deal?

Uh, my deal?
My deal is complicated.

Oh, yeah?
Well, when did you join up?

- When i was 17.
- Oh.

My parents had to sign something
because i was underage.

Yeah, that's young.

I know, but i couldn't bear the
thought of waiting another year.

All i wanted was
to be a marine

And i joined up.

You graduate
from boot camp,

You feel like you're on top
of the world and you travel

And you see these things
you never thought you'd see.

It's hard, of course,
but it's fun.

- It's fun?
- Yeah.

I'm serious.

I've got to be honest.

No offense, but...

I don't really get what
we're doing over there.

But... last summer
these two guys

From my
high school went,

And one of them ended
up hurt really bad.

And last time i heard,
he was at something reed hospital.

- Walter reed.
- Yeah.

The other one,
he didn't make it back.

I just wanted
to do something.

Hey, henry.

How you doin'?

Colonel, whenever
you're ready.


- Will you do me a favor?
- Sure.

- Let the family know we're thinking of them.
- Will do.

You're a good man, rich.

- Thanks.
- Be safe.

All right.
See ya.

Man over p.A.: Attention, passengers.
Increased security measures...

Hi, welcome to northwest airlines. I.D.,

Uh, i have a voucher.

He's the military escort.
I'll check him in.

I've booked you
through to billings,

But you can get your bags off
in minneapolis tonight.

I upgraded you
to first class

All the way to billings.

Appreciate that.

Thank you
for your service.

Thanks again.

belt, shoes,

Laptop in a separate bin.

All metal out
of your pockets.

Sir, your bag
needs to go through.

Uh, yeah, you can wand this bag,
but it can't go through the x-Ray machine.

Please don't tell me
how to do my job.

The bag can't
go through.

Well, it's your call.
It's gonna take you longer.

Bag check, male.

Sir, i need you to remove your
jacket and place it in the bin.

I can't remove the jacket.

- You can hand-Check me. Is there a supervisor around?
- Not right here.

Just please remove your jacket.
It needs to go through the machine.

I will not remove
this jacket

And denigrate
this uniform.

You have a lot of metal on your jacket.
It needs to go through the machine.

Take me
to a private room

And wand me there.

Turn around, please.

- Excuse me, sir. Are you the escort?
- Yes.

- How you doin'?
- All right.

- I need to get down to the tarmac to watch loading.
- Sure.

- Man: so where you from?
- Strobl: colorado originally.

It's a long time
since i've been there.

- You?
- All over.

My old man was career air force,
so we moved around a lot.

- How was that?
- It was all right.

I actually kind of miss it
now that i'm settled here.

We're gonna wait right here.
He's coming around.

Yeah, the moving around is kind
of cool when you're single,

And then you get married,
have kids, it's a whole other deal.

Yeah. You do this
escort stuff, mostly?

Me? No, i...
i work in a cubicle.

- I volunteered for this one.
- It must be hard.

- I need to verify.
- Yeah yeah, go ahead.

- Okay.
- Okay.

- You can stand right here if you want.
- Thanks.


- 2a?
- Yes, it's right down on your right, sir.

Excuse me.
Thank you.

Can i get you
something to drink?

Uh, jack daniels
rocks, please.

- And for you, sir?
- Water, thank you.

What's the matter?
You on duty or something?

Yes, i am.

- Flight attendant: excuse me, sir?
- Yeah.

I want you
to have this.

It'll be a couple of minutes.
Sorry about the delay.

We're waiting
on a conveyor.

But we're gonna get
all the luggage off first,

Then we'll remove
the remains.

I'd like to keep him separate from
the baggage, if that's possible.

That's the plan. We're not gonna move
him with the rest of the luggage.

All right.
Sounds good.

You know,
there's another escort here from dover.

- I've seen a lot of you guys lately.
- Excuse me.


Evening, sir.
I wasn't expecting to see you here.

Yeah, i got a connecting flight.
How's your trip going so far?

It's been fine.

It's weird though, sir.

They all know,

Like, without me
telling anyone.

Both at philadelphia and so
far here in minneapolis.

I guess they figured it
out by the uniforms.

Yeah, you know,
i've had the same thing,

Which is okay,

Because i'm not really
interested in explaining it.

Hey, it looks like yours
is coming out now.

Present... arms!

Order... arms!

When you're ready, we'll go over to the
cargo warehouse and get everything set.

Yeah, okay. Just give me a minute.
I still need to verify.

So what's your
destination, sergeant?

I'm headed to rochester.
It's about 90 miles from here.

My family is
meeting us there.

Are you related
to the deceased, son?

Uh, yes, sir.

He's my brother.

Present... arms!

Order... arms!


Well, you...
take care of yourself, son.

Thank you, sir.
You too.

- Hi.
- Hello.

So he can just, uh,
stay here all night?

- Yeah.
- There's no need to move him?

Don't worry.
No one's going near him.

When you're ready,
we have a taxi

Waiting to take you
to your hotel.

Actually, i tell you,
if i could just get a chair, i'm all set.

I really don't want
to leave him here alone.

You want
to sleep in here?

I need to check with my supervisor.
I'm not sure we're allowed to do that.

Could you?

I know it's late,
but i'd really appreciate it.

I had this
in my jeep.

It should be a little more
comfortable than that chair.


- Thanks, i appreciate that.
- Take care.

Good night.

I heard we were
carrying remains today.

- You must be the escort.
- Mike strobl.

- Tom garrett.
- How you doing, tom?

Where'd you get that
combat action ribbon?

- Desert storm.
- Yeah?

I was flying an a-10
in desert storm.

Man, we tore it up
over there.

Yeah, you guys
were good.

I was a lieutenant, artillery battalion,
first marine division.

You been back
this time around?

No, i'm
a numbers cruncher now.

I analyze manpower
at quantico.

i guess you saw enough action in kuwait, huh?

No, not so much.

I tell you,
i really miss it some days.

Excuse me.

Thank you.

Thank you.
Thank you.

- Hi.
- Hi.

- Annie.
- Mike.

- I guess we're travel mates for the next few hours.
- Yeah.

I have tons of magazines.
I'm happy to share.

Thank you.

It's, uh...
it's marine, actually.

- How embarrassing.
- It's okay.

Trust me,
you're a breath of fresh air.

I can't believe how fast you get
with your thumbs on those things.

I have a lot to say.

Pilot over intercom:
welcome to billings, folks.

I'm going to ask that you
remain seated for a moment.

During this flight,
i've had the honor of carrying

The remains
of a fallen marine.

I'm going to inconvenience you
for a few moments

While the escort
disembarks the plane.

- I didn't know. I'm so sorry.
- As you go about your day,

- Please keep the family in your thoughts.
- It's okay.

Thanks for the company.

Well, i'm off
to cheyenne.

- Thanks for the smooth flying, tom.
- You bet.

What was his name,
your marine?

- P.F.C. Chance phelps.
- Chance phelps.

I know the name of every
k.I.A. I've ever carried.

- You take care of yourself.
- Thanks. You too.

- Hi.
- Hi.

I'm gary from
rafferty's funeral home.

Gary, mike strobl.

It's a real honor
to meet you, sir.

I've got a hearse.
It's ready to go.

We should get started
as soon as we can.

We've got a long drive
ahead of us.

Took me over five hours
to get up here this morning.


I didn't know
chance real well.

I've known his dad
for years.

I'm glad he's
finally home.

- You must be major thompson.
- Yes, sir.

Mike thompson from i&i 223
down in salt lake city.

- Good to meet you, major.
- Sir.

- So i guess you've had a hell of a week, huh?
- Yes, sir.

Sergeant burton and i drove all
night to get up here on saturday.

We notified the mother at
zero-Two on saturday morning.

I tell you, sir,
i hope to never go through that again.

- So how's the family doing?
- Well, sir, it's kind of hard to say.

Sometimes i think they're
doing okay, but then...

You know.
It's hard to say.

Hey, how are
you doing?

I'm okay.
It's just been a long week, sir.

The v.F.W. Post
up in dubois

Is having a get-Together
tonight in honor of chance.

- You might want to come up for that.
- Okay. Sounds good.


I'm glad
you're here, sir.

Yeah, me too.

Your hotel is
up in dubois,

Where the ceremony's
gonna be.

You'll want to head out
of here and get settled.

- I'm sorry about all the driving, colonel.
- Not a problem, gary.

Okay, well,

If i can get you to sign off on the
paperwork, then we can call it a day.

That sounds fine.
I have some items

The family would like to have
inserted into the casket.

They said they'd prefer
not to view the remains,

So i guess now would be
a good time to do that.

Yeah, that would be good, and, uh,
i need to check on his uniform.

Well, you know it's gonna be
a closed-Casket funeral?

I understand,
but, uh,

Just want to make sure
he's squared away.


Okay, go ahead.

Look at that.
He's got six ribbons.

And he's a p.F.C.,
It's amazing.


The folks at dover
did a great job.

They knew he wasn't
gonna be viewed

And his uniform's

I'm gonna...

Take care of
the paperwork.


If you're ready.

Uh, yeah.

Excuse me, sir.

Are you the marine
who brought chance home?

Yes, sir.
Mike strobl.

- Semper fi, colonel. I'm charlie fitts.
- Charlie.

Listen, this whole town
is grateful to you.

It was my honor.

Korea, huh?
It's a privilege to meet

An old first marine
division warrior.

There's some fellows here been
waiting all night to meet you.

Fellas, this is chance's escort,
colonel strobl.

- Larry hertzog. Welcome.
- Larry.

- Robert rouse.
- How are you?

- A.V. Scott.
- Here we have gunny mulcahy, chance's recruiter.

- Sir.
- Gunny.

- And sergeant michael arenz.
- Sir.

He was with chance
when he died.


Well, jenny,

Let's get this man
a cold beer.

He's been on a long
and lonely trip.

- Did you know chance?
- No. No, i didn't know him.

- Well, you missed out.
- Sure did.

You know, a lot of recruits,
myself included,

Lose a big part of their personality
when they go through boot camp.

Sort of the point.
But, chance, he comes back from boot camp,

He sure as hell was a marine,
but he was still chance.

Same old wise-Ass smile.

Arenz: he could get away with
anything just by flashing that grin.

Our first mortar attack
in ramadi,

Everybody's yelling, "grab your kevlars!
Grab your flaks!"

We were all scared, you know?
Like, "welcome to iraq."

Everybody's running,
trying to get to the bunker.

And phelps,
he's got his shower shoes on,

Grabs his rifle,
runs outside,

He's like, "where they at?
Where they at?"

Everybody's yelling, "phelps,
get your ass back in here, man! Take cover!"

He's still standing outside
in his shower shoes.

If you guys would excuse us,
we need to head out.

Yeah, we're building something special
to take him up to the cemetery tomorrow.

- Anything i can do?
- I think you've done enough.

- Colonel, good night. Thank you.
- Good night.

the convoy's moving along,

Doing a routine patrol
south of baghdad, and...

Chance wasn't even supposed
to be there that day.

It was his rest day.

And knowing we
were going out,

He just had to come.

Chance was up in the turret
looking out for trouble.

that was his spot.

the most dangerous job a marine can have.

Yeah, you're totally
exposed up there.

He loved it though.

It always
made me feel safe

Seeing those shoes there.

All over iraq, chance was just a big old
pair of size-12 shoes looking out for us.

Anyhow, we were
driving along.

Suddenly there's
this huge boom.

Out of nowhere, an i.E.D. Had gone
off in the front of the convoy.

So i jump out, check on
the rest of the vehicles, and...

It was madness, man.

There was bullets
flying everywhere.

It was chaos,
just total chaos, but...

I could hear behind me
chance's 240 opening up,

Just unleashing an ungodly amount
of fire on the mujahideen.

So i thought, "okay,
that part of the convoy's okay."

He attracted all
the fire to himself

So that the rest of us
could take cover,

Get organized
and get out.

So after i checked on
the first two vehicles,

I run back towards
our vehicle, and, uh,

Uh, i could see chance was
shooting all over the place.

He was up in the air,

Just erratic, you know?
And i yelled at him.

I was like,
"jesus, phelps,

Don't shoot
the birds, man."

I thought he was trying
to scare them or something.

His finger was still
on the trigger, shooting,

But his head
was slumped over.

I got a little bit closer,
i could see some blood

Coming down the side
of his head, and, uh...

Inside the vehicle,
doc checked his vitals, and, uh,

He was gone.

Six of us held him
in our hands

All the way back
to the base.

I just keep running it,
you know, in my mind, like,

"What could i have done better?
What could i have done different?"

What do you say to somebody's
mom when they tell you,

"It's not your fault.
You couldn't have done anything."

I owed it to him
to save him.

I'm the one who trained him.

I just can't believe
that i'm here and he's not.

I'm glad you're here,

Thank you, sir.

It means a lot
coming from you.

He'd be so honored knowing such a
senior officer brought him home.

- Sir.
- Sergeant.

what that kid has to live with.

I should've been
over there, charlie.

- It wasn't your time, colonel.
- It was exactly my time.

I knew the clock
was ticking,

Knew my time was
coming up.

But i just...

I kept ignoring it,
you know?

Except for the middle
of the night, when i

Would check those casualty lists,

Praying that i didn't
recognize any of the names.

I don't know, you know.
I just, um...

I just got used to seeing
my wife and kids

Every day, and, uh...

So i put in a request
for another office tour,

And it was granted.

They must've
needed you here.

My friends went.

Guys i was in desert
storm with went.

I stayed home.

I was trained to fight.

If i'm not over there,
what am i?

Those guys,

Guys like chance...

They're marines.

And you think
you're not?

Want to be with
your family every night...

You think you have
to justify that?

You'd better stop
right there, sir.

You've brought chance home.

You're his
witness now.

Without a witness,

They just disappear.

You chance's escort?

- Mike strobl.
- John phelps, chance's dad.


This is my wife chris,
chance's step-Mom.

- Welcome.
- And chance's step-Dad jeff.

- Colonel.
- And this is chance's sister kelley,

- And her fiance rob.
- Hello, sir.

I'm chance's mother.
Thank you for your service.

It's my honor, ma'am.

I'm just so sorry
for your loss.

Please come and sit.

A chair.

- Thank you.
- Come on, dear.

First, i want
you all to know

That all along
the way,

Chance was treated
with dignity

And respect
and honor.

Uh, i have here
a letter

From chance's
platoon commander.

- Thank you.
- Uh...

I also have here

Some of chance's things.

It's still set
on baghdad time.


This is the medal
that grandma gave him.


I want you to know
you do not mourn alone today.

All across america,

From virginia to delaware,


Montana, wyoming,

People are thinking of you

And praying for you.

You should know that

Chance has touched
many people.

There's one more thing
that i'd like you to have.

A flight attendant in
philadelphia handed this to me,

And it seemed like it was
very special to her.

I was going to keep it as
a reminder of the trip,

But then i realized that

She wasn't giving it to me.

She was giving it to you.

"April 9th, 2004...

To the family
of p.F.C. Chance phelps.

Dear mr. And mrs. Phelps,

I'm sure by now you have
learned of chance's death.

I don't have
the words to tell you

How sorry i am
for your loss.

Chance meant the world to me

And to all of us here
in the second platoon.

I know parents aren't
supposed to have favorites,

But, trust me,
platoon commanders do.

Chance was
a unique character.

Where most marines would
put in shows of false bravado,

Chance would quietly
attend to his business,

And he liked to get people
to underestimate him.

His quick smile and friendly manner
were always disarming and warming,

But there was
no mistaking...

He was as fierce in battle as
he was gentle in friendship..."

Please be seated.

We are here
to honor the life

Of private first class
chance russell phelps.

"...Please know that he
died a hero,

But more importantly,
he lived a hero.

It's ironic,
but i am certain

That if the world had
more men like chance phelps...

There wouldn't be a need
for a marine corps."



Aim, fire!

Ready, aim, fire!

From the president of the united states
and commandant of the marine corps

And a grateful nation,
please accept this flag as a token

Of your son's faithful service
to his country. Semper fidelis.

From the president of the united states,
the commandant of the marine corps

And a grateful nation,
please accept this flag

For your son's honorable and
faithful service to his country.

Semper fidelis.

Thank you.

Put your cell phones
in the tray, please.

can i ask you to step up?

your shoes.

Strobl: "chance phelps was
wearing his st. Christopher medal

When he was killed
on good friday.

Eight days later,

I handed the medallion
to his mother.

I watched them carry him
the final 15 yards.

I felt that as long as
he was still moving,

He was somehow
still alive.

When they put him
down in his grave,

He'd stopped moving.

I didn't know chance phelps
before he died...

But today i miss him."

Hey, look who's home.

Group hug.

How you guys doin'?