WASHINGTON -- The drill sergeants yelled at him relentlessly, as Josh Oller pushed himself through the trying weeks of basic combat training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Oller had already endured challenges while growing up in an Atlanta suburb where he faced bullying from other students. He mostly kept to himself from elementary school until his high school years.
Basic training would test Oller's limits.
He saw enlisting in the Army as a proving ground; where he could test himself and win the approval of his girlfriend’s parents as a worthy suitor.
Oller and four other Army recruits' journeys to become Soldiers will be the subject of the new documentary series “Ten Weeks.” The project takes a close look at Army basic combat training from the view of the five recruits who each bare a repository of adverse life experiences.
The series followed the recruits from the time they arrived in civilian clothes at Fort Jackson to their graduation march in early 2020. The recruits’ basic training experience will be encapsulated in a 10-part series that will debut this Veteran’s Day on The Roku Channel.
We Are the Mighty, a media and production company comprised of veterans, partnered with Blumhouse Productions to produce the docuseries.
Led by showrunner Chris Rowe, the production team included several veterans working behind the scenes including August Dannehl, a Navy Veteran. Dannehl said the crew wanted to capture a Soldier’s pivotal rite of passage and the poignant and challenging moments.
“What's interesting about the boot camp experience cinematically is that it's the point at which your life changes,” said Dannehl who served as a story producer. “It takes a certain kind of person to not only show up at boot camp, but make it all the way through.”
In these five recruits, the Rowe and Dannehl found human stories that typify the diverse range of backgrounds and cultures representative of the modern Army.
“You have people from all races, all creeds, and all parts of the country coming together to really do something bigger than themselves, overcome adversity and become one as a team,” said Rowe, a 24-year year Hollywood veteran and son of a Navy SEAL. “And that's a really great message right now.”
Raised by his grandmother in Baltimore’s crime-riddled inner city, Leo Eades knew he needed to find a way out.
The father of three enlisted in the Army in part to build a better life for his family. At 27, Eades had more life experiences than his fellow recruits and looked to set an example for his children. “I’ve seen everything … from drug dealers to murderers,” he said. “I just didn’t want my kids to be around it.”
As he began his quest to become a Soldier, Eades never forgot the lessons he learned from his grandmother, who raised him from an early age. She told him stories about his uncle who served in the military; inspiring Eades to eventually join the military.
Riley Barnard wanted to follow the footsteps of his great-grandfather, a World War II Army veteran. However, Barnard faced a major hurdle to becoming a Soldier: he had to lose more than 100 pounds.
His grandfather’s legacy inspired the southern Illinois native throughout basic training, as he continued to shed weight. “He told me before he died, he would love to see one of his grandkids in the Army,” Barnard said.
Trinity Carpenter enjoyed playing the violin and spending time in the outdoors with her father while growing up in rural Pennsylvania. When authorities sent Carpenter’s father to prison, she became a role model for her younger siblings. She thought her life’s hardships prepared her for Army basic combat training.
“I had to grow up fast,” Carpenter said. “Because I was more mature, I thought I was ready.”
One of the youngest recruits in her platoon at 18, she thought her life experiences prepared her to lead. She enlisted in the Army in the hopes of becoming a drone operator like her Soldier husband.
Tragedy shook Stormy Gideons’ life when her father passed away on her 10th birthday. Shortly after, Gideons’ mother left the family, forcing Gideons to become caretaker of her three brothers.
The native of Fresno, California said her son, who was born shortly before her high school graduation, inspired her to join the Army. “When I had my son, I knew that I had to change everything that I was doing,” she said.
During basic training, Gideons strove to exceed the performance of her male counterparts.
Oller admitted he struggled through the early weeks of boot camp. He severely hurt his ankle during basic training. At one point he considered quitting.
“Basic training was the scariest thing I had ever been through,” Oller said. “I've had real emotionally challenging times before … [basic training] was something new and different. It took a lot of courage a lot of prayer, and miracles.”
By the end of his high school years in Newman, Georgia, Oller had mostly overcome the bullying. He joined his school’s cross country team and became more skilled at playing the guitar.
At Fort Jackson Oller felt prepared for the physical aspects of basic training having been an avid runner in his prep days. He struggled to overcome the mental challenges of basic training and learning to fire an M4 Carbine rifle.
“It was a challenge to maintain confidence in myself,” Oller said.
He later began to understand the drill sergeants wanted to mold him into a better Soldier.
In July 2020, Oller graduated from the Army’s basic Public Affairs course at the Defense Information School, Fort Meade, Maryland. Oller moved onto his next assignment at Schofield Barracks in Oahu, Hawaii, where remained in high spirits and he hoped to propose to his girlfriend, Amariah.
Meetings with the film crew became welcome medicine for Oller. The stresses of boot camp at times had his mind racing and he said his interview sessions gave him a needed break.
“It allowed me to have some separation from the drill sergeants and all the other trainees,” he said. “I was able to also hear my own thoughts and to get some therapy … in a way.”
Dannehl took a journey himself to become a filmmaker in Hollywood.
From ships to filmmaking
August “Augie” Dannehl grew up just outside New York City in the small New Jersey suburb of Demarest. Show business ran in his family; his mother and father both starred on the Broadway stage and met on the set of “Evita.” He always dreamed of following his parents’ into entertainment, but on the production side.
His aspirations had to be put on hold and he served five years in the Navy as a nuclear reactor operator on aircraft carriers.
He had been exposed to a wealth of cultures in New Jersey and New York and said he noticed the increasing diversity in the U.S. Army. He developed a deeper respect for the branch he didn’t join.
After five years, Dannehl decided to chase his dream of working in film industry, he studied film at Columbia and New York universities. He eventually had a conversation with Hollywood filmmaker David Gale in a New York coffee shop. “We hit it off,” Dannehl said.
At the time Gale had started a film production company comprised of military veterans called “We Are the Mighty,” or WATM.
Medal of Honor recipient Jack Jacobs, a Vietnam War Army veteran pushed the idea of crafting a documentary on the Army’s basic combat training, which Dannehl and his crew immediately endorsed. In 2012 Jacobs published the book “Basic: Surviving Boot Camp and Basic Training.”
WATM partnered with Blumhouse Television to excute on Jacob’s vision, to capture transition from civilian to Soldier. Dannehl knew that from a visual perspective that Army boot camp had the most to offer.
“You want to see as much of that kind of physical training, with the weapons and going through the wilderness,” said Dannehl, now the head of production at WATM. “You know that offers you a lot to film. You want to be able to see all that stuff. So I think, the Army was always … the top choice.”
Dannehl and his eight-person crew wrapped filming before the onset of COVID-19, spending 12 hours a day following the platoon around the barracks, the fields and the wilderness at Fort Jackson. Although they shot in the milder winter of South Carolina, sometimes pouring rain made filming sessions difficult. Dannehl said the crew filmed about 90 percent of the documentary outdoors.
The crew had to endure tumultuous weather and cover cameras amid downpours.
“There was one day where the rain was so bad that the first sergeant had to call the range operations, which he said he's never had to do before,” Dannehl said. “He didn't think that it was fair to have trainees out there. As long as they were out there, we were out there.”
Rowe said the filmmakers used close quarter shots to capture the transformational experience of basic training; from the time the recruits shed their identities as civilians to the moments when they assimilate into military culture.
“I wanted to capture how gritty and how hardcore of an experiences there is,” Rowe said.
Former Green Beret Chase Millsap, now WATM's chief content officer, helped facilitate communications between We Are the Mighty and Fort Jackson. He said the docuseries will showcase the challenges of basic training in an unfiltered format.
“We wanted this series to give audiences a raw and real depiction [of boot camp]” he said.
“Ten Weeks” will premiere on Thursday, November 11 on The Roku Channel. The series can be viewed on The Roku Channel, which is available on Roku devices, the Web, iOS and Android devices, Amazon Fire TV and select Samsung TVs and can be accessed in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.