By Rick Bentley

Tribune News Service

TV spotlight

“The Long Road Home” Tuesdays 10 p.m., National Geographic

Those in the military know April 4, 2004, as “Black Sunday.” That was the day when members of the 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood were ambushed in Sadr City, Baghdad, during the Iraq War. The families of the soldiers trapped in the city waited 48 hours to hear any news, expecting the worst.

The events of “Black Sunday” were documented in Martha Raddatz’s New York Times best-selling book, “The Long Road Home” (Putnam Adult, $21.95). That 2007 book has been turned into an eight-episode series that began airing on the National Geographic cable channel Tuesday.

“The Long Road Home” looks at what was happening to the ambushed soldiers and their families back home. The cast includes two-time Emmy-nominated actor Michael Kelly as Lt. Col. Gary Volesky; Emmy-nominated actor Jason Ritter as Capt. Troy Denomy; Kate Bosworth as Capt. Denomy’s wife, Gina; Sarah Wayne Callies as LeAnn Volesky, wife of Lt. Col. Volesky; Noel Fisher as Pfc. Tomas Young; and Jeremy Sisto as Staff Sgt. Robert Miltenberger.

The task that faced Raddatz when she wrote the book was to find the right balance of relating the facts while also delving into the emotional core of the story.

“I approached this as a journalist and as a storyteller,” Raddatz says. “My ultimate goal with the book was for people to understand what happened. I wanted the military to see it in a respectful military way, but it was a much bigger story to me.”

Raddatz, the ABC News chief global affairs correspondent and co-anchor of “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” began covering wars during the crisis in Bosnia in the late 1990s, and then spent time on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. Her lengthy coverage of the military gave Raddatz, who embedded with U.S. forces during dozens of trips abroad, the background and connections to tell the story of “Black Sunday.”

The journalist in her kept the focus on the facts while the storyteller understood the emotional elements. Now that the book is done, Raddatz admits she’s far more emotional about the story than when she was writing. A lot of that emotion came from walking around the set with some of the soldiers who survived and family members of those who didn’t. One mother of a fallen soldier asked Raddatz if the set being used for the filming was an exact replica of the last thing her son saw.

Executive producer/screenwriter Mikko Alanne explains all the families and the principal soldiers were called upon to make sure every detail was correct.

“I have a background in oral history, and I take especially the idea of telling a real life story very seriously. And it’s our collective aspiration that the people who will be happiest with the story we’re telling are the families and soldiers, who are the real heroes of the story,” Alanne says.

“I am a tough reporter, but I am not objective when it comes to sacrifice and service,” Raddatz says. “Thanking the troops and wearing a yellow ribbon is not enough. You need to understand the sacrifices they have made and that they made those sacrifices for you.

“Take all the politics out of it; it is about human beings who are told to do something, and they do it.”

It took nine months for Raddatz to do the final research and write the book. This is one of a myriad of stories Raddatz has covered in her long career, but the big difference for her is the majority of the time when she’s finished a story, she’s not remained connected. The story of what happened on “Black Sunday” has become a part of her life, and she considers many of the people to be good friends.

One of those friends is Aaron Fowler, who was one of the soldiers involved in the ambush who was a technical advisor during the filming. His wish is it will make some people think about the role of the military.

“I would hope that after watching this, the viewer gets a more complete understanding of the total picture of not only the soldiers but of the family members and the Iraqis. The different perspectives involved with the fight, and the repercussions of how individuals dealt with that,” Fowler says. “I think it’s a part of the story that has never been told yet, and I’m excited that they get it out there.

“I would like America to have a complete understanding of exactly what my friends and family sacrificed.”

Many of the actors met with the soldiers and their families. Kate Bosworth, who talked with Gina Denomy daily while she was filming, was overwhelmed by how Denomy was so generous and willing to share intimate details of her life and her marriage.

“I think it was cathartic for her in some ways,” Bosworth says. “But there were some very heavy moments in this for all of us, and she just knew when to send me a text and say, ‘You will be great today,’ in caps. It happened to be a very heavy day for me. And it would just move me, and it would give me the kind of fuel to do her and Troy and everyone justice.”