The Film

The nature of the United States military has changed. Women have had a presence in the military for some time, but their numbers have now reached unprecedented levels – over 15% of the total force.

As their numbers have climbed, women's roles have expanded well beyond the limited range of assignments available to them previously. Simultaneously the nature of armed conflict has fundamentally changed. Gone are the days when one could easily define a "combat zone," and gone with them are easy definitions of what it means to serve "in combat."

The combination of a changing U.S. military and the changing nature of war have led to a situation where more women serve in the dangers of combat more than ever before. Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen said in November 2010, "I know what the law says and I know what it requires, but I'd be hard pressed to say that any woman who serves in Afghanistan today or who's served in Iraq over the last few years did so without facing the same risks of their male counterparts."

Our America of the 21st century has women service personnel who truly are combat veterans, and those who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq now number over 280,000. 

Journey to Normal: Women of War Come Home recounts the unprecedented story of women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Filmmaker JulieHera DeStefano launched this project to explore the psychological and social dynamics of their service, to follow their reintegration into civilian life, and to preserve their stories.

Journey to Normal turns the film over to the true storytellers, the women themselves. Their collective narrative reflects these changes in our society and helps to bridge the perceived gap between military and civilian culture.

The Journey to Normal project will produce multiple outcomes:

  • THE FILM:  a feature-length documentary intended for theatrical release nationwide, Fall 2017
  • THE ONLINE VIDEO ARCHIVE:  a searchable, public, web archive of our Afghanistan interviews accessible to historical researchers, healthcare professionals, academicians, and students, as well as our communities and veteran's families
  • THE JTN WEB PORTAL:  a network for connecting veterans and their families with one another, with stories of their peers, and with veterans'  services
  • THE INSTALLATIONS:  site-specific video installations for historical institutions serving the general public
  • THE OUTREACH:  education and awareness for employers, behavioral health professionals, and civilian communities working with veterans returning from combat

The goals are:

  • TO ADVANCE a deeper understanding for these individuals as they transition from service member to veterans, and to communicate that understanding to the general public
  • TO APPLY that understanding to professional services provided to veterans
  • TO CREATE an ongoing video archive for women veterans to log and share their stories for the future purposes of research and historical preservation
  • TO INSPIRE response by the general public and professionals to the needs of these soldiers when they become veterans
  • TO CULTIVATE a network connecting veterans to one another, and connecting both professionals and the general public to veterans
"There is no 'female' or 'male' - there is 'soldier'....we are all soldiers. We all bleed green."
- Captain Jill Glasenapp, 101st Airborne Division

Project Timeline

Timeline and Future of Journey to Normal

Spring 2009

  • A woman combat veteran, and mother, appears on the Oprah show and describes the difficulties of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after losing her arm in combat. The idea for Journey to Normal is born.

Spring 2009 – Fall 2009

  • DeStefano conducts research to identify potential issues surrounding combat veteran reintegration, and to understand how the needs of veterans in general and women in particular are currently being addressed.
  • Producer John McDermott and Advisor Karen Gravelle join JTN and begin to brainstorm project themes.
  • The initial framework for JTN is formalized and registered.

Spring 2010

  • DeStefano completes the PA Hero Walk -- 342 miles from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh in support of the Wounded Warrior Project.
  • While home on a 2-week leave from Afghanistan, Lt. Colonel Thomas Stokes (United States Army Reserves), reads about DeStefano's walk and contacts DeStefano to offer his support and this advice: "If you want to tell the story of transition, you must come and understand what people are coming home from." DeStefano starts investigating travel to Afghanistan.

Summer 2010 – Fall 2010

  • Colonel Michael Kolodziej (United States Army Reserves), Lt. Colonel Stokes, and DeStefano spend 5 months navigating the complicated and stringent clearance process for DeStefano to officially embed with Task Force Medical (MED) East in North Eastern Afghanistan.

December 2010 – April 2011

  • With camera, combat boots and ballistic gear, DeStefano leaves the U.S. on Dec. 20, bound for Kabul.
  • The next 3 ½ months are spent travelling around Regional Command East meeting with and interviewing over 100 women who form the core understanding of JTN.

Summer 2011

  • Producer Andrew Swensen joins JTN and begins to assemble our Production Team.
  • Cinematographer Andrew Batista and Composer Scott Anderson join JTN.
  • Stateside interviews begin as the women veterans from Afghanistan begin to return home.

Summer 2011 through Fall 2012

  • Fundraising, fundraising, fundraising.
  • The JTN organizational infrastructure is built.
  • Filming continues in:  PA, KY, OH, IA,VA, DC, NC, NY, NJ, NH, AK, OK, ID and TX.
  • JTN Content Advisors, Soundman Dane Hutchinson, and Research Associate Erin Yanacek join the project.
  • Landesberg Design lends their talents to JTN.

April 2012

  • Journey to Normal, Inc. receives official IRS 501(c)(3) designation – all donations are tax-deductible retroactively to the date of incorporation (December 21st, 2011).

Fall 2012 through Spring 2013

  • Post-production on the feature-length documentary begins.
  • Production begins on the creation of shorts and presentations for mental health and military history professionals.

Spring 2013

  • Filming with our JTN women continues in: NE, IA, TX, NC, DC, OH, NY, and PA.
  • Editor Nancy Frazen and Assistant Editor Roman Petrov join the JTN Team and preliminary editing begins.

Summer 2013

  • Fundraising, fundraising, fundraising.
  • Filming for the feature-length documentary wraps in Pittsburgh, PA - 2 ½ years after it began in Afghanistan.

Fall 2013

  • Post production completes on the feature film.
  • Preliminary editing begins on the JTN archival collection.

Fall 2014

  • Post production completes on the feature film.

Spring 2015 and Beyond

  • Premiere of our feature-length film "Journey to Normal: Women of War Come Home", intended release Fall 2017
  • Release of our online archival collection on the Journey to Normal web portal - including all additional interviews conducted in Afghanistan.
  • The JTN organization will remain well beyond the creation of the film Journey to Normal: Women of War Come Home, and will continue to produce creative projects to advance our goals.
  • The creative team will continue to serve women veterans by continuing to focus on a deeper understanding of their experience, and adding additional veteran’s stories to the online archive.
  • The organization's goals also include the deepening of our collaboration with behavioral health service professionals, and the expansion of the online network to further connect veterans to one another, to professional service providers and to the general public.





Production Team

JulieHera DeStefano – Producer/Director

JulieHera DeStefano graduated from Carnegie Mellon University (BFA, School of Drama), and has built a career both in front of and behind the camera. She served as the Managing Director and Producer of an award-winning off-Broadway theater company and as the Business Manager of a New York-based film and photography studio. Earlier in her career she performed extensively in Pittsburgh, working with Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, Pittsburgh Playhouse, and Gargaro Productions. Her acting credits include the films The Preacher's Wife and The First Wives Club.

Andrew Swensen, PhD, MA – Producer

Andrew Swensen advises nonprofits in Greater Pittsburgh and holds adjunct positions at Carnegie Mellon University and Point Park University. Past positions include Director of Pittsburgh Filmmakers and Special Assistant to the President at The Pittsburgh Foundation. His professional career began with faculty positions in the humanities at Brandeis University, Hamilton College, Wellesley College and Western Michigan University. He received his Ph.D. in 1995 from the University of Wisconsin.

Andrew C. Batista – Cinematographer/Associate Producer

Andrew C. Batista is an award-winning Cinematographer and Producer (Piano Story, Life at Twenty) based in the Pittsburgh region. His latest documentary (currently in post-production) follows members of the original Band of Brothers as they return to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to visit with current wounded warriors. A Pittsburgh Filmmakers graduate and grant recipient, narrative filmmaking is where Batista thrives. He is a Summa Cum Laude graduate of the University of Pittsburgh.

Nancy Frazen – Editor

Nancy Frazen obtained her B.A. and California Teaching Credential from U.S. International University in San Diego and England, as well as, attending The American Academy of Dramatic Arts. After graduation, she joined the editing teams of feature films; "Man, Woman and Child," "Beatlemania," " The Breakfast Club" "Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling," "Black Rain," and "Mambo Kings" becoming an editor on "The Milagro Beanfield War". She has edited the films, "Space Jam", "Man’s Best Friend," "Brazil Film Festival Winner, "Allucinados" and Dubai Film Festival Winner, "Habibi". Nancy has also edited the Academy Award Winning Documentary, "You Don’t Have to Die" as well as the Academy Award Nominated Documentary, "Changing Our Minds" and the Documentary, "Climate Refugees." Sundance 2010. Nancy has also edited Academy Award nominated, "Surf’s Up," for Sony Animation and "Teacher’s Pet" and "Pooh’s Heffalump Movie" and edited Academy Award Nominated, "Runaway Brain" for Disney.

Scott Anderson – Composer and Sound Engineer

Anderson has a combination of musical talent and the ability to match music to the moving image. He has won two Emmy Awards, as composer for the documentary "From Pittsburgh to Poland: Lessons from The Holocaust" and as music director and co-producer of "Live From Studio A: American Standards." His performance credits include keyboard for the Temptations, the Drifters, Bo Diddley, the Coasters, Ronnie Specter, and the Vogues, as well as with jazz artists Claudio Roditi, Jerry Niewood and Marvin Stamm. Anderson is a graduate of the Duquesne University School of Music.

Roman Petrov – Assistant Editor

A Pittsburgh native for over twenty years, Roman Petrov graduated from Point Park University in May of 2012 with a B.A. in Cinema and Digital Arts with a concentration in editing. He has worked on dozens of professionally produced, student short film productions at Point Park in a variety of capacities, specializing in editing and on set sound recording and boom operation. Outside of Point Park, Petrov has worked on several professional productions, from commercials to features, including Pretty Little Things, the first feature length film completed solely by Point Park students. Outside of filmmaking, Petrov was on the advance staff for Obama for America in 2012 and part of the Presidential Inaugural Committee in 2013. Petrov continues to work periodically as an advance associate for The White House.

Dane Hutchinson - Production Sound Engineer

Dane Hutchinson is a Full Sail University graduate that found his niche in the audio end of film making. Most of Dane’s experience has come from his works on internal corporate videos and commercials shot in the local Pittsburgh area. Having a lifelong family friend serving in our Navy helps motivate Dane to want to share the real story of the lives of our female active and non-active service women. His deep respect for our Armed Forces makes him a great addition to our family.

John McDermott – Producer

John McDermott graduated from Brock University (BA, Theatrical Performance) in his native Canada, and then attended The Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York. John has extensive experience both as an Actor and Director on stage and in film, and also served as the Artistic Director of an award-winning off-Broadway theater company for ten years. He also brings a wealth of business knowledge to Journey to Normal -- ranging from Technology start-ups to global Fortune 100 experience -- having also spent 20 years working on Wall Street. McDermott is proud be a part of what he believes will be an extraordinarily important and influential film, and also to be supporting the US Military through our ongoing JTN initiatives.

Erin Yanacek - Research Associate

Erin Yanacek has been working with Journey to Normal in preparing transcriptions for production and post-production, and for the advisory panel of JTN. A multi-talented individual, Erin has been working both in nonprofit administration and music performance. A trumpet player who recently received her Masters Degree in trumpet performance, she holds a position with the River City Brass and substitutes with the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Wheeling Symphony, and other regional ensembles. Yanacek also works with the Pittsburgh Youth Chamber Orchestra and writes for the online journal, The Muse Dialogue.

Content Advisors

Beth Bailey, PhD

Professor, Temple University; social/cultural historian of the 20th century United States; research has focused on the history of gender and sexuality and on war and society/military institutions in US history; most recent book: America’s Army: Making the All-Volunteer Force (2009).

Barbara E. Barnes, MD, MS

Associate Vice Chancellor for Continuing Education and Industry Relationships, University of Pittsburgh; VP, Sponsored Programs, Research Support, and CME, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).

Melissa M. Bell, PhD, MSW, LSW

Assistant Professor, Social Work, Chatham University; Women's Studies PhD Certificate (University of Pittsburgh); post-MSW Fellow at Yale University in Psychiatric Services.

Ralph T. De Stefano, JD

President and CEO of Passavant Hospital Foundation; Past Chairman, North Hills Passavant Health Corporation Board of Directors and Passavant Hospital Trustees.

Michael Doidge, PhD (Anticipated 2014)

Historian, Combat Studies Institute; adjunct Assistant Professor of History for the US Army Command and General Staff College.

Cynthia Enloe, PhD

Research Professor, Clark University; research includes the intersections of women and the military both in the U.S. and internationally; multiple Fulbright recipient, author of numerous books including the most recent, Nimo's War, Emma's War: Making Feminist Sense of the Iraq War.

Karen Gravelle, PhD, MSW

Author; Field Instructor; Psychotherapist.

LTC Thomas J. Stokes, ACSW, LCSW, BCD, RN

United States Army Reserves; previously: Officer in Charge, Combat Stress Clinic, Forward Operating Base Gardez, Afghanistan; Children and Family Services, Allegheny County, PA; Veterans Administration.

Margaret Stubbs, PhD

Professor, Chair of Undergraduate Psychology at Chatham University; previously: founder and director of Women's Studies at the University of Maine at Farmington; and Research Associate at the Wellesley Centers for Research on Women.

"The biggest thing to hit me was to see someone that you see on a daily basis, walk around your FOB [Forward Operating Base], pretty much reduced to a zip lock bag of human remains sitting in the back of your truck. That was, I think, the biggest eye opener of my entire life."
-- Corporal Samantha Villarreal, 1st Infantry Division

Our Organization

Journey to Normal was incorporated and received its designation as a 501(c)(3) organization in Spring 2012. While the primary focus of the organization presently centers on the production of the film Journey to Normal: Women of War Come Home, we have created the organization to ensure that the project has sustaining impact.

Five areas of current focus will have ongoing relevance to the mission of Journey to Normal:

  • Adding new interviews so that the archive of women veterans' stories continues to grow.
  • Sustaining the infrastructure of the online network allowing women combat veterans to connect with one another.
  • Maintaining, updating and potentially improving the accessibility of JTN material to researchers in mental health and military history.
  • Revisiting the stories of the women of the original film several years in the future, in order to continue exploration of long-term impacts on women and families.
  • Placing installation videos for display in public facilities (e.g. historical centers, veterans affairs exhibitions) and producing training videos for those working with women veterans.

Journey to Normal invites philanthropic partners to support this endeavor to convey the stories of veterans, educate the public, and create a repository of the narratives of women serving in the combat environment. Journey to Normal is not affiliated with any political position or organization, and exists only to advance its mission of telling the story of veterans, educating the public about them, and providing media and research materials for those who serve them.

Our Board

JulieHera DeStefano
Ralph T. DeStefano
LTC Thomas J. Stokes, USAR
COL Michael D. Kolodziej, USAR
"Our whole life just basically stops for a year and everybody else's continues, and a lot can happen in a week, let alone a year."
-- Sergeant First Class Lecreacia Brown, 101st Sustainment Brigade






"I had prepared my (5 year old) daughter a little bit before I left but she didn't quite understand, of course, what that means for Mom to be gone for so long. Then my (2 year old) son just...thinks that I live in the computer. Or on the phone."
-- Major Christa Riley, USAF 455th Air Expeditionary Wing


We are grateful to all who have so generously supported Journey to Normal. Without your support, we would not have been able to achieve so much. We wish to acknowledge our funding partners to date, who include:

  • National Endowment for the Humanities
  • The Hillman Foundation
  • The Heinz Endowments
  • The Pittsburgh Foundation
  • RAGS Foundation
  • National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution
  • UPMC
  • Steeltown Entertainment Project
  • The Fine Foundation
  • An Anonymous Donor
  • Individual Contributors

We invite Philanthropic partners to join the Journey to Normal initiative. Journey to Normal, Inc. is a charitable 501c3 organization and is not affiliated with any political position or organization. Journey to Normal, Inc. exists to advance its mission of sharing the stories of women in service, creating a network of connection for them, educating the public about them, and providing media and research materials for those who serve them.

"This time, redeploying is bittersweet. I am ready to leave and go home, but I'm leaving my Battle Buddy, I'm leaving great relationships that I've established here."
– COL Rebecca Tomsyck, 254th Medical Detachment, Combat Operational Stress Control
Follow @JourneyToNormal