Ridgefield rock artists recount ‘wild experience’ in Iraq, Afghanistan post-9/11

Photo of Alyssa Seidman

Ethan Isaac’s outlook on music forever changed on Sept. 11, 2001.

At the time he was working at a record company on the Lower West Side. When he was out grabbing lunch he looked up to see a giant, smoke-filled hole in one of the World Trade Center towers.

Isaac, of Ridgefield, could’ve never guessed then where his career would take him as a result. But in 2005 his band, Edisun, got an offer to tour overseas — in the heart of active war zones, in some of the most remote parts of the world.

A new documentary, “Bulletproof Wings,” depicts the band’s experiences playing for, and living alongside, American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11. The film debuted exclusively on Tubi last Saturday and contains raw footage shot during Edisun’s first two tours with Armed Forces Entertainment in 2005 and 2006.

Isaac started the band in 2004 with fellow Ridgefielder Jonathan Svec. Edisun was recruited to bring their talents abroad after AFE heard Isaac’s song “Into the Sunlight,” which channeled his memories from experiencing the attacks firsthand.

Accompanying them was former bassist Jay Salley, of Norwalk, former drummer Tim Newton, of Fairfield, drummer Todd Budich, of New Fairfield, and tour manager Dan Monaghan.

“There was very little information on where we were gonna go,” Isaac explained. “They flew us on a military flight into Kuwait with a bunch of soldiers. For an hour we were wandering around a holding area, (and) all you hear is planes and helicopters and see military tanks and humvees all around you.”

Reality hit when the band boarded a C-130 and made a combat landing into Tal Afar, Iraq, near the Syrian border.

“They gave us flak jackets and helmets to wear, (which) isn’t typical to our rock n’ roll lifestyle,” Isaac joked.

“Short of giving us a weapon we were dressed like the troops were,” Svec added. “Half the bases were pretty safe and the other half were getting mortared and attacked just about every day.”

The band was embedded into military life off stage, sleeping in the same tents and eating at the same dining facilities as their audiences. During the tours they interviewed soldiers who offered candid reflections and insights into their personal lives, their missions and the dangers they faced on a daily basis.

“They were these fly-on-the-wall moments that really weren’t covered in mainstream media (where) everything’s so sensationalized,” Isaac said. “These are all people — everybody just wants to get home at the end of the day.”

Svec said the concerts brought each service member “a moment of home.” He recalled that after a performance at Al Dhafra air base, one soldier came up to him, shook his hand and said, “You don’t realize how important this is.”

Those moments of happiness, familiarity and joy, Svec said, created the foundation of “Bulletproof Wings.” Years after Edisun’s initial tours in the Middle East, Isaac’s friend Amanda Osment expressed interest in producing a documentary using the footage they had captured.

Svec believes the film can serve as a reminder of what happened during America’s early involvement in the Middle East.

“The timing seems a little uncanny considering the recent exodus from Kabul … (but) it’s a glimpse of what it was like to be there, rather than seeing machine guns and bombs exploding,” he said. “It was pretty amazing to see what ... they go through to protect the country, and that should be respected.”

To stream “Bulletproof Wings,” click here.