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Jerry Ensminger never wanted to be an activist. He wanted to serve his country as a drill sergeant for the Marine Corps and to be a good father.
But when his daughter, Janey, died from leukemia at age 9, he began to search for answers.
“I can assure you that there’s many other things I’d rather be doing than fighting with the Department of the Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps,” he said. “But whether I like it or not, it’s for [Janey’s] legacy and the welfare of everyone affected by this tragedy.”
Janey Ensminger was one of the many family members of military personnel who came into contact with toxins while living at Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base in North Carolina.
She is the namesake of the Janey Ensminger Act to Care for Camp Lejeune Families, introduced last month by Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Brad Miller (D-N.C.).
And her father’s work to gain restitution for those who cooked, bathed in and drank contaminated water at the base is the subject of the documentary “Semper Fi: Always Faithful,” which will be screened June 23 at the Capitol Visitor Center.
“Semper Fi” follows Ensminger’s story as he finds scientific evidence behind the contamination at Camp Lejeune and begins fighting for restitution for the victims.
It includes footage of Miller and Dingell, as well as Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), all of whom will be hosting the screening.
Though it’s not too often that Members of Congress are involved in documentaries, Miller said the experience was, for him, just like any other interview.
“I do interviews all the time,” he said, adding that the documentary showcased less of him and more of the personal stories of Ensminger and others affected by Camp Lejeune. “I don’t think [my office and I] provided any kind of extraordinary help.”
But director Rachel Libert said working with lawmakers and the government provided her with challenges she hadn’t met in her previous documentary work.
“It required learning the ropes a little bit, learning who to talk to and how to gain access and, just frankly, staying in touch with these offices so they would keep me apprised” of legislative developments, she explained.
After four years of filming, Libert said she had learned the ins and outs of working with government, but interviewing Members of Congress always required more preparation than usual.