Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Opens locally Friday, September 30th, 2011
Run Time: 1 hour, 33 minutes, Not Rated
Directed by Heather Courtney (Letters from the Other Side)
Unless you or a loved one has served in the military, chances are that you don’t really know first-hand what it’s like. When the President speaks about sending troops overseas, they’re just numbers flashed on CNN, or given as a death toll number. Rarely do these numbers impact us on a personal level, and with our country being at war for the past 10 years, it is fairly easy to accept war as the norm, and to take for granted the sacrifices made by our fellow citizens.
“Where Soldiers Come From” focuses our attention not only on the sacrifices made by those in the armed forces, but the sacrifices made by the family and friends of these soldiers as well.
With a straight-forward approach, the director follows a group of life-long friends from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and how they ended up serving 9 months in Afghanistan right around the time Obama was elected President. From a small town, many of these friends didn’t really seek out adventure, or were necessarily inclined to serve. Instead, they joined the National Guard for the promise of a $20,000 signing bonus and college tuition support. One by one, the friends all join up, simply because it’s the thing to do….everybody’s doing it. Never did they truly think they’d be deployed to Afghanistan, and put on missions where their sole responsibility is to locate and destroy I.E.D.s (Improvised Explosive Devices, or simply bombs) in the streets of this volatile country.
But that’s exactly what happens to this group of friends. We get to see them prior to deployment, and they seem to be your average group of teenagers…laughing, partying…being kids. With fearful anticipation, we meet their families, their girlfriends, and the others who will be deeply affected by their loved ones going off to war. The whole thing seems surreal, for them and for us, when we see that their “training” as soldiers involves a once-a-month course at the local National Guard training facility. These teenage kids, given once-a-month training. It’s understated, but hard to believe that they would be prepared for what they are about to experience.
As the documentary unfolds, we follow them to Afghanistan, and to their bomb sweeping missions. Several bombs detonate, some even manage to tip over and damage their heavily armed vehicles. We see the laughing, innocent teenage soldiers as the gravity of their situation sinks in…this is not a video game, but real life.
For 9 months they are put in harm’s way, bonding together in a way only ex-soldiers can understand. They miss their families, and from home we get to see the impact of those waiting with mixed emotions about the well-being of their sons, and boyfriends. Every knock on the door, one dad fears he will see a soldier in uniform delivering bad news. It’s almost unthinkable to try to put yourself in his shoes…to understand what that must be like.
Needless to say, when the soldiers return, they are not the same.
The movie itself stays focused on this group of friends, particularly 3 of them, as they go through this life-changing journey. Only in passing does the film reference the bigger picture, like when they all are seen cheering Obama’s election of Presidency, with high hopes that he will withdraw troops from foreign soil. Without narration, without beating it over our heads, filmmaker Heather Courtney makes us immediately understand that this is not just the story of 3 boys and 3 families from the U.P. It’s the story shared by thousands all across our country.
“Where Soldiers Come From” is unsettling at times, and always compelling. We know ahead of time that war will change these kids, and we hope for the best for all of them. But that feeling doesn’t even begin to compare to the feelings of the families waiting back at home. Movies like this are important, to understand that with every policy announcement, or newsflash, real lives are at stake.
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