Where Soldiers Come From (2011) Review

Releasing on DVD and Blu-ray today is the PBS funded documentary Where Soldiers Come From, directed by Heather Courtney. It follows a group of childhood friends from the U.P. of Michigan, who enlist in the United States National Guard on a whim after high school. Things take a turn when the group gets sent into the heart of Afghanistan, and they come realize the staggering weight of their decision.

Let’s be real, high school kids aren’t the most responsible, and most of their decisions are done in haste without thinking of the future consequences. That’s what I got watching this documentary, which provides all the justification parents will ever need to ban military recruiters from high schools.

In the Upper Michigan Peninsula, there isn’t much to do for teenage boys Dom, Cole, and Bodi. It’s small town America, ripe with mom n’ pop restaurants, good family values, easy living, and everything we’ve come to expect from folks living in a rural area. It’s the kind of place where everyone knows everyone. When one kid decides to sign up for the Guard, the rest are soon to follow. They got into it for the free college money, boredom, and for something to do. Unfortunately, they don’t realize what they’re trading away until it’s too late to get out of it.

Once dropped in Afghanistan to serve a 9 month tour of duty, the toll of war begins to take an immediate effect. The group doesn’t understand what they’re fighting for, have no desire to kill, and aren’t exactly sure how they got themselves into this situation, but they soon learn to turn off their emotions, and become robotic machines. After all, that’s all a young man can do to preserve his sanity in an insane situation. The unit specializes in finding and disarming improvised explosive devices (IED’s), much like The Hurt Locker, and if you enjoyed that movie, you’ll get into the real thing here.

It’s not all thrills though, as Bodi is involved in so many explosions as a truck driver, doctor’s tell him he has a traumatic brain injury that’s equivalent to playing professional football for 20 years. They aren’t sure if he’ll be able to operate normally at 50, or be a drooling vegetable. The brain is one organ that is incapable of healing damage, they say.

Watching them come back home injured, irritable, and in desperate need of therapy, I can’t help but think of how much better their lives were before they went. Where Soldiers Come From doesn’t pretend to be pro-war or anti-war, it only tells the story of a group of friends who find themselves in one. Watching movies about war, playing Call of Duty, and fighting in a war are not synonymous. Once real life consequences are involved, all bets are off. If young men are looking for a rite of passage that transforms them from boys to men, trust me, war is not the place to do it. Parents, show this to your children before they make a rash decision to join the military.

You can thank me later.

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