Case Studies

Where Soldiers Come From (2011)

An Image Frome Where Soldiers Come From

By Heather Courtney

The Film

From a snowy, small town in northern Michigan to the mountains of Afghanistan, Where Soldiers Come From follows the four-year journey of childhood friends who join the National Guard after graduating from high school. As it chronicles the young men's transformation from restless teenagers to soldiers looking for roadside bombs to 23-year-old combat veterans trying to start their lives again, the film offers an intimate look at the young Americans who fight our wars, the families and towns they come from and the way one faraway conflict changes everything. Where Soldiers Come From is directed by Heather Courtney and is a production of Quincy Hill Films. The film had its national broadcast premiere on PBS' POV series on November 10, 2011.

Campaign Strategy

Working closely with filmmaker Heather Courtney, POV launched an extensive engagement campaign to engage key constituencies and expand public dialogue around post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, War, Veterans, and socioeconomic class. The campaign was designed to leverage the national broadcast to draw broad attention to the issues. The campaign combined the experience and resources of POV and key stakeholders, including members of the National Guard Bureau, community partners working with military families and veterans, to present a series of on-air, online and on-the-ground activities before, during, and after the broadcast. Target audiences included:

  • Veteran’s and their families
  • Individuals and public officials, educators, students, and organizations working on issues related to war, military service, trumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, and reintegration;
  • Opinion leaders, stakeholders, legal organizations and policy makers; and
  • Public television audiences and the general public.

Impact and Outcomes

Community Engagement POV worked with public television stations, educational institutions, and national and local organizations to build awareness for the Where Soldiers Come From campaign by conducting screenings, discussions, panels, roundtables, and conference sessions. POV also notified their various constituencies and stakeholders about the national broadcast, screening opportunities, and campaign resource materials. To date, over 50 screenings, discussions, panels and conferences for over 3,000 audience members in 39 cities and 23 states. For example the National Guard Bureau, Military to Medicine and POV partnered to present a screening of the film on Capitol Hill, sponsored by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI). General Craig R. McKinley, the head of the National Guard Bureau, offered opening remarks to the screening, asking the audience members to consider all service members as they watched the film, and the challenges facing the military and the nation at this time. Sentaor Levin spoke about the work National Guard members and his personal relation to the film. Patricia Harrison, CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, then introduced the film with a short synopsis and remarks on its emotional impact. The screening was followed by a Q&A with filmmaker Heather Courtney and film subjects: Dominic Fredianelli, Mary Witting-Smith and Cole Smith. The film was presented to a nearly packed house, including a number of high-ranking officials. In order to assist organizations with developing community activities and media outreach around the broadcast, POV distributed the following companion resource materials, available free-of-charge online at

Discussion Guide: POV worked with nationally recognized media educator Dr. Faith Rogow to develop a facilitation guide reviewed by Heather Courtney (filmmaker), Daniel Nichols (Executive Director of Military to Medicine), Shad Meshad (Founder of National Veterans Foundation). The guide contains advice on leading discussions; a listing of possible views on the subject with suggestions for handling extreme views respectfully, cogently, and as a springboard for further discussion; background information that contextualizes the film; suggestions for areas of dialogue/evocative questions to facilitate dialogue around issues of war, reintegration and recovery, PTSD, TBI and military families; ways viewers can take action; and a listing of additional resources.

Lesson Plan: POV collaborated with Cari Ladd to produce a lesson plan for teachers interested in using Where Soldiers Come From as a teaching tool in the high school subject areas of Health, Behavioral Studies, History, Civics, Geography and Language. The lesson plan asks students to watch video clips and read interviews with experts that will help them investigate traumatic brain injury (TBI), which has become the signature injury of military service in Iraq and Afghanistan. The lesson plan includes learning objectives; streaming video clips; an outline of the national standards met by the plans; a list of necessary tools and materials; a notation regarding the total time needed to complete the individual lessons; teaching strategies; and adaptations to the lesson plan.

Delve Deeper: POV worked with Gina Blume of Monroe Township Public Library to create “Delve Deeper into Where Soldiers Come From,” a multi-media resource list of related fiction and non-fiction books and films that further explore issues in the film.

POV also worked with national and local non-profit organizations, non-governmental organizations, and associations interested in the issues raised by Where Soldiers Come From to alert their members, constituents, and partners to the national broadcast and invite viewers to participate in post-broadcast discussions and activities. A partial list of groups includes:

  • A Backpack Journalist
  • American Democracy Project Conference
  • Alamo Cinema and Drafthouse
  • American Association of State Colleges and Universities Conference
  • American Democracy Project
  • American Red Cross of Michigan
  • A Proud Veteran
  • Army Wife Network
  • Art Museum of South Texas
  • Aurelia Reinhart Historical Society
  • Avalon Free Public Library, New Jersey
  • Baxter County Library, Arkansas
  • Blue Star Families
  • Bob Woodruff Foundation
  • Brain Injury Association of America
  • Brain Trauma Foundation
  • Brainline Military
  • Brownsburg Public Library
  • Chandler Public Library
  • Combat Paper Project
  • Community School of Davidson, North Carolina
  • Defense Centers for Excellence
  • Durham County Library
  • Fort Greene Peace
  • Gold Star Wives of America
  • Henry Carter Hull Library
  • Heroes Care
  • Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary
  • Military Officers Association of America
  • Military to Medicine
  • Monroe Township Public Library
  • National Association of Media Literacy Conference
  • National Council of Social Studies Conference
  • National Education Telecommunication Association Conference
  • National Guard Association
  • National Guard Bureau
  • National Association for Media Literacy Education Conference
  • National Veterans Art Museum
  • National Veterans Foundation
  • National Council for the Social Studies
  • Northeastern State University
  • Notalone
  • New York Collective of Radical Educators
  • Oak Park Coalition for Truth and Justice
  • OSU CineCulture at Oklahoma State University
  • Pets for Vets
  • Pima County Public Library
  • Portland Public Library, Maine
  • Ramapo College of NJ
  • ReMind
  • San Diego Public Library
  • Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival
  • Sesame Street for Military Families
  • Soldiers Heart
  • Swords to Plowshares
  • University of Michigan at Dearborn
  • Veterans for Common Sense
  • Veteran’s Heart Georgia


Left: Where Soldiers Come From by Heather Courtney (POV 2011)