Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Tribal: Veterans Tell Their Stories

Even if it were easy, a lot of people still wouldn’t care enough to serve their country. These three veterans did—and they still carry the experience (and in many cases, the physical and emotional scars) with them. All three former soldiers tell their stories of valor under fire and difficulties re-acclimating to civilian life in the Borrego Brothers’ documentary Tribal, which releases today on DVD and VOD.

The title comes from Sebastian Jungr, referring to unity of perspective, values, and way of life shared by soldiers serving together. It will confuse many viewers with little connection to the military, possibly even offending a substantial subset, but it is in fact an apt title. The Borregos and producer Mark Kershaw focus on three War on Terror veterans, Army vets SPC John “Michael” Gomez and SFC Omar Hernandez, as well as former Marine CPL Wade Spann. Plus, Kershaw (also formerly Army) appears after about an hour, to directly address his recovery process and his hopes to facilitate more veterans getting the help they need.

In large part,
Tribal simply consists of interview segments, relying on the power of its subjects’ own words. In some cases, the Borregos illustrate their harrowing survivor stories with evocatively stylized re-enactments that are not intended to be realistic. In some ways, these sequences are somewhat akin to some scenes in Beyond Glory, the film adaptation of Stephen Lang’s one-man show portraying multiple Medal of Honor recipients.

The primary message that comes through loud and clear throughout
Tribal is that society must do a better job easing veterans back into civilian life. Although PTSD once carried a stigma, all three interviewees agree there is a much greater acceptance within military circles today for those who need and seek mental health assistance—but it is still an issue.

A secondary point that emerges is the frustration of military decisions getting made to satisfy political calculations rather than on the basis of sound strategic and tactical grounds. A case in point would be Spann’s ferocious account of his unit’s advance through Fallujah and how they were suddenly ordered to withdraw, for purely political reasons. Unfortunately, the job was left to other units, who suffered needlessly high casualties, since the insurgent forces were allowed to regroup and reinforce. At least that is how he sees it and he certainly had an informed perspective to make a judgment.

There used to be a lot of documentaries on enlisted soldiers’ perspectives, on the battlefield and during the aftermath of their service. Now that Biden withdrew from Afghanistan (in a tragically chaotic manner) producers and distributors no longer seem interested. Yet, the impact continues, both for those who served and for our nation.

The world is still dangerous (as we learned once again in October, when many Americans were taken hostage), so the U.S. government and American society needs to do better by veterans.
Tribal makes that very clear. Recommended for general viewers who care about uniformed military personnel, Tribal releases today (12/19) on DVD and VOD.