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Veterans report for duty on sets of military-themed TV shows

A wave of military-themed TV shows has resulted in a side benefit: more jobs for veterans in the entertainment industry.

As Veterans Day is celebrated Saturday, dozens of former military personnel are busy working on shows such as CBS’ SEAL Team; NBC’s The Brave; CW’s Valor; and National Geographic’s The Long Road Home.

Why are service members in demand? The competitive entertainment landscape demands authenticity, and veterans can supply that by consulting on the use of weapons, combat techniques and day-to-day details of military life.

And that’s created opportunities to learn new skills and build a career. “The more military projects there are, the more veterans are able to get work. We’ve recognized that and have tried to get as many involved as we can,” says SEAL Team consulting producer and actor Tyler Grey, who served in Army Special Operations.

More than 100 veterans, including two Special Operations officers and two SEALs, have worked on SEAL Team (Wednesdays, 9 ET/PT), which follows the missions and home lives of a group of elite Navy operatives.

Valor (Mondays, 9 ET/PT) counts two veterans among its writing staff, April Fitzsimmons and Shamar S. White; and Long Road, filmed at Ft. Hood, Texas, calls on the technical expertise of Aaron Fowler and Eric Borquin, retired Army soldiers involved in the Iraq War battle depicted in the eight-part miniseries (Tuesdays, 10 ET/PT).

Grey and other armed forces-to-Hollywood veterans serve as connections for military personnel interested in film or TV work, along with groups including Veterans in Media and Entertainment.

“What we’ve seen in the last five years is that studios are trying to find out how to incorporate veterans into their hiring program,” says Karen Kraft, a VME board member who served six years in the Army Reserve.

Although employment statistics are difficult to track, “a lot of young veterans want to transition into Hollywood,” she says.

“I hope SEAL Team continues to do well, because that’s going to allow more veterans to get a job,” which could lead to future employment, Grey says of the show.

Mikal Vega, who served as a Navy SEAL and is now technical adviser on The Brave (Mondays, 10 ET/PT), began his entertainment career as an actor and now wants to direct.

The advisory job has given him access to the creative side. “They had me in the writers room helping with story,” he says, and he also helped frame secondary scenes, he says. “It’s pretty damn rewarding.”

Although a career in TV and film isn’t the usual post-military career route, Vega says Hollywood and the Pentagon, despite different cultures, are similar structurally. “The producers are the officers in charge. The director is the platoon chief.” .

The work goes beyond just entertaining viewers. Fellow service members respect the effort to get things right, and civilians get a better idea of what military service entails.

For Long Road, based on Martha Raddatz’s best-seller about the 2004 ambush of a platoon in Iraq’s Sadr City that killed eight soldiers, getting details right is especially important.

Bourquin says it was important to accurately tell the story of a battle in which colleagues perished.

“We’ve had Gold Star family members (relatives of service members who died in action) who now know their soldier’s story will be known, and (will) be around forever,” he says. “And that is just an amazing feeling.”


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