Salute to our Returning Heroes

By Brian Dyak

Today’s news is tomorrow’s future.  NEWS FLASH – THE WAR IS OVER! American flags waving in the breeze, troops reuniting with families, children holding posters, and teddy bears standing on the air strips. As our troops return from overseas, we’re flooded with emotions. Many are proud and grateful for their service to our country, yet we are legitimately concerned for them, their families, and their children.  We have so much to be thankful for as their service to our country protects the freedoms we have been so accustomed to; creative freedom is at the top of the list. Our industry is indebted to these brave men and women who have given so much.

Hollywood rallied to sell war bonds during WW II. We must again rally to not let military service go unrecognized or silent. Stories and characters about our military and veterans will abound in the coming months. Our accuracy to present creative treatments of their bravery, their “real life” challenges related to housing, jobs, education, mental and physical health should be real and motivational so all can truly support and appreciate their service to our country.

Uniquely, some Hollywood headway has been made with treatment of important topics. For instance, consider Kevin McKidd’s (Grey’s Anatomy) character, Dr. Hunt, who was able to foster the understanding of millions of Americans about a very real threat to our military men and women. Not only could the country identify with him as a character on our television screen, but suddenly, Dr. Hunt became the face of our loved ones fighting for our safety and sacrificing their personal health and well-being for our own security. McKidd’s performance as Dr. Hunt returning from the Middle East, suffering from severe PTSD, previously earned him the PRISM Award for “Performance in a Drama Series Multi-Episode Storyline” for his authentic portrayal. Currently, Kevin continues to support veteran mental health and other veteran issues affecting their return to our communities.

Kevin McKidd is not the only actor working to bring accurate portrayals to the small screen: actor Jon Huertas is a Veteran of the U.S. Air Force and active supporter of the Wounded Warriors Project. Many of his well-known television and movie credits also feature characters with Armed Forces experience. He’s played a Marine Recon Sniper Spotter in JAG; Recon Marine Sergeant in Generation Kill; Homicide NYPD Detective, Javier Esposito, in Castle; retired Marine Sergeant, Jack Kale, in NCIS; among others. It was a real eye-opener to have him moderate our recent Veteran Mental Health Challenges For Storytellers: A First Draft Creative Briefing in Los Angeles, held at the Writers Guild.  We learned about personal stories and the challenges many veterans face when they return from a theatre of war. We heard generational perspectives from the Vietnam War, Gulf War, and the recent Iraq War. Hopefully these perspectives can serve to inform future entertainment stories.

With this being said, let’s be mindful of the fact that the majority of our returning soldiers are adjusting to life smoothly. Our dedication to accurate depictions should not lead us to over- or under-diagnose. It is important to emphasize that, despite the serious nature of integration to civilian life, every service man and woman is not destined to experience posttraumatic stress.

When creatively taking on the issue, I encourage the creative community to ask: Is my portrayal of an individual creating a stereotype about our armed forces members? Am I contributing to the harmful nature of stigma? Can I do better and not compromise my creative integrity? These accurate portrayals within storytelling add a dimension of truth and ultimately bring genuine information to our communities. Ask yourself: Can I tell these stories in a way that can provide our heroes with the respect they deserve? Can I better serve those who have served us?

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