'Band of Brothers' for Logistics? Commission on Military, Civic Service Made Hollywood Stop

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Actors Damian Lewis (as Richard Winters) and Ron Livingston (as Nixon) act in a scene from HBO''s war mini-series "Band Of Brothers."
Actors Damian Lewis (as Richard Winters) and Ron Livingston (as Nixon) act in a scene from HBO''s war mini-series "Band Of Brothers." (Photo by HBO via Getty Images)

A commission established by Congress two-and-a-half years ago to review the nation's Selective Service System and assess nationwide interest in serving will release a dense final report later this month with 164 separate recommendations, ranging from improving civic education to changes to the draft registration process.

And it's possible those recommendations could include ways to bring more rounded and diverse narratives about military service to the silver screen.

While many are looking forward specifically to the 11-member panel's conclusions on whether women should be included in Selective Service registration for the first time in history, a significant portion of the commission's work regarding the military focused on propensity to serve -- the factors that make an individual interested or open to joining the armed forces.

That work took the commission and its staff to 22 cities in 15 states across all the nation's census districts in just its first year of existence, said Jud Crane, a senior policy research analyst with the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service. And one of those stops included a meeting in Los Angeles with key liaisons between the military and Hollywood, he said.

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In the room during that September 2018 meeting were Army and Navy regional public affairs and recruiting representatives who interface with Hollywood for accuracy in television shows and films involving the military, as well as a representative from the U.S. Coast Guard's dedicated Motion Picture and Television Liaison Office.

The U.S. military has long dedicated resources to working with Hollywood in hopes of helping to shape the way military members are portrayed on-screen, with a Pentagon-level entertainment liaison and counterparts at each of the services.

While many projects can earn Defense Department support, including use of equipment and base locations if it's determined to be in the interest of the military, some are parlayed into wholesale recruiting opportunities.

Actor Gerard Butler held a Pentagon press conference to promote his film "Hunter-Killer" in 2018; the Air Force last year launched a wildly popular ad campaign and multiple media events that springboarded off "Captain Marvel," the story of a female Air Force pilot-turned-superhero; and the Navy famously capitalized on the popularity of "Top Gun" in 1986 by setting up recruiting tables outside theaters.

But during this particular meeting, the conversation focused on how to effectively tell the lesser-known stories of military service -- those of personnel in the many support and enabler roles, and those who might not be at the tip of the spear.

"When you talk about the opportunities the military can provide for young people to have a fulfilling and promising career, 'A Few Good Men' can tell you about military lawyers," Crane said. "Who can tell you about logisticians and the work that they do?"

He added the commission got insights from the meeting into the workings of the entertainment industry and how to build relationships with those who shape stories and develop story arcs. While staff had gone into it with an interest in discovering more A-listers who champion military service such as Tom Hanks, who produced "Band of Brothers," they were steered toward focusing more on the less-known producers, and the other creatives and technical assistants who have great influence on what appears on-screen.

"There's a lot of stories to tell with military service; it's not just about 'Saving Private Ryan' and 'Lone Survivor,'" Crane said. "We have trouble figuring out how to walk the dog all the way to that challenge as far as our interactions with Hollywood."

The work of the commission took place as all the military services evaluated major changes to legacy recruiting strategies aimed at attracting prospects from the Millennial and Gen-Z generations who might have little prior interaction with military members and little knowledge of what it means to serve.

Dr. Joe Heck, the chairman of the commission and a former Republican congressman from Nevada who is brigadier general in the U.S. Army Reserve, told Military.com this week that, of the 4.5 million young Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 who meet the most basic military standards for recruitment, only one-tenth are considered "propensed to serve." And the military, he added, must still compete with industry and universities for their talent.

Meanwhile, the military services are working to fill an increasing number of technical and cyber jobs as the nature of the battlefield and warfare itself changes.

"People form impressions of what it means to be in the military based on what they see," Crane said. "If 90% of what they see is brass ejecting from guns, that influences their picture."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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