Retired U.S. Army veteran and Waterford native Steve Kreider likes to joke that he is "like the Forrest Gump in life."
"I just fell into stuff," said Kreider, 48, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and a Bronze Star and Combat Action Badge recipient.
Since retiring from the Army in 2013, Kreider remains heavily involved with veterans' issues and has launched a second career as a Hollywood film and television consultant and producer.
The Houston resident started his company, Hollywood Top LLC, in September 2015 as a military consulting firm, but his company has since transitioned into the production of reality shows and other projects.
"Eventually, we want to do feature films," Kreider said.
Kreider got his Hollywood start in 2013 through his friendship with actor Ricky Schroder, whom Kreider met in 2009 when he was stationed in Riverside, California, about 80 miles from Los Angeles.
Kreider began work in early December 2013 for Ricky Schroder Productions as an on-site liaison for the reality show "Starting Strong," a U.S. Army recruiting show that aired three seasons (2013-15) online and on select Fox stations.
The reality show followed civilians brought into military life who are put through training in different military occupational specialties.
"I served as a go-between for the Army and production," Kreider said. "Starting Strong was an Army-funded project. Essentially, I felt like the stars were aligned to get into this business, but I also thought I had set myself up well to do this. I love helping people. Production is like having and leading soldiers, and that fell right into my specialty."
Kreider retired from active duty in 2013 as a first sergeant. He spent much of his military career working as a senior logistics officer.
Part of his duties also involved notifying families when their loved ones were killed in the line of duty. He also served as an Army recruiter for three years in Richmond, Virginia.
Kreider enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves in 1988 and transitioned to active duty in 1993. He was deployed to Balad, Iraq, from January to December 2004, and was stationed in Iraq when his son, Jonathan, was born.
Kreider was on the phone with his mother-in-law, listening to the birth, when his base came under attack.
"I heard this whistling alarm go off, indicating we were starting to get mortared," he said.
When Kreider left Iraq, he was deployed to New Orleans. He purchased his first house there and closed on the deal on June 1, 2005. On Aug. 1, 2005, he made his first mortgage payment.
A month later, he lost everything when his house was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Later that year, in December 2005, Kreider's father died.
"That would be my year to do a do-over," Kreider said. "That was a rough year, but it made me a stronger person."
From 2006-2008, Kreider was stationed at Corpus Christi, Texas.
When he was stationed in California in 2009, Kreider attended a veterans' event where he was asked to speak.
"I was giving my speech and the crowd started to shuffle away, and I was thinking that my speech must have sucked, but then I saw that (actor) Jon Voight had entered the room and the crowd wanted to see him," Kreider said. "Voight invited me to spend some time in his office. He is a very patriotic guy.
"I got the bug when I met Jon Voight," Kreider said. "I thought this business was kind of cool and sometimes I had thought about it, but I didn't know how I would do it. After I retired from the Army, I thought I was going to get a nine-to-five job."
Through his friendship with Voight, Kreider hooked up with Schroder in 2009 and continued to stay in touch. Following his 2013 Army retirement, Kreider met with Schroder in Los Angeles and pitched the actor a reality show about helping homeless veterans get off the streets.
"It was OK, but not something that was eye-catching at the time," Kreider said.
Schroder said he didn't have the time to pursue the project, but asked Kreider if he would be interested in working on the Starting Strong show that Schroder was producing.
Kreider was a coordinating producer on "Starting Strong" when his two-year contract with Schroder expired in September 2015.
"In Hollywood, it's feast or famine," Kreider said. "I took some time off, and by virtue of my relationships I had made on Starting Strong, I became good friends with Jo Haskin, a co-executive producer for that show. She has worked on numerous reality shows."
In 2016, Kreider received a call "out of the blue" from Haskin. She asked Kreider if he was interested in joining the "Duck Dynasty" crew as an associate producer.
"I almost passed out," Kreider said with a laugh. "That is like the cream of the crop reality show. I had never watched an episode, but I did a six-hour information gathering session. It's a quirky, funny show."
Haskin, a vice president of development and production for Ricky Schroder Productions, said she believed Kreider would be a good fit on the "Duck Dynasty" set.
"I knew he wanted to work in film and TV and I knew it could be a possibility," Haskin said. "On Starting Strong, I could see he was a person who takes charge. He easily engages with people and knows how to talk to people, and he's very organized. He does his work with charisma and fun. He makes people laugh.
"I think he can do whatever he sets his mind to," she said. "Steve is always trying to improve himself. He's always taking a new class or a new course in something."
"Duck Dynasty" filming brought Kreider to Monroe, Louisiana, for three months in 2016. On the set, Kreider was given two key instructions: Don't swear and don't take the Lord's name in vain.
"The guys are religious and they are very genuine people," Kreider said of the Robertson family featured in the A&E network reality show, which ended in March 2017. "The way they are on TV is the way they are in life. Who they are is who they are, and they are great guys."
Kreider's next big project occurred in 2017, when he was hired as a military consultant for the musical comedy film, "Pitch Perfect 3."
"My company is what helped me get the job with Pitch Perfect 3," Kreider said. "Military personnel are an asset on set because we have all this training. We're taught core values and work ethic, and there's consideration for others."
Haskin said she saw those attributes from Kreider daily on the sets of "Starting Strong" and "Duck Dynasty."
"He's overcome a lot of hardships," she said. "He is one of those people who always has a positive outlook and a positive attitude, and he's shown he has the ability to overcome. He loves to help people, and he's just a really cool, positive person to be around."
Helping veterans is Kreider's first passion.
He co-founded two nonprofits dedicated to ending veteran homelessness in America: Vet Hunters Project in Los Angeles in 2010 and Shadow Warrior Foundation in Atlanta in 2015.
Earlier this year, Kreider and his company completed filming on the online reality show, "Flea Market Fanatics," which chronicles flea market activities and personalities in Rogers, Ohio, about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh.
Kreider co-hosts the show, which can be viewed on www.fleamarketfanatics.com.
"Working in entertainment can be challenging," Kreider said. "It's an exciting job. You get to meet people who are on TV and in the news all the time. Money can be good at times and then there are times when you're not making any money. My Army retirement money is a steady income. You have to be better at budgeting your money. You have to be prepared for the down times."
Kreider calls his five-year career in Hollywood entertainment "an amazing adventure."
"I won't ever stop working if I can help it," he said.
This article is written by Ron Leonardi from Erie Times-News, Pa. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.