Twin Cities people tuning into reality show "Military Makeover" this month might see a familiar face.
Josh Helm, 33, of Vadnais Heights spent five days in Seminole, Fla., in January representing his company, JDog Junk Removal and Hauling.
He and other JDog employees were featured on the Lifetime series hosted by Montel Williams as they emptied a house, hauled sand and did whatever they were asked to help remodel a military family's home.
"The best part was being involved in something so grand, so much bigger than yourself and helping to change a family's life like that," he said. "You realize what's important in life and what you can just brush off and move on from, and then think about how you can make things better."
The season features Marine Maj. Aaron Middleton, his wife Holly, and their four kids: Trott, 8; Scarlett, 5; Magnolia (Midge), 3; and Kelvin, 1. The story starts in the cemetery at the funeral of Scarlett, who died suddenly from sepsis caused by a blood infection. This, just after Kelvin underwent surgery to close two holes in his lungs.
Helm said he never spoke to the family but was present for the big reveal at the end.
"That was extremely emotional," he said. "I was not expecting that. To see the look on their faces, to see the kids. Every person had tears."
JDOG SUPPORTS VETERANS
Helm, brought up in Little Canada by X-ray tech mom and architect dad, is a 2004 White Bear Lake High School grad. He works for JDog, a national company with 200 franchises. He owns the only franchise in Minnesota. It's in Fridley. His girlfriend, Karyn Essen, is his operations officer.
The company is unique in that it requires franchise owners to either be veterans or come from a military family. Helm did two tours of Iraq in the Army as a driver from 2006 to 2008.
In an arrangement sponsored by Military Veteran Partners (MVP), a service-based investment and advisory services company that has invested in JDog business owners nationwide, JDog has partnered with "Military Makeover" to provide junk removal and assist with additional renovation needs during the 2019 season.
NOT READY FOR HIS CLOSE-UP
In early January, Helm got a call from MVP headquarters in Pennsylvania asking if he'd like to be on the show.
Helm said initially, he froze, picturing himself, a shy guy, being forced to do on-camera interviews and chat up Montel Williams.
"I was kind of confused at first," he said. "Obviously I'm a quiet person. Karyn says I'm a humble person, but I think she's just being nice. I'm just not the TV-star type."
He was assured that there would be very little camera time, and he agreed to go.
"I can be the guy in the background lifting the heavy things," he said, laughing.
BIG PROJECT, LITTLE TIME
It was short notice. The company wanted him in Florida the last week of January. He would meet up with a JDog crew from Tampa and another representative from Pennsylvania. For five days, from dawn till dusk, they would work on the Middletons' house.
Unlike other makeover shows which turn projects around in an hour, "Military Makeover" features the same project for several episodes. This means the crew does more than a few simple updates.
Almost every room in the house was upgraded. The family got a new air conditioning and heating system with improved ductwork. The kitchen was redone with new appliances, donated by LG. The laundry room was renovated and a new washer, dryer and in-closet clothes steamer were installed.
The master bathroom was redone with a whirlpool tub and double sinks. The backyard, which was sinking into an adjacent swamp, was built up. A sea wall was installed to slow erosion, a fence was moved, and the sloping land was flattened.
VETS ARE PROBLEM SOLVERS
Helm thought he'd just be hauling things in and out of the house. He ended up doing a lot more than that.
"Being mostly veterans, we kind of adapt to any situation," he said. "The producers picked up on that and used us to handle some of the things no one else could do."
Some of it was grunt work like painting, doing work on the roof, putting up shelves, installing TVs, moving sand and helping carpenters with measurements. Some of it was problem solving, which the vets excelled at.
And every so often, just when they were on a roll, the camera crews would intrude, trying to get a perfect shot.
"It was kinda difficult because while we're working extremely hard redoing this house, they also had to do a TV show," he said. "They'd make us stop so Montel could do his little speech."
MINNESOTAN, MEET HOLLYWOOD
Williams is a veteran of the Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy. Helm was not sure what to expect when he met him in person.
"All I knew about Montel was his talk show in the '90s," he said. "I guess being famous, everyone has the idea that they may be jerks. But he wasn't at all. He was a fellow veteran. He was very friendly."
The Hollywood fawning, however, upset his Midwestern sensibilities.
"The other TV people treated him like he was Tom Cruise, which I thought was a little odd," he said.
Helm said he was also mercilessly teased for being Minnesotan.
"Everybody was making fun of me -- my accent, 'How cold is it there?,' 'Do you walk around with a hockey stick?' " he said. "Everyone else from Florida had hoodies on and I was sweating in my T-shirt."
He said it was 65 degrees when he left Florida and a wind chill of minus-60 when he got home.
On the WORKlast evening, he hung out with Jennifer Bertrand, a designer on the show. She told him she once worked at a camp in northern Minnesota where she met her husband.
BREAK'S OVER, BACK TO WORK
Helm said there wasn't much time for sightseeing. He said felt lucky to be housed in a sea-side hotel where he spent his free time on the balcony looking at the ocean. He noticed an American Legion next door that was always packed and imagined that he might like to retire to Florida.
"It was a dream scenario years down the road," he said.
He also spent a lot of time calling the office and checking up on Karyn and his team of six.
"JDog is like my child," he said. This was the first time since it opened in 2018 that he'd left it alone. After working for six years to become a professional chef, he switched paths when he realized that profession would leave him little time for a personal life. JDog and its commitment to veterans seemed the perfect fit.
"I love the fact that we help veterans," he said. "For me, the 'Empower the veteran' thing really hits home. Every veteran, when they get out of the military, they have that question of 'What now?' JDog is really the answer to that question. You can come and work here and take a breather, adapt back to the civilian world, and figure out what the next step is." Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
This article is written by Deanna Weniger from St. Paul Pioneer Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.