How a Retired Sergeant Major Became a Military Adviser for Film and TV

Sgt. Maj. James Dever in his role as an actual United States Marine, one at which he excelled. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

"American Sniper" told the story of U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in the Iraq War. "Heartbreak Ridge" was set against the background of U.S. Marines in Grenada. "The Last Samurai" told the story of a fictional U.S. Army officer in Imperial Japan. These movies seem completely disparate, but they have at least one thing in common.

Retired Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. James Dever.

Dever is now one of the most influential military advisers in the entertainment industry, but he got his adult life off to a kick-start by joining the Corps in 1973. The reason he wanted to become a Marine? Hollywood. Specifically, John Wayne in the 1949 movie "Sands of Iwo Jima."

"I watched the 'Sands of Iwo Jima,' with John Wayne as a kid and wanted to be a Marine from then on," Dever told the Marine Corps Entertainment Office. "I would tell everyone I was going to be a Marine. No one believed me initially, but they do now!"

James Dever, Tom Minder, Tom Williams and Clint Eastwood of 'Flags of Our Fathers' in 2005. (James Dever via IMDb)

After finishing Marine training, he was shipped out to Southeast Asia. He was too late to join the fighting in Vietnam, but he participated in military-led evacuations in Vietnam and Cambodia. His career spanned 25 years and included Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

His first encounter with Hollywood as a Marine came in 1986, when he helped Clint Eastwood make "Heartbreak Ridge." Then a gunnery sergeant, he knew nothing about filmmaking or being on set. He was just ordered to be there to teach actors how to look and act like Marines. But the experience stayed with him, and Dever decided Hollywood would be his post-military career.

"I learned a lot and decided to make going into the film industry a post-Marine Corps goal," Dever said. "Of course, I caught some flak for it. My friends called me Hollywood Dever, but I took it in stride and prepared accordingly for my new career."

His secret to success in the entertainment industry is the same dedication to core values that he learned and kept as a sergeant major of Marines.

"Honor, Courage, Commitment! I don't change my values to fit a situation," he said. "The Marine Corps strengthened my ability to overcome hardships and dig deep within myself, which helped me transition from the Marines and continue on in the entertainment industry."

That same ethic and dedication to the job is something that he believes would give veterans an edge in the entertainment industry. Dever said veterans know how to operate on a set, adding that the best thing a vet with the aim to work in entertainment can do is bring the principles learned from military service to work.

James Dever and Patrick Swayze on the set of 'Green Dragon.' (James Dever via IMDb)

This includes personal integrity, team-building, teamwork and principles of leadership. No civilian in entertainment exemplifies these traits more than his original introduction to the silver screen, Clint Eastwood, according to Dever.

"Mr. Eastwood gets it and is a wonderful gentleman," he said. "He eats with the crew and stands in the lunch line with everyone else, just like a Marine would. He sits at a different table every day during lunch to talk with members of the crew. On his sets, he treats everyone as a professional and expects them to do their job."

Want to Know More About Veteran Jobs?

Be sure to get the latest news about post-military careers, as well as critical info about veteran jobs and all the benefits of service. Subscribe to and receive customized updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Story Continues