For those unfamiliar with it, M*A*S*H was a hit comedy-drama television series that aired on CBS from 1972 to 1983. Following a team of doctors and support staff from the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, the show takes place during the Korean War. During the war, the helicopter was a revolutionary platform that allowed for more rapid evacuation of wounded personnel from the battlefield. As such, the H-13 Sioux, known affectionately as the flying fishbowl, played a prominent role in the show. The Bell 47, the civilian model of the H-13, that was used most often in the show is now up for sale.
Bell 47 D1 s/n 263 was built in July 1951 at the Bell Aircraft Assembly Plant in Niagara, New York. The helicopter was assigned to the U.S. Navy where it was used as a training platform. During its naval career, s/n 263 was once shipped from NAS Alameda, California to a Navy base in Japan and flown with floats installed. The helicopter was eventually shipped back to NAS Alameda and surplussed out of the Navy in 1958. It was purchased by the San Bernardino Valley Junior College Aeronautical Division for use as a training aid.
In 1972, the aircraft was put up for sale again. This time, she was purchased by Adrian Grieve, the owner and operator of Pathfinder Helicopters at Flabob Airport in Riverside, California. S/n 263 was completely disassembled and rebuilt to Bell Helicopters specifications. The next year, it received a Standard Airworthiness Certificate from the FAA as Bell 47 D1, N5167V.
Flyable once more, N5167V served as a student trainer, aerial photography platform, aerial surveyor, banner tower, and fruit frost control aircraft. However, the helicopter’s claim to fame is its starring role in M*A*S*H.
In the opening scenes of the show, two helicopters fly together in close formation; N5167V is the ship closest to the camera in the shot. In the second scene, N5167V is the second helicopter on approach to the landing pads. During the ten years of filming, the helicopter was used numerous times both as a set piece and in flying scenes. The helicopter’s last on-screen appearance was during the final departure scene of the show’s series finale, one of the most-watched TV episodes of all time.
In 1981, N5167V was sold to a South Dakota farmer who used the helicopter on his ranch for counting and herding cattle and crop dusting. N5167V was eventually sold to its current owner who restored it to original its M*A*S*H configuration. During over 5,800 flight hours, the helicopter never sustained any damage. Bell 47 D-1 s/n 263 N5167V is up for sale by Platinum Fighter Sales. The company specializes in warbird and classic aircraft brokerage. A poke around their website will reveal plenty of interesting aircraft for sale like a 1959 McDonnell F4H-1F Phantom II, a 1943 Curtiss Wright P-40N-1 Kittyhawk, and even a rare 1944 North American XP-82 Twin Mustang. The M*A*S*H helicopter has no price listed, but offers can be made online. Given the aircraft’s history, it’s expected to sell for a pretty penny.
That satisfying “Ping!” of bullets on target is as regular as a metronome when former Green Beret sniper, Aaron Barruga, is running tactical marksmanship drills on his home turf in Santa Clarita, CA. With his company, Guerrilla Approach, Barruga trains civilians, military, and law enforcement in proper and effective tactical firearm deployment.
The man does not miss.
“Oscar Mike” host Ryan Curtis paid a visit to Barruga’s training facility to bone up on his sharpshooting and found himself in good hands, drilling shoulder to shoulder with this veteran entrepreneurial success story. Barruga’s advice?
“I would definitely say that, if they have the opportunity, use that G.I. Bill. Get that piece of paper that says, “I’m smart and employable.” And just grind away, basically. You gotta hustle.”
As the day progresses, the sweat beading on Ryan’s brow is a testament to his hustle, if not his dead shot accuracy. And when he challenges Barruga to an Old West-style duel, our host quickly learns what high noon looks like at the Less-than-OK Corral.
Watch as Barruga makes plinking targets look easy, and Curtis proves his monkey is definitely the drunkest, in the video embedded at the top.
Finding good leadership in the military can be difficult. Writing strong interesting characters for movies that audiences respect is a completely separate challenge. But after watching these iconic war films, we’d wager that most ground troops wouldn’t mind serving alongside these screen legends.
So here’s our list of enlisted leaders we’d follow into battle.
1. Gunny Highway (Heartbreak Ridge)
Played by Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood, this career Senior NCO took a bunch of misfits and turned them in hard-charging Reconnaissance Marines in just a few short movie hours. That’s badass and tough to pull off.
“Be advised that I’m mean, nasty, and tired. I eat concertina wire and piss napalm and I can put a round through a flea’s ass at 200 meters” — Gunny Highway. (Source: WB/Screenshot)
2. Sgt. 1st Class Horvath (Saving Private Ryan)
Played by veteran actor Tom Sizemore, this loyal sergeant to his CO just wanted to keep the men in line, fight hard and finish the mission.
Horvath didn’t get the respect he deserved in the film, but we know… we know. (Source: Dream Works/Screenshot)
3. Sgt. Elias (Platoon)
Played by long time actor Willem Dafoe, this seasoned soldier is the voice of his lower enlisted troops and brings a human element to an inhumane world.
4. Sgt. Eversmann (Black Hawk Down)
Played by Josh Hartnett, this newly assigned chalk leader is put to the ultimate test as he spearheads into the legendary Somalia raid and thinks of his men over himself. That’s leadership.
5. Don Collier (Fury)
Played by Brad Pitt and known in the film as “War Daddy,” he strives to keep his men alive and kill as many Germans in the process while not allowing his men see his softer side during the grueling tank battles of WWII.
6. Sgt. Maj. Basil Plumley (We Were Soldiers)
Played by Sam Elliott, this hardcore infantryman isn’t into coddling his men but cares about their health and the importance of taking the fight to the enemy.
7. Michael (The Deer Hunter)
Played by award-winning actor Robert De Niro, no emotional expense was spared when he brought to life this character who suffered great torment to keep his men from going insane while being held captive in a POW camp.
8. Gunny Hartman (Full Metal Jacket)
Played by R. Lee Ermy (retired Marine), Hartman took the audience by storm as he brutally trained his recruits to prepare for the dangers they’d soon face heading off to Vietnam.
Joker, Cowboy, and Animal Mother are just some of the iconic characters in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” that audiences hoped would survive as they maneuvered their way through the dangerous battlegrounds of the Vietnam War.
One character no member of the audience gave a sh*t about, though, was Leonard Lawrence a.k.a. Pvt. Pyle because he was slow, overweight, and ended up murdering his D.I. and blowing his brains out while sitting on a toilet.
Let’s pretend that the murder-suicide never took place and Private Pyle actually went out to the fleet.
PBS’s multi award-winning National Memorial Day Concert returns live from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol for a special 30th anniversary broadcast hosted by Tony Award-winner Joe Mantegna. The 30th annual broadcast of the concertairs live on PBS Sunday, May 26, 2019, from 8:00 to 9:30 p.m., before a concert audience of hundreds of thousands, millions more at home, as well as to our troops serving around the world on the American Forces Network.
A 30-year tradition unlike anything else on television, America’s national night of remembrance takes us back to the real meaning of the holiday through personal stories interwoven with musical performances by the National Symphony Orchestra and guest artists.
The 2019 anniversary edition of the concert will feature Vietnam Valor and Brotherhood — brought to life by long-time friends acclaimed actor Dennis Haysbert and Joe Mantegna.
Fifty years since the height of the Vietnam War, the painful memories from their service remain fresh for many of its veterans. In 1969, our soldiers continued to fulfill their duty and carry out the missions their country asked of them. As part of a special 50th anniversary commemoration to honor the service and sacrifice of Vietnam War veterans and to thank them, the concert will share the story of two infantrymen — Ernest “Pete” Peterson (Haysbert) and Brad Kennedy (Mantegna) — who formed a brotherhood while serving in Vietnam and now meet each year at the Vietnam Wall where they remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Other features include the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion — featuring a performance by Academy Award-nominated actor Sam Elliott and A Gold Star Widow’s Journey — portrayed by television series star Jaina Lee Ortiz.
For Gold Star families, every day is Memorial Day. This year, the concert will share the journey of one widow — Ursula Palmer (Ortiz) — beginning with the day her worst fears came true, just two weeks before her husband was due to return home. While “moving on” from this devastating loss was not possible, Palmer knew that for the sake of her daughter she would have to learn to move forward. Along the way she found solace and empowerment by co-founding a new chapter of Gold Star Wives, a virtual chapter for post 9/11 widows and widowers, and by helping wounded veterans and their families.
The all-star line-up also includes: distinguished American leader General Colin L. Powell USA (Ret.); Grammy Award-winning legend Patti LaBelle; multi-platinum selling singer, performer and songwriter Gavin DeGraw; Broadway and television star Christopher Jackson; multi-Grammy Award-winning bluegrass icon Alison Krauss; SAG and Olivier Award-winning and Grammy Award-nominated actress and singer Amber Riley; multi-platinum-selling country music star Justin Moore; and Patrick Lundy The Ministers of Music; in performance with the National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of top pops conductor Jack Everly (additional performers to be announced). The 2019 National Memorial Day Concert will share Lambert’s story of bravery and pay tribute to heroes who sacrificed and died in service to our nation and the world.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
When it comes to the events of Dec. 7, 1941 — “a date which will live in infamy” — two films stand out.
There is the 1970 classic “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” which featured some of the biggest directors from American and Japanese cinema.
And then there is the 2001 film “Pearl Harbor,” directed by Michael Bay, and which had major stars like Academy Award winners Ben Affleck, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Jon Voight.
So, which film was better?
Tora! Tora! Tora!
Pros: This film really delved into the history of the attack, including many of the factors as they were known back then. The strategic context of Japan’s decision to launch the attack is covered here.
Within the very real limits of special effects technology, you experience the attack. The cast plays the roles well — remarkable given the lack of big-name stars. They also catch the American arrogance at the time – underestimating Japan while at the same time knowing they were going to hit us somewhere.
Using American and Japanese talent also brought much more realism to this film, bringing a very good balance. The footage was so good, it was re-used in a number of other World War II epics, and for a flashback in a Magnum, P.I. episode!
Cons: The special effects are pretty cheesy in some cases. You also catch historical anachronisms – like the presence of USS Ticonderoga (CV 14). Also, this film is 46 years old – in some ways, scholarship and history has overtaken it.
Pros: The special effects make the experience of the attack far more intense. You also have some very good talent on screen, including three who won various Academy Awards. There were other future stars as well, including Josh Hartnett (“Black Hawk Down”) and Jennifer Garner (“Alias,” “The Kingdom,” “Elektra”).
Cons: Where do we start? How about the contrived storylines, particularly with Ben Affleck’s character? Maybe the unrealistic stuff as well, like the implausible selection of the characters played by Affleck and Hartnett to take part in the Doolittle Raid?
Not to mention the still-obvious errors (many of the “ships” hit in the film were Spruance-class destroyers in reserve). Not to mention the distracting romantic triangle. The biggest con is that we had a chance to capitalize on 30 years of new scholarship on World War II, and we got melodrama instead.
Which of these films comes out better? Believe it or not, the classic “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” despite its age, holds up much better.
The craziest thing we could do for this franchise was to fly people and equipment to Hawaii and try to tell a story that has all the elements people love about Jurassic Park but from a tactical military perspective,” producer and Army veteran Gregory Wong told We Are The Mighty.
It was crazy — and somehow he pulled it off.
Wong brought members of the military, firearms, and Jurassic community together to execute his vision: an epic fan film for one of the most iconic franchises of all time.
Hold on to your butts.
Whatever it takes to get the shot.
“We had so many partners on this project and every one of them helped with different aspects of the film. Paradise Park welcomed us in to their home for two days in the most authentic ‘Jurassic Jungle’ any filmmaker could dream of,” said Wong.
The cast and crew had 5 days to get every shot they needed on the island. Like any indie filmmakers could attest, it meant a brutal schedule. Dogs of War helped with three locations and active duty service members stationed on the island helped transport cast and crew — and jumped in for stunts and background work.
Back at base camp, Travis Haley conducts tactical training.
Force Reconnaissance Marine Travis Haley, along with his company, Haley Strategic, was involved with development of prototype gear and equipment just for the film. Haley brought his Spec Ops background and weapons expertise to the film, and he got to learn first-hand how challenging it can be to navigate the military-Hollywood divide.
His knowledge brought authenticity to the film that’s often difficult for filmmakers to get right. Military operations might not always look dynamic on film, but Haley was up to the challenge of portraying realistic tactics while telling an entertaining story.
“The filming schedule was rough but the people made it worthwhile. Most of us did this on our own dime and I hope the audience sees the passion we had for bringing this vision to life,” reflected Jones.
Baret Fawbush, a pastor and fundamental shooting instructor, was another social media influencer new to a narrative film set, but he was more than prepared to lend his expertise to the film, personally demonstrating the “manual of arms” for each cast member with a weapon.
U.S. Marine Robert Bruce conducts location scouting on Oahu.
Many, many brands came together to help Wong bring the film to the screen. A few of the major ones included Evike, JKarmy, PTS, Krytac, GP, and GG, who donated replica prop firearms and uniforms for the production. Ballahack Outdoor helped outfit the film’s leads with tip-of-the-spear footwear. There’s even a raptor puppet involved, created by Marco Cavassa, a prop builder for the film industry.
“I think a lot of people will appreciate the attention to detail and production value. Never before has a Jurassic fan film been so ambitious and daring. The making of such a project was a wild ride which we hope to embark on again soon,” said Wong.
Congratulations, Greg, you did it. You crazy son of a bitch, you did it.
Figuring out all the obscure references to random deep-cut Star Wars nerd stuff at Disneyland’s new Galaxy’s Edge attraction is a fool’s errand. But, there is one deep-cut Easter egg that even the most devoted Star Wars fan would be confused about; and that’s because its a reference to a Star Wars film that was never made. Before Episode IX was called The Rise of Skywalker and directed by J.J. Abrams, that film was originally going to be directed by Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow. And, one very obvious thing from Trevorrow’s unmade Episode IX is on full-display at Galaxy’s Edge, hiding in plain sight.
“It was just a natural part of the process,” Trevorrow told Collider. “The Imagineering team asked us to develop a new ship for the park while we were designing the film. I took it pretty seriously — it’s not every day you get to be a part of something like that.” Trevorrow also said that he could absolutely not reveal what aspect of his canceled-Episode IX the Tie Echelon would have been a part of, but did say that ” It was part of an upgraded First Order fleet. An armed troop transport — the equivalent of a Blackhawk stealth helicopter. We wanted it to evoke memories of earlier ships while still being its own thing.”
A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.
(DoD photo by Gertrud Zach, U.S. Army)
As of this writing, it seems like the Tie Echelon will not be in Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. Back in 2017, a few months before the release of The Last Jedi, Trevorrow was seemingly fired by Disney from the movie, though the official announcement claimed: “Lucasfilm and Colin Trevorrow have mutually chosen to part ways on Episode IX.”
Presumably, nothing from Trevorrow’s script or design — including this ship — will be used in The Rise of Skywalker. Meaning, the only place this ship exists is the Star Wars canon is in Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
Today, the Transformers IP has a world-wide presence in toys, comic books, video games, TV shows, movies and even amusement park rides. Just hearing the name cues the iconic jingle or robotic transforming noise in the heads of even the most casual fans. It’s incredible to think that this franchise that dominates the globe owes its existence to the Second World War, G.I. Joe action figures and one very special Marine.
Transformers is still going strong with a new Netflix original series (Netflix)
Following the end of WWII, American troops occupied the Japanese islands as the nation entered into the process of reconstruction. A key element in reviving the Japanese economy was its once prominent toy industry. However, with few raw materials available after the war, toy makers were forced to resort to unconventional sources.
American GIs occupying Japan were fed heavily with canned rations. It was the metal from these cans that was recycled and used to craft Japanese robot toys. To highlight Japanese craftsmanship, these toys were often motorized with clock mechanisms that allowed them to walk and roll.
The popularity of Japanese robot toys increased through the 1960s and 1970s. With the expansion of television, the robot toys were paired with manga comics and anime cartoons that engaged children and promoted toy sales. Japanese robot-based entertainment like Astroboy, Ultraman, Shogun Warriors and Gigantor became increasingly popular in America.
Robot shows like Gigantor were also successful in Australia (Eiken/TCJ)
However, even the robots from the east couldn’t compete with “A Real American Hero” like G.I. Joe. High sales of the action figure in the states were enough to convince Japanese toy maker Takara to license G.I. Joe for the Japanese market.
Having gained respect in the Japanese toy world for their toy dolls, Takara wanted to branch out and make a toy line for boys. However, G.I. Joe’s iconic scar and grimacing expression were a bit too harsh and aggressive for post-war Japan. To market the toy to Japanese boys, Takara decided to make G.I. Joe into a superhero with superpowers. When the designers realized that G.I. Joe’s body wasn’t conducive to a superhero build, they resorted to type and made him into a robot. With a clear plastic body displaying his metal computer-like internals, G.I. Joe became Henshin Cyborg. Henshin meaning “transformation”, this was the first step towards what we know today as Transformers.
Following the 1973 oil crisis, the 11.5″ tall toy and all of its accessories became prohibitively expensive to produce. Like G.I. Joe in the states, Takara introduced the 3.75″ tall Microman. A mini version of Henshin Cyborg, the Microman toy line focused even more on transforming toys with robots that could change into sci-fi spaceships. Microman was so popular that it was marketed in the US under the name Micronauts.
By the 1980s, robot toys that transformed into exotic spaceships were losing popularity. To rejuvenate the robot toy concept, Takara introduced the Diaclone Car Robo and Microman Micro Change lines. Diaclone toys transformed from robots into 1:60 scale vehicles like cars and trucks while Microman toys transformed into 1:1 replicas of household items like cameras, cassette players and toy guns.
At the Tokyo Toy Show, Hasbro executives took notice of Diaclone, Microman Micro Change and the plethora of other Japanese transforming robot toys and wanted to develop their own toy line. A deal was struck with Takara and Hasbro lifted almost every one of their toy lines for the US market, including Diaclone and Microman Micro Change.
To review, Hasbro licensed G.I. Joe to Takara in the 1970s. Takara turned G.I. Joe into Henshin Cyborg. Henshin Cyborg was shrunk down to Microman. Microman evolved into Diaclone and Microman Micro Change, both of which were licensed back to Hasbro. Things had really come full circle.
With all of these transforming robot toys, Hasbro turned to Marvel Comics to develop a backstory for the new toy line. Over a weekend, Marvel writers came up with the names and backstories for the first 26 Transformers as well as the plot for the first comic book issue.
Diaclone and Microman Micro Change robots were renamed and became Transformers as we know them today. Micro Car became Bumblebee, Cassette Man became Shockwave, Gun Robo became Megatron, Battle Convoy became Optimus Prime and the War for Cybertron between the just Autobots and the oppressive Decepticons was born. The first commercial for the Transformers toys introduced the now iconic jingle and the phrases, “Robots in disguise” and, “More than meets the eye.”
The 1984 release of Transformers was a huge success netting Hasbro 5 million in sales. The popularity of the franchise was due in large part to the Transformers cartoon, the star of which was the venerable Optimus Prime.
Peter Cullen, the original voice of Optimus Prime, became so iconic that he was brought back to reprise the role of the Autobot leader in the 2007 Transformers film and its many sequels. Cullen, also known for voicing Eeyore in the Winnie the Pooh franchise, crafted the voice of Optimus Prime with inspiration from his older brother.
Marine Captain Henry Laurence Cullen, Jr., known as Larry, was a decorated veteran of the war in Vietnam. While serving with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Capt. Cullen was awarded a Bronze Star with a V device as well as two Purple Hearts for his actions during Operation Hastings in June 1966.
Capt. Cullen was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery (Cullen family)
When his younger brother told him he was going to audition for the role of a hero in a cartoon series, Capt. Cullen said, “Peter, if you’re gonna be a hero, be a real hero. Don’t be one of those Hollywood heroes pretending they’re tough guys when they’re not. Just be strong and real. Tell the truth. Be strong enough to be gentle.”
With his older brother’s words echoing in his mind, Peter Cullen delivered the strong yet gentle voice performance that Transformers fans today will always hail as the one, true Optimus.
“He had a lot of influence on me, you know, and especially coming back from Vietnam. I noticed somebody different,” Cullen remembered of his older brother. “Going into that audition, Larry was with me. I mean, he was right there beside me. When I read the script, Larry’s voice just came out. He was my hero.”
From recycled ration cans, to a classic American action figure and an inspirational leader of Marines, the Transformers franchise has had a lot of American military influence to get to where it is today.
It was tempting to make the headline for this review-interview “‘Terminal Lance’ creator Maximilian Uriarte gets dark with The White Donkey. That wouldn’t be truthful, at least not completely.
Much of Uriarte’s self-published graphic novel could be considered dark — and likely will be. But the word “dark” could also be substituted with the word real. Though the book opens with a disclaimer that it is a work of fiction, veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom will find a lot of familiar feelings in its pages.
“It’s 90 percent true and then there’s a lot of fictional elements put into it,” Uriarte says. “I don’t like saying that it’s a true story because it’s not. It’s fictional. I feel like once you add one fictional element to anything it becomes a fictional story. The white donkey was real. I really did run into the white donkey in real life, which I write about it in the back of the book. In real life, I only saw the donkey once when we stopped for convoy and that was it. I thought about it a lot every day after that though.”
The White Donkey is a departure from his bread and butter work on Terminal Lance. But Uriarte’s graphic novel was a long time coming. He first conceived the idea in 2010, and launched the Kickstarter for the project in July 2013, a funding process Uriarte will not soon repeat.
“I don’t think I would ever do a Kickstarter again because I hated that. I still hate it,” he says. “It’s one thing to have an investor to answer to. It’s another thing to have 3,000 investors to answer to when things take too long. It’s really stressful.”
Uriarte may be producing the first graphic novel written and illustrated by an Iraq veteran about the Iraq war, but the process of telling this story far outweighed the stress of the financing, in Uriarte’s opinion.
He loves writing, even though he didn’t even know how to make a graphic novel at first. But writing is writing, except when it comes to novels. It’s important to note there’s no corporate ownership to his work. His graphic novel is an independent endeavor, the culmination of more than five years of work.
“I love writing,” he says. “I wrote this book as a screenplay first and that was how I approached it. I went through a few different processes of trying to figure out how to make this into a graphic novel because I had no idea how to make a graphic novel when I got into it. I started writing it out really novel-like, as a book. It didn’t really do me any favors because I needed a screenplay. I needed a script for the graphic novel. Waxing poetic in sentences and paragraphs didn’t really do me any favors. I thought, ‘Why write all this beautiful poetic language that no one is going to see?'”
Fans of Terminal Lance may wonder why The White Donkey seems so different from the comic strip. The reason is because that’s the reality of war, or at least Max Uriarte’s experience with war.
“I wanted it to be a grim war story,” he says. “I wanted it to be more self-aware in a way. I think the usual Hollywood narrative is always very heroic. I feel like a lot of being a Marine is not heroic in the slightest sense of it. I think I wanted to have a narrative that combats that idea of that glorified American ideology, that going to war is heroic. Even the “personal journey” aspect of it is pretty arrogant of people to think they’re going to experience some enlightenment at the expense of people dying. It’s a very sad and a very false reality I think.”
The White Donkey is a thought-provoking, poignant work, on the level of Alan Moore’s Watchmen, and is bound to raise Uriate’s profile beyond the large and loyal audience he’s already earned. Still, no matter how successful The White Donkey is, he wants fans to know Terminal Lance isn’t going anywhere.
“Terminal Lance is going to be around for a while if I can help it,” he says. “There’s going to be some changes on the site. I want to open it up more for op-eds and some other content. I want it to be a place any branch can come to for entertainment.”
The White Donkey will available on Amazon in February.
The Army-Navy game is a big deal. That said, over the course of this 120-year rivalry, it’s been important for different reasons.
Through World War II, Army and Navy were two college-football powerhouses, able to hold their own against the likes of Rutgers and Norte Dame. Both Army and Navy have won National Championships, but that hasn’t happened for either team since 1946 and 1926, respectively. Currently, across the 117 meetings of these two teams, Navy leads the series 60-50-7, thanks, in part, to a 14-year winning streak that ended with Army’s 21-17 win in 2016.
Times have changed: Today, Army and Navy aren’t regular contenders for the national championship. But even if these teams aren’t competing for a national title, the Army-Navy game, which has been played routinely since 1890, is still a big deal. In fact, it’s the only game played the weekend after conference championships.
Why is this game so fervently followed? There are a number of reasons outside of exciting football, two of which are unique to this match-up. First, while many Division-I college players eye professional football after graduation, those going to military academies are to fulfill a five-year service obligation. The fact is that most professional teams selecting players in the seven-round NFL draft don’t have the luxury of waiting for that service obligation to end.
Although this hasn’t stopped some of the greats in the past, including Roger Staubach, Phil McConkey, and Joe Cardona, it’s not very likely today. That means that the men on the field are playing purely for the love of the sport, not for a contract down the line.
Second, what sets the Army-Navy game apart from other college football matches is the fact that the players in this game, at some point in the next four years, will be defending our country. Each year, first-class cadets and midshipmen storm Lincoln Field in Philadelphia, ready and willing to play for pride, while they’re just months away from joining a military still fighting a global war on terror.
All will serve bravely and, unfortunately, some of them may even make the ultimate sacrifice. In July 2010, former Army quarterback Chase Prasnicki was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan. The Army-Navy game is just as much a celebration of the brave, young service members that defend our home as it is a celebration of sport. That is why the Army-Navy game is such a big deal.
By the time Nate Ellis reached the sixth grade he knew there were two things he wanted to do with his life: make movies and fly airplanes for the military.
Ellis was raised in a family with military experience. His father had joined the Coast Guard during the Vietnam era as a way to avoid the draft and his older brother had joined the Air Force ROTC program as a way to pay for college. He says he was the first among them to go in actually motivated to serve.
“All I wanted to do was Army aviation,” he said.
Ellis attended Austin Peay State University in Tennessee on a ROTC scholarship and wound up the top-ranked cadet nationwide among aviation selectees. Three days after graduation he found himself at Fort Rucker ready to start flight school. A year or so later he was a Blackhawk pilot.
In time he found himself in Afghanistan, stationed at Shindand Air Base in the western area of the country as part of the 4th CAB contingent there. He was assigned as the “battle captain,” overseeing all of the unit’s air operations, a position of great responsibility.
He was also flying Blackhawk sorties, and one night he launched as part of an air assault package comprised of three Blackhawks and two Chinooks. The helicopters carried a total of 99 troops — Italian special operators and Afghan National Army regulars — for a raid to capture a “high-value target,” one of the Taliban’s bad guys.
The helicopters touched down at the LZ around 3 AM, and after the troops jumped out they immediately came under fire. The helos took off and held nearby.
“We were at the holding point listening to the chaos, waiting, burning gas,” Ellis said. “It was the worst.”
There were two Apache attack helicopters on station, but one ran out of ammo and the other took an enemy round through the cockpit. The ground force, facing overwhelming numbers, wanted to get out of there immediately. But, by the helicopters’ operating procedures, it was too hot for them to fly back in to pick them up.
The mission commander, a lieutenant colonel, made the call to go in, but only after taking a quick survey of his fellow pilots over the radio to see what they thought about the risk.
“We went up and down the line, and all aircrews said they wanted to go in,” Ellis remembered. “But everyone was concerned at the same time. Everyone knew what they were getting into.”
The LZ was in the middle of a valley, what Ellis described as “the worst place to fly into.”
He saw the gunner in the Blackhawk ahead of him return fire on a group behind a wall as his own gunner froze, unable to pull the trigger. Sixty of the troops came running at them trying to load up. The Blackhawk only had room for 12 of them, so Ellis’ crew chief heroically jumped out and sorted the situation out as the bullets landed around them. After “the longest 3 minutes of my life,” they lurched back into the air at the Blackhawk’s maximum takeoff weight.
“Because we were heavy we couldn’t yank and bank,” Ellis said. “We had to fly straight ahead. My missile warning gear was going off the whole time.”
Once he was out of harm’s way, he had an epiphany.
“I was more present than I ‘d ever been in my life,” he said. “It was like all of the bullshit in my life came to the surface and skimmed off. I heard my inner voice: ‘Life is short. Live with a purpose. Do what you love.'”
And Ellis realized — along with flying Army helicopters — that he loved making movies, something he’d continue to dabble in even during the most demanding parts of his military life.
“I was always working on something while I was in,” Ellis said. “Short films — writing and directing. I’d edit them on my computer and post them to YouTube or wherever.”
After his war tour, he was stationed in South Korea while his marriage to another Army helicopter pilot came apart. “Long story short, we were separated for 18 months,” he said.
He was ready for a change in his life. So after 7 years of active duty, he resigned his commission and entered USC to get a master’s degree in filmmaking. While he immersed himself in the curriculum, he also found himself processing a lot of anger.
“I’d lose my temper if somebody jumped in front of me at a bar or cut me off in traffic,” he admitted. “I felt this sense of entitlement, like, who are they to treat me like that? Don’t they know who I am and what I’ve done?”
By his own account, it took him three years of grad school to process his emotions.
“I don’t want to be that person,” he said. “I don’t want to feel that way. Now it’s more like who cares? That guy, that girl, they have their own thing going on. They have their own path.”
He made a name for himself among the talented grad students at USC. He created five short films, including “10,000 Miles,” his thesis film that had a $30,000 budget plus a $350,000 Panavision grant.
Ellis also made “The Fog,” which he describes as “very personal,” another short that won a faculty screenwriting award and “Best Narrative Short” at the 2016 GI Film Festival. “The Fog” was also a semi-finalist for the student Academy Awards.
Ellis left USC with an impressive body of work, and an effective Hollywood network that included his USC-assigned mentor who also happened to be the president of a major studio. With his master’s degree in hand, he’s wasted little time in making some things happen. He wrote a screenplay based on “Chickenhawk,” the classic Vietnam-era story about a helicopter pilot, and he said Harrison Ford is “interested.”
At the same time, he worked as a production assistant on “The Wall,” directed by Doug Liman (who also directed “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and “Bourne Identity”), wrote another screenplay targeting both Chinese and American audiences, and co-created an animated web series called “Thrift Video” that he described as “‘Adult Swim’-type humor.”
And, somewhat ironically, Ellis’ work in Hollywood placed him behind the controls of a helicopter again.
“My USC mentor introduced me to the president of Studio Wings, Steve Stafford, a Marine vet,” he explained. “I’ve been flying a Huey, one of the types of helicopters I flew during my time in the Army.”
And the Studio Wings Huey is owned by one Vince Gilligan, the creator of the hit series “Breaking Bad.” Ellis and Gilligan have co-piloted the Huey on several occasions.
“Vince is a super-nice guy and very interested in my active duty experience,” Ellis said. “He’s also interested in my screenplay.”
Ellis is quickly learning that success in the movie business is about two things: who you know and how much talent you have.
“All this stuff is just coming out of the blue,” Ellis said. “But I love the non-linear aspect of Hollywood. You’re thrown into the big mix with everybody. How do you set yourself apart?”
Ellis has also learned when and where to leverage his military experience and the limits of it.
“The whole reason I’m flying helicopters with Vince Gilligan is because I flew helicopters in the Army,” he said. “But after that, it’s about the quality of my work.”