From my previous post about Stars Earn Stripes we learned that Military Operatives would be working with celebrities to compete in competitions inspired by real military exercises. They compete for money to be donated to several different charities that benefit our military service members and their families.
Here we go!!
Leslie Schwartz (Moderator of the conference call) - With us today we have JW Cortes who is a current New York City police officer, Brent Gleeson who's a former Navy SEAL, Tom Stroup who's a current SWAT team officer based in Florida near Orlando, Florida, Talon Smith who's a current Navy corpsman based at Camp Pendleton and Grady Powell who is a recent Green Beret and has just left the service as well.
Questions from Sammi Turano with TV Grapevine:
My first question for you is what is the most important lesson you learned about yourself while being on the show?
Tom Stroup - I learned that a lot more people than I realized care about what sacrifices it takes to keep this country free. I've gotten so many responses from people that I mean literally some have brought tears to my eyes. I got one from a guy the first night of the show that works in my department that said that he's proud to call himself a Norris County deputy and I literally got emotional about it. And I just thought it's just a show, it's competition, we're all going to do good and then what I realized was is that it's not just a show. It actually means something to people, I think it has the potential to change people's life and I think that it affect people. So for me what I learned wasn't on the set as much as it was afterwards getting the responses back from the people who watch the show and how much it affected their lives. So for me I realized that it was a lot bigger and more important than what I thought it would be.
Are you guys also donating to charities? And if so, how did you get involved with the charities that people are donating to on the show?
Brent Gleeson - The charities were preselected I believe by the network and then the celebrities chose -- maybe it was a preselected group of charities, whatever it was -- but the celebrities then chose from that group of charities which charities they wanted to represent.
So when the operatives were paired with the celebrities we then of course - that was how we got paired with the charity that we were competing for. So for example Picabo and I are competing for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Hire a Hero program, I know Chris and Dean are competing for the Wounded Warrior Project and Tom, JW, Grady you can chime in as well.
Grady Powell - It was really nice for me to be able to give back to the USO because on deployments they brought a little bit of home and normal life back to us when we were deployed. To be able to give back to that a little bit was pretty nice for me.
Brent Gleeson - I know that all of us on the show have given support to various military, first responder and law enforcement charities in the past and continue to do so. I'm very passionate about the Hire a Hero program. I'm involved with the Navy SEAL foundation and helping the families of fallen SEALs. But also since the show also working to put together programs to help Navy veterans and Navy SEALs meet and network with local CEOs and business owners, again trying to help guys getting out find the career path that they want because it's important for the youth going into the military to understand that the military is a great incubator for a wonderful career after they get out. That's something that I don't think is communicated very well sometimes by either recruiters or other types of PR that's done to get kids into the military. But our young people who are about to serve and are serving need to understand there's great opportunities for them once they get out too.
Question from Emily Yahr with the Washington Post:
I thought I guess a couple of weeks ago that some of the Nobel Prize winners had signed a letter saying that they thought the show kind of sanitized war by like getting it to an athletic competition. I was just curious what you thought about that or if you had any response to it?
Brent Gleeson - First of all none of us, you know, one point that I want to make is all of the operatives on the show are all decorated, seasons combat veterans and Tom of course a 30-year SWAT commander. None of us would have been involved in a show that glorified war, that was cheesy, that was hokey. It raised money for charity and that’s why we did it.
And I think the people who are now seeing the show -- there's a lot of buzz before it came out -- or seeing the show, realize that it just is what it is. We're not glorifying war. We're raising money for charity. We're bringing some basic understanding of how difficult the job our military and special operations communities are and nothing more.
Tom Stroup - And unfortunately what I think happened -- and this is my perspective -- is that some people are politicizing this and confusing it with the war effort. Whether it's a war in Iraq or whether it's a war in Vietnam, it's always going to be about the soldiers. A lot of people who even gone to war have opposed the war but you still do it because you do it for someone else. And that's the sacrifice that soldiers and law enforcement officers make worldwide every day. This is not about politicizing the war, this is about raising awareness and appreciation for the effort that it takes to live in a country like we do. This is a free country because we defend our rights and we're willing to do things on a daily basis. I mean we just had a shooting at the Empire State building and the cops put themselves in danger to protect others.
JW Cortes - I'm here in New York, you know, and I remember coming home from the war in Iraq and not having a job. I also remember feeling things in my body and in my mind that just weren't a part of me before the war and I'll leave that where it is.
But there are things going on to these young men and women every single day that goes unspoken of and unless you've been in their shoes like these other seven operatives have then it's hard to describe that feeling of being a part of something so great and so magnificent yet when you leave the service, you're feeling like you're not really sure which foot to put forward in front of the other one. You're not sure which way to go.
And what happens is in an alarming rate we're losing more soldiers today by suicide than actually on the battlefield. So if Stars Earn Strips is about raising awareness and bringing funding to these programs to prevent another suicide so a guy isn't on the street homeless in New York City, you know, so he can fend for his family then Stars Earn Stripes to me in my opinion is on the right path. It may be an un-walked path but however it may be it's on to something much bigger than any one of us.
And that's what for me the show is really about. It's those things that aren't spoken of, aren't glamorized but yet they're statistically proven and it's an epidemic and we need to do something about it. And I see no one else doing what NBC is doing. And for that alone they should be applauded.
Talon Smith - . I'm right in line with what JW said and Tom and actually everybody. This show doesn't glorify war; it brings what the men and women do every day, a little taste of that to the American people.
Unfortunately America has shown apathy towards the current conflict and, you know, losing troops. You'll see a story about, you know, some celebrity who lost their life through an unfortunate maybe drug overdose or something but a soldier or, you know, a Marine or airman who lost their life they only make their local news when it should be in everybody's national attention that hey our men are still fighting.
This show glorifies the men and women and that’s it. Entertainment is how America will receive information and NBC brings what is going on overseas to everybody's doorsteps and says hey we're not silent, we have men and women still over there, our police officers are on the street daily protecting our freedoms, we need to help them.
And that's what it is. It does not glorify war, it glorifies men and women who have served, who are serving and have been wounded and lost their life in combat. And as JW said I applaud NBC for being the first network of its kind to do anything like that and for finally giving some credit where it's due and attempting to change the lives of veterans who have served.
Question from Jennifer Budda with the Marine Corps.:
How do you feel that this competition has helped promote the hiring of veterans?
Tom Stroup - I can tell you that I believe that JW, Grady, Brent, Kyle, Andrew, Talon, everybody affect a lot more people than they think they do. I can tell you that there are baristas at Starbucks right now that are going to try to become police officers because of my interaction with them and I had no idea I was even influencing them until they called me and told me they were in the recruiting stage because of conversations I had with them at Starbucks.
So I can promise you that there are a lot more people that all of these men are influencing that they'll never know about. It's just one of those things that when you live the truth and you live something genuine, people spot it and they want it. And I think that's sort of the message that I try to figure out for myself. What did I say to this guy to convince him to change his career path?
Not that a barista is going to take - he may be want to be management, maybe food service or whatever but what did I do or say and I really didn't do or say anything. I just went in there and represented what he saw as truth and sincerity and sacrifice and stuff. And I promise you I can tell you from personal testimony that all seven of these other men live that and they're affecting people every day they'll never know about. So I have to believe that this show is going to manifest that even more.
Talon Smith - Just to chime in not only did NBC promote hiring heroes but they actually did it. It wasn't just do as I say not as I do. Like I can't tell you how many times on set that I was actually talking to somebody who was a veteran themselves. So literally the cast and crew of this show was veterans and not only did they promote it but they actually did it.
And every day I was meeting somebody new who had served or was a veteran's child per se. The show was actually made using veterans and that's promoting it there itself.
Question from Krista Cavalier with Army Tank Wives:
On a lighter note how much preparation or training did the celebrities have to do? Like I see them there, they look incredible but did they have to do a lot of things to get in shape, you know, to get in shape or in get in the phase like the battle mind phases, things like that?
Grady Powell - Most of the celebrities are coming from pretty fit lifestyles. I don't know what kind of selection process that NBC put them through prior to casting but they all came to it in great shape, honestly better shape than some of us operatives or the professionals on the show.
As far as training while the show was airing, before each mission we were given the briefing and told what we were going to be doing and then the general would dismiss us to go do one-on-one training with our celebrity partner. And those would range from a few hours -- basically within a few hour range, an hour or so, two to three depending on how many different things we were hitting if we were doing weapons or confidence tower or low crawling. It just depended on how many activities we were taking on in that mission.
Question from Reg Seeton with TheDeadBolt.com:
Let me ask you this: since people are so consumed with entertainment and reality TV, do you think people are seeing the military in accurate light or is something getting lost?
JW Cortes - I don't know, you know, minus the uncertainty, minus people being killed, I don't know how much more realistic we can make a television program without making it unwatchable by our family. You know? We're not trying to portray realism. What we're seeing is this is a small, tiny, microscopic glimpse of what a training mission is and I think for me the big key word there is training.
We all understand, we're all very competent in what it is that we're doing. This is a competition, this is paying respect to the daily sacrifices and we are in no way trying to say that this is the real deal. To say that would be a mockery and we will never ever stand for something like that.
Brent Gleeson - Just to add to what JW is saying: one of the things that's actually kind of difficult being in the military or being in law enforcement is your loved ones never really know what - they really don't know that side of you, they don't know what it's like. They don't know what JW's like when he's a working Marine in a combat zone. They don't know what Tom is really like when he's SWAT commander on scene for a hostage rescue.
It's a different person that has to come out. Nor do they really know what that's really like, what's the training really like because they're not a part of it. They don't get to see it. At the most they might get to see some picture, maybe a short video that somebody might have taken from their phone but that's it. There's really no connection for our service men and women and first responders and their families.
Talon Smith - I want to say what JW and Brent said is 100% correct. It is a way for us to connect to our families and to show people what a small taste is. However helo tasking that was 100% real and the only people who really do learn helo tasking are your specialized units. That's it. That's not something that somebody in a regular infantry unit is going to do. You know? So there's that realism aspect to it.
You literally really saw Terry and Dolvett almost drown. That was 100% real. And I saw Brent and Dale pulling Terry as hard as they could and that's real. Live ammo; it was real. You know? If you've ever patrolled in a jungle which not a lot of people have it's been a rainy season and you're anywhere by a riverbed that mud is legit.
So like they said there's a real aspect to what we do; however it's just a small taste. And once again, you know, as JW said we're not aiming to try and kill our celebrities, that's not the goal. The goal is to bring appreciation to our service men and women and that's what the show does in the safest way possible in a way that people can get a glimpse.
Hope you all enjoyed the questions and answers as much as I did!
'Stars Earn Stripes' is on NBC Monday nights at 9-10 p.m. ET