By Sgt. Mark MirandaAugust 25, 2011
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. --The blare of a Car alarm, the sound of helicopters passing overhead, and a bird call close by are all picked up by the video camera microphones. On occasion the noise will force the crew to stop shooting and take a break to go over notes with director Jordan Moss. The Soldiers appearing on-camera take a break as well, and think about the manner in which they'll deliver their dialogue once the director calls, "Ready on set!"
The video crew is at Joint Base Lewis-McChord to shoot the final footage segments for an Army-sponsored reality show called "Starting Strong," a project headed by television actor and producer Ricky Schroder.
In each episode potential recruits are matched with a senior noncommissioned officer, who serves as a mentor, and two battle buddies. They then get to experience a few days-in-the-lives of those Soldiers. Toward the end of each episode, the civilian "prospect" also meets an Army veteran who now uses skills gained as a Soldier in a successful civilian career. The prospect then must make a decision whether to enlist or not.
"It's a concept that I brought to the Army because I heard the Army was trying to come up with some concepts for ways to connect with the public, to show just how professional of an organization it is. They liked the pitch and decided to give me a shot," said Schroder, whose company Old Post Productions provides the crew.
Schroder's grandfathers served in the military and were his inspiration for coming up with the concept for the show. His goal is to show the Army as a significant stepping stone for life plans.
"We feature 13 Military Occupational Specialties over 14 episodes, one being a two-parter. I narrate and provide voiceover. Our actual on-camera host is a Soldier, Staff Sgt. Kristen King," said Schroder.
The five MOSs chosen for shooting at JBLM were military police, artillery forward observer, infantryman, Avenger air and missile defense crewmember and aviation crew mechanic.
"The Army picks the occupational specialties that we feature on the show and wanted to highlight Fort Lewis. This installation is one of the most-requested places for Soldiers to be stationed," said Schroder.
The prospects come from a combination of places.
"They come from recruiters. They come from Accessions Command, they come from us finding them. And then there's a selection process used to pick out which prospects (to highlight). Then the producers choose mentors and battle buddies from the participating units to take the prospects through the experience," said King, an Army broadcast journalist from Bossier City, La. and the show's host.
The producers also take time to find people for the third segment of every show, featuring alumni -- a former Soldier working in the civilian world using skills gained from Army service.
"We found a former light wheeled vehicle mechanic who is now a track mechanic on the NHRA circuit. We have a food service specialist who is now a top chef at a ski resort in Colorado. We featured a combat medic who transitioned to working in a hospital ER. We take the prospect into these workplaces to show him how skills Soldiers learned in the Army were used to build a career," said Schroder.
After his experience with infantrymen, prospective recruit Jeremy Navarette went to Chicago to meet Army Soldier and mixed martial arts fighter Tim Kennedy.
Staff Sgt. Marc Yonkovich, a food service specialist stationed at Fort Bragg served as a mentor for Matthew Gates, a college student from San Diego, Calif.
"Going to the range was definitely fun, but jumping twice with the Golden Knights was unbelievable -- something I'll never forget," said Gates.
"I really liked talking to Soldiers, seeing them as real people with real experiences and to see for myself what Army life is like and see what misconceptions I'd had," said Gates.
In the final segment of each show the prospect commits to joining the Army or decides to say "no" to Soldier life.
"Through the course of shooting the show, sometimes we do find that the Army isn't for everyone," said King.
Initial shooting wrapped up Aug. 18, and while the crew wraps up post-production, some of the completed episodes will be pitched to different networks to try to reach as wide an audience as possible.
Schroder's two sons, ages eighteen and twenty, came along to help as camera assistants while filming on the installation.
"My oldest son is already taking an interest in the military, already talking about it. If this is what he wants to do, I would support him 100%," said Schroder.