The Depot

A Life of Service

David A. Flynn in army fatigues in front of Humvee

Hoosier David A. Flynn knew early on in his life that the open fields of the midwest would not be able to contain his wanderlust. Beyond the corn fields of Loogootee, Indiana there was a siren’s call; a call to service. The small-town charm that keeps many mid-westerners grounded to their identity would be unable to tether Flynn.

“I always knew from an early age that I wanted to be in the United States Marines,” Flynn said. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps while in college at Indiana State University in Terre Haute. He was commissioned through the Platoon Leaders Course and he attended Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia during the summer, continuing with his university studies in the fall and spring.

“If you pass the first session/summer you return and complete a second summer; then back to the university and upon graduation you are commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps Reserve,” Flynn said. “After that you go back to Quantico for about seven or eight months and attend the Basic School which all Marine lieutenants complete. After that you are sent to your follow-on school depending on assigned/chosen specialty.”

For Flynn, his assigned specialty was to serve as a Combat Engineer Officer and as a Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) officer. He served in engineer units with the Marine Air Wing and Marine Force Service Support Groups, but he also served in task organized and special forces MAGTF’s as well as with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). After 22 and half years, he retired as a lieutenant colonel only to continue serving the nation in forward areas all around the world as a contractor.

Like many military veterans who literally poured their blood, sweat and tears into serving on the many fronts of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), both as a military officer and later as a contractor, Flynn has opinions about how the wars have been managed, but overwhelmingly and without question, he is positive about the work he’s done during his military career and as a civilian, especially the work he did during the GWOT.

“9/11 was a serious wake up call for me and the country and the world in general, I think,” Flynn said. “For sure it inspired people to enlist and do other things in maybe a more patriotic way as it brought the country closer to the evil that the U.S. military and others deal with and train to deal with on a daily basis.”

After 9/11, Flynn was reassigned to the Marine Corps Training Assistance Group (MCTAG) as a brigade lead advisor to the Royal Saudi Marine Corps in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

“We assisted the Saudi Royal Marine Corps with training and planning and other subjects as well as worked with them on equipment that was sent to them under the Foreign Military Sales Program; things like Tow II missiles, 81mm mortars, A2 HMMWVs, upgraded .50 caliber machine guns and sights.”

Flynn was in Saudi Arabia when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. Not long after, Flynn was sent back to the states only to be reassigned back to the MCTAG which was putting together a team of U.S. advisors to help rebuild the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. A colonel that had worked with Flynn in Saudi Arabia requested Flynn to be the executive officer for the initial team of forty U.S. advisors. He deployed to Iraq in November 2003.

They would be charged with standing up an entire division, three brigades and nine battalions. Flynn was initially assigned to the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team (CMATT) which would later become Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq. He and his team were at Taji Military Training Base just a short flight from the International Zone in Baghdad. They were a part of an AST (Advisor Support Team), charged with training, equipping and mentoring nascent Iraqi security forces

five army soldiers smiling in front of a Humvee

“The generals and senior officers I worked for in all services were really top-notch,” Flynn said. “They gave you a very big job/order/assignment to accomplish and then set you to it. They used mission orders and let you do it. There is not a lot of written info on how to re-stand/reform a military organization after you just quickly defeated them and disbanded them so the playing field was wide open.”

Flynn was the deputy division advisor to start with, but after six months his colonel transferred back to the states and Flynn became the senior advisor for the 1st Iraqi Infantry Division. Flynn was leading three brigades, nine battalions and a division staff, as well as personnel at the Iraqi Ministry of Defense.

“We were training all the Iraqi military at that time as it had just really started up in a major way after the disbanding of the Iraqi military,” Flynn said. The Iraqi military had been disbanded by American administrators in Iraq and CMATT was charged with rebuilding Iraq’s forces.

“There were other advisors at first, that did not fall under CMATT as they were from units in areas where Iraqi units were at the start and they were training them and trying to integrate them into local defense in whatever area/bases/towns U.S. forces were operating/working,” Flynn said. “CMATT started to get all of them under a bigger umbrella to mirror up things so we did not have six different Iraqi armies.” CMATT standardized training, uniforms, policies, operations, equipment, pay and many other things.

“We had over 15,000 or so Iraqis come through training the almost two years I was involved in the program,” Flynn said. “We started out with one brigade headquarters and three battalions and it grew into a whole division; and then we started two more divisions. We also stood up, trained and equipped the 1st Iraqi Mechanized Brigade which consisted of a brigade headquarters, one tank battalion and two motorized rifle battalions.” A fete that was accomplished before the first Iraqi national elections in 2004.

“We used a lot of their old equipment; weapons, vehicles, tools,” Flynn said. “We issued new cammie uniforms, newer AKs and pistols and stuff that was being filtered in. We got a lot of tents, furniture, computers, weapons, basic gear and load bearing equipment and personal protection equipment from unit/base Defense Reutilization Management Offices and in old Iraqi bases and warehouses that were captured during the war.”

army soldier at desk typing on computer

Flynn credits the supply and finance teams supporting the advisors for their “incredible work” tracking, accounting and managing so much diverse gear/equipment from so many sources. 

When Flynn and his men were due to rotate back, they were asked to stay on board and help stand up, train and equip the mechanize brigade. Flynn would end up staying in Iraq until April 2005.

 “I feel really good about my time in Iraq. It was a billet and assignment that allowed us to really work outside the box and be creative as we were doing a lot of things for the first time at this scale and we were the first bigger group,” Flynn said. He believes the way he and his men did the initial tasks in training, mentoring, teaching and providing different aspects of support were spot on. 

“I think people have to understand that this was a starting point and it was from scratch with people that were culturally different; different religions, norms and practices across everything they do and you had to try and strike a balance with that in some respects,” Flynn said. “Security was paramount as the insurgency was in full swing and growing so that took a lot of dedicated planning, training and thought. You could never let your guard down in any situation. Even with a little so called down time nothing changed with our security posture. We were operating by ourselves for the most part and after a few months we were not on U.S. bases and the Iraqis were all armed so it was not anything you took lightly.”  

Flynn did not only build an Army, he built relationships that have stood the test of time and violence. Many of the Iraqi officers and soldiers he trained still keep in touch with him.

army soldier David Flynn posing with Iraqi Army Officer

“After I retired in early 2006 and started contract work, I was sent to Iraq by my company and worked there the next couple of years,” Flynn said. “We were rebuilding and building new Iraqi military bases and police stations as well as border posts and water wells throughout the country,” Flynn added. “With my contacts I was able to work security details and get support from Iraqi army and police units based on people I had helped train in areas we had formally operated.”

But Iraq was an immensely dangerous place and those contacts would be unable to keep Flynn from getting shot. Something he had avoided for more than 20 years in uniform. 

“When I was wounded in Iraq in 2006, I had only been out of the Marines for about 24 days,” Flynn said. “We were ambushed north of Baghdad in the Sunni Triangle in a town called Tarmiyah which was south of Balad along the way up route Orange.”

“As a contractor I served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa for GWOT. There was a lot of travel involved and a lot of time at numerous construction sites,” Flynn said. “In Afghanistan we worked primarily on new base construction for the Afghan Air Force that was standing up as well as work on future Afghan Army bases to include warehouses, maintenance sites and barracks. In Africa I worked all over the continent. We were building a counterterrorism facility/school/base in Gao, Mali when the Tuereg and ISIS/AQ uprising really took hold throughout Mali and led to a coup by their military while we were there. 

“I also worked in training the FARDC (Armed Forces Democratic Republic of the Congo) in the Democratic Republic of Congo at a jungle base camp,” Flynn said. “The U.S. was training battalions and we had built a post at an old Belgium base in the jungle near Kisangani.  We worked multiple tours in Mali, Somalia, Uganda, Kenya, Mauritania, Senegal, Burundi, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Ethiopia, Niger, Rwanda and Djibouti as well on numerous missions for their countries.”

two men in storeroom sorting boxes

In Afghanistan, Flynn served as a contractor. He never deployed to Afghanistan as a Marine. He worked on larger construction contracts helping build Afghan military facility infrastructure in Kandahar, Kabul, Mazi-Al-Sharif and Jalalabad. He is plain-spoken about America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“It makes me sad, frustrated, angry, happy to have survived the whole of it and many other emotions,” Flynn said. “I think everyone knew in one way or another that things were not going to turn out in a good way. Nation building has never been nor never will be a U.S. military function. Sadly, many people in our government can’t see the forest for the trees in front of them and go haphazard into things with no real plan, more like wishes for a better tomorrow, and the reality on the ground is 180 degrees the opposite. 

“We keep doing it from the 1950s on to no real success. As a superpower we should know better. We really have or should have had some set goals and objectives as limited they may really be, go in let the military accomplish those and get out. Sadly enough, we are facing the same issues in Afghanistan now. I think our hearts and wanting to do certain things are in the right place but due to the actual lay of the land, the patience of the U.S. and its partners, the cost in so many areas to include lives of U.S. service men/women, the long term will to really go in and get it done by our government, the world, the U.N. and others; it is just not really there.”

For the past 12 years, Flynn has devoted much of his professional energy to working in Africa. He has worked on multiple construction projects, but also provided aid, equipment and supplies to various nations. He has also provided exercise support and training.

“There is so much going on in the world and as long as I feel that I am capable I will continue to assist where I can,” Flynn said. “As long as I feel able and feel like I have something to contribute I would like to keep going. There is no lack of places we could work and if we can make some baseline and deeper success in some of these places it should help them and us in the longer term.” 

Flynn is able to help bring some semblance of stability to an unstable world because his own world has a solid foundation. His wife of 38 years, Jan, is a teacher and together they raised four children, two boys, two girls, who have all grown and moved away after college. They are working throughout the country. 

 “Both of my daughters are married and have children of their own so I currently have four grandchildren, three girls and one boy to keep me busy with any down time,” Flynn jokes. “Lots of baseball, soccer, dance classes, camps, travel and so much swim time.” Flynn recognizes that without his family’s support, things would be much harder.

“My whole family has been supportive of this type of lifestyle,” Flynn admits. “With being married throughout my time in the Marine Corps and having our children grow up in the military they are all used to the deployments and issues that come with not being around as much as you would like. All of my children travel and have studied overseas and appreciate the bigger view of the world that they get to be exposed to.”

What makes Flynn a little different than other retired officers is that he doesn’t assume the common posture so many officers take as all-knowing, claiming how their dirty boot time was harder than what any future generation will endure.

“I think that like all U.S forces, they (future U.S. forces) will do well and get the job done no matter what the order or what the task,” Flynn said confidently. “We need to use our forces in ways that protect the American people, our country and way of life first. There are other missions but let’s remember and do the important one first.”

As for Marines, Flynn sees changes, but not in the Corps’ identity.  

“While current leadership has swung and given up a lot of our core capabilities, the Marines will always be the nation’s force that is ready to answer the call at the blink of an eye,” Flynn said. “We have U.S. Marines for one reason and that is to be America’s force in readiness. I think Marines will endure and always come out on top.”

As for his service in Iraq, Flynn looks back on it fondly and honestly.

Army Soldier David Flynn posing in classroom with Iraqi children

“I am really proud of my service in Iraq and I am so proud of the women and men who served alongside of me,” Flynn said. “It was not easy and contrary to popular belief I can be hard on people at times. It was high stress and mission accomplishment was a must. There was no room for failure or the ability to adjust and work on quick mission orders and keep everyone safe. The soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, civilians, interpreters were all serious professionals. We had people from the guard, reserves of all forces, active components, retired/civilians and NATO countries all woven together in small groups doing monumental tasks with little support and writing up the training as they went along and came across a new ditch/hurdle. Nothing stopped these teams.” 

Steve Alvarez is an Iraq War veteran. He is the author of Selling War: A Critical Look at the Military's PR Machine published by the University of Nebraska Press (Potomac Books).

How to Honor Veterans: Show Appreciation to the Veteran in Your Life

American veterans are a unique group of people all bound by one commonality—service to country. Regardless of what led a person to military service, the fact is that they were all called to serve.

Many veterans do not believe that they are owed any special treatment or recognition. Research polls continue to show that American society holds the veteran near and dear to its heart and since most veterans are humble people, it can be a challenge to figure out how to honor veterans.

Allow us to help. We asked veterans, including some of our USAMM team members who are veterans, how to honor veterans and this is what we learned.

How to Honor Veterans by Volunteering
Time is the greatest gift a person can give another. There are numerous veteran causes and non-profits that help veterans who might need assistance post-service.

With a little research, you can likely join a team that is helping build or modify a house for a veteran or you can spend time volunteering at the local veteran’s hospital, veterans’ home and with veterans’ organizations. This is probably the best way to honor veterans.

If service projects or community service aren’t your thing you can also attend and be a part of events that help the veteran community. Galas, silent auctions, golf outings, hunting trips, and other fun events help raise money for veteran organizations and many also offer the opportunity to interact with veterans.

How to Honor Veterans by Donating to a Veteran Service Organization
There are numerous veteran service organizations (VSO) that can use your physical assistance (volunteerism), but they can also use your financial support. These organizations help fill in the gaps that are created when veterans transition from the military into the civilian world.

While disabled veterans are compensated by the government for their injuries, sometimes their homes aren’t properly prepared to accommodate them if they return from their service with life-changing injuries. Some VSOs help modify homes and make them wheelchair accessible. Other VSOs help with transitional assistance like job training, caregiver support, and others help those who are still serving by providing comfort and support to deploying troops.

How to honor veterans becomes easier when you open your wallet, but remember that you have to open your heart first.

How to Honor Veterans by Acknowledging their Service
Memorial Day, Veterans Day, July 4th are just a few days throughout the year where you can reach out to the veteran in your life and thank them for their service. If you know a veteran personally, consider asking them to speak at a civic organization’s meeting, or at a local school or place of worship. Many schools, cities and counties have parades and recognition events where veterans can be included.

Veterans can also be recognized and acknowledged at your work and in community events. Veterans are a national treasure and they are living history. We can learn a lot just by speaking with them.

Military service, for many, is a transformative significant life event that leaves an indelible mark. When military personnel return to civilian life, their military service, despite the significance of it to the individual and to the security of the nation, usually just becomes a part of a veteran’s employment history.

If you know a veteran at work or in your community, take the time to highlight their service to the country when you can. Military themed awareness days (military birthdays, Veterans Day) are all opportunities for you to recognize someone’s service.

A social media post that offers a shout out to the person is a simple way to honor a veteran. Recognizing an Army veteran in a meeting on the Army’s birthday by bringing in some cupcakes or bagels is a nice touch and allows the veteran to see that co-workers value his or her service, and not just on Veterans Day. It is important to understand that when we think about how to honor veterans that we do not do it only once per year, but as often as we can.

How to Honor Veterans by Giving a Gift
As previously mentioned, veterans are normally a pretty humble bunch, so expect some awkwardness if you give them a gift. Most will tell you they do not feel right accepting something in return for their service, but small gestures matter.

For example, if you’re in a restaurant and you see a veteran wearing a Vietnam Veteran hat, ask the waitress to send you their check and pay for the veteran’s meal. You can do this anonymously, or approach the veteran and express to them what you’d like to do.

There are veterans from across all generations living in your community. On military-themed days, you can leave them gift cards on their doorsteps to show your appreciation for their service or if the veteran in your life is more than just a neighbor you can buy them a small token, like a veteran shirt, to show your appreciation for them. Remember, veterans are not charities, you are merely thanking them or recognizing them for what they did for our country.

Small personalized gifts are a nice way to say thanks.

How to Honor Veterans by Understanding
As we’ve often heard, only a small percentage of our population serves in the military. For most Americans, military service is about as familiar as walking on the moon. Therefore, it is important to understand the sacrifices that our military men and women make on behalf of the country. They often miss family birthdays, milestones and spend holidays away from their loved ones.

It is often stated that the U.S. military defends American freedom. Some argue that there aren’t any threats knocking on our doors like Pearl Harbor and German subs lurking off the coast of the United States, therefore, the American military is not really defending anything.

Others, like the millions of people who served in the aftermath of 9-11, see it differently. They feel that their service is a deterrent to those who threaten freedom. No matter how you see military service, as a nation, we are indebted to our veterans for their service and we should always be thinking how to honor veterans.

Gifts for Veterans: The Ultimate Holiday Gift Guide

The holidays are closing in fast and if you have a former service member in your life, you might be looking for gifts for veterans that will show them how much you care about them and show them the pride you have in their service.  

The key to buying great gifts for veterans is to truly think about who they are and what they like. If that still doesn’t do the trick to help you find great gifts for veterans in your life, then try this short list to find the perfect gift for the veterans in your life and be sure to take advantage of Black Friday and Cyber Monday specials.

Subscriptions used to be hard to manage, but thanks to technology, anyone can read, watch and play games from their personal devices.

Subscriptions are great gifts for veterans because hard copy magazines are fading into history and most, if not all, magazines are available in a digital format with a subscription. If your veteran isn’t really into periodicals, then maybe a subscription to a popular streaming channel might be a great gift. If the veteran in your life is a gamer, there are plenty of membership subscriptions that will satisfy their gaming fix.

Gift Cards
Gift cards make great gifts for veterans because they give the recipient complete freedom to purchase what they want. Gift cards can be used in a variety of ways to shop for uniform items, including ribbon racks, or service pride items, but rest assured, you can’t go wrong with gift cards as gifts for veterans, especially when you can send them virtually via e-mail or mail them as a traditional plastic card.

Veteran Pride
Veteran vests, t-shirts, and hats all make great gifts for veterans. It’s a nice way for that special veteran in your life to show their pride while keeping warm and looking sharp. Theater hats take a step up and allow them to show their OEF or OIF pride.

If the veteran in your life loves to read, then great gifts for veterans are books. If they have reading devices, you can simply purchase a book for them and they are sent a link to download their book. You can also buy them a credit on a particular e-book platform and they can download a book of their choice if you don’t want to be deal with shipping something.

Hard copy books and audio books for them to listen to as they work out or drive to work make great gifts for veterans who are book fans.

Military Gifts
If you’re shopping for a seasoned veteran in your life, then odds are great that your veteran’s career has allowed them to collect a lot of coins, awards and trinkets from their many years of service. Items like shadow boxes, coin racks, and flag cases are wonderful gifts for veterans who have amassed items that reflect their military service. Your veteran might be so busy that they’ve likely not had the time to organize those items in a way that they can be properly showcased. These are awesome gifts for veterans with a few years of service under their belt.

Whatever gifts for veterans you decide to buy, shopping and shipping early is always smart to ensure your veteran knows you are thinking about them during the holidays. Remember, take advantage of those Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales to not only get a great gift, but to save your hard-earned cash.

JAVC Fills the Gaps for Veterans

Over the past decade, giving a hand up and not a handout has assisted more than 3,000 veterans in a Northern Arizona county.

"I just like helping people,” said Jerry Ambrose Veterans Council (JAVC) Executive Director/President Dorn Patrick Farrell. "I don’t think anybody should be held down because they don't know where the resources are."

Based in Kingman, Mohave County, Arizona, the registered 501(c)3 organization is run by veterans for veterans, with programs focusing on direct individual assistance, veteran resource fairs, veteran treatment courts and its most current project, Operation 6: Transitional Housing for homeless and at risk of homelessness veterans.

"We fill the gaps," Farrell said. "A lot of programs just provide (veterans) housing and then forget about them. We figure out what their barriers are and then we work on removing those barriers. Then we work on making sure they have all the benefits they’re entitled to  ̶  if they can’t work, we’ll find them housing to make sure that they’re comfortable that way. But if they can work, we work on helping to find them a job. We're with them anywhere from a month to two years just depending on how many their needs are."

To help fill those gaps, JAVC works with a spectrum of federal, state and local agencies and organizations, local businesses, communities, individuals and volunteers to coordinate and provide veterans with the services they've earned. 

"The organizations that we work with and our volunteers, the different Arizona Departments of Veteran Services, the Arizona Stand Down Alliance, Veterans Affairs  ̶   we get grants from all over the place and that's what makes the difference," Farrell said. "We're working with everybody. It takes a village to do what we do, and I can't emphasize enough how everybody's part helps. There's nobody that volunteers or contributes that isn't needed."

One of JAVC's earliest projects opened its doors in 2014: a VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Kingman to bring primary care services to area veterans. Farrell also works with Continuum of Care and with HUD-VASH  ̶  a joint U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Veterans Affairs rent assistance and case management program  ̶  to increase the number of vouchers made available to the county, demonstrating need by assisting with point in time surveys and through stand downs and veterans resource fairs. 

"Mohave County has been a leader in my opinion in getting homeless veterans housing," Farrell said. "The HUD-VASH program in Kingman just put in 48 in the Veterans Village project. We have helped about 50 veterans get housing over 10 years, but we are now the recipient of a VA grant to get 25 more homeless veterans off the streets. We're taking a whack out of it. But there's a lot more homeless veterans out there."

JAVC also has a program specifically designed to meet the needs of female veterans.

"Right now, one out of nine veterans coming out of the service is female," Farrell said. "They’re more likely to be exposed to military sexual trauma and post traumatic stress disorder, with one out of every three experiencing that issue. They also often have children with them, and that's an issue as well; how do you deal with your own problems, MST or PTSD and have kids and probably divorced, can't find housing, can't find good work or reasonable daycare. It's not fun out there for the women. We're trying to do everything we can to help them."

JAVC also assists the resource team for Mohave County Veterans Courts, a problem-solving court with the objective of serving military veterans struggling with addiction, serious mental illness and/or recurring disorders.

"There's probably over 200 veterans that have graduated from VTC in Kingman, Lake Havasu and Bullhead City," Farrell said. "They received the help they need rather than going to jail and having that on their records. Instead of being out there getting into trouble, they're working on getting jobs and returning value to the community and they're no longer considered second class citizens, let's put it that way. They're contributing members of the community."

JAVC's programs are driven by the needs of veterans, Farrell said.

"What we do comes from the veterans we talk to," Farrell said. "Listen to their stories, it'll tear your heart out. Their needs and their wants  ­̶  we looked around and we found where we could get most of them, that we could provide them or get them somewhere they could be referred to."

A U.S. Navy Vietnam veteran, Farrell served on the flight deck as an avionics technician from 1968 to 1971 with the 14th Fighter Squadron on the USS John F. Kennedy.

Images of sailor Dorn Patrick Farrell

"I signed up as soon as I could, as soon as I turned 18,” Farrell said. “My dad was in World War II in the U.S. Army Air Forces. I thought it was the honorable thing to do because we were at war. It was a great country – it still is no matter what anybody says."

Farrell's service taught him to, "lead, follow, or get out of the way," he said, traits that served him well in his post-military career with the U.S. Postal Service. After retiring from the postal service, Farrell and his wife Casey moved to Kingman. When he got bored with retirement, Farrell got a job working as a veterans' representative for Arizona Department of Economic Services.

"I saw that there were a lot of gaps for our veterans and there's a lot of information for available services that they just weren't aware of," Farrell said. "So when I got out of the DES, I joined the JAVC and we fill the gaps. There's a lot of gaps out there. We have built ourselves up from being a real small organization to when we get done with our building, we’ll be a multimillion-dollar organization."

The brainchild of two former marines – Jerry Ambrose and Gene Crego  ­̶  JAVC began in 2010 as the Kingman Veterans Council. Four months after the council was formed, Jerry Ambrose died and Crego requested the organization's name be changed to honor him.

Farrell was the first president elected and has been the only president of the JAVC following Ambrose's death. He has also served as president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter #975, AZ State Vietnam Veterans of America vice president, Incarcerated Veterans program coordinator, chapter service officer for the Disabled American Veterans, and belongs to the VFW, American Legion and Elks. In 2015 he was inducted into the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame.

"I am nothing without all of the volunteers that we have and the organizations that we work with," Farrell said. "I’m just lucky in that I get to take the credit. I don’t do much.

"I would ask that people appreciate what our veterans have done. They don't ask much, just what they're entitled to and what they've earned. Saying 'thank you for your service' every once in a while is pretty cool and if they're Vietnam veterans, please say 'welcome home.'"

Dan Kyle a Sailor Turned Actor

Actor Dan Kyle in US Navy sailor uniform.

Transitioning from military to civilian life often takes people in unexpected directions; for one former U.S. Navy aviation electronics technician, post-service life has included spending time as a zombie, an orc, cop and even as a soldier.

“It’s fun,” said actor Dan Kyle. “I always had this thing about wanting to entertain people and I loved movies growing up – when I was in high school, I was always encouraged to go out for drama, but usually the kids that went out for drama were the weird kids, so I never took that initial step. Then later in life you find out you’re one of those weird kids.”

Born to a military family – his father served with the Navy in Korea and his grandfather with the Army in World War I  ̶  Kyle enlisted in the Navy apprenticeship program after Iraq invaded Kuwait the summer before he graduated from high school. He ended up in Norfolk, VA attached to the then newest aircraft carrier USS George Washington and he made third class petty officer before heading home to Oregon.

Dan Kyle on carrier in front of airplane.

For eighteen years, Kyle worked as a union iron worker. One summer when work was slow, a good friend who was hired to do uniforms and firearms for films and video games invited him to work as an extra.

“He said, ‘Come to the set and I’ll dress you up and get you into your GI uniform and you just stand around and eat,’” Kyle said. “I also have a couple of firearms from WWII, registered with the ATF, and a Thompson machine gun that was my grandfather’s and safety and blank adapted. He said, ‘Bring out the gun and I’ll pay you.’”

As his experience on set increased, Kyle’s interest in acting grew.

“I was thinking I want to be the guy who is in front of the camera,” Kyle said. “I started taking some private lessons with a really good friend of mine and from there slowly progressed into finding work on my own because I wasn’t represented at the time with an agent. Want ads, open calls, stuff that you can get your foot in the door where casting directors can see you: you have to build a resume.”

Portrait of Dan Kyle in black and white with American flag baseball cap.

Kyle said his military experience strengthened his transition to a career in front of the camera.

“A lot of times people ask me what life was like on a carrier with over 6,000 personnel and 90 aircraft and on a big ship how does it work,” Kyle said. “Everybody has a specific job that we have to do in order for that ship and that community to function. From the commanding officer to the executive officer and everybody on that ship has to work efficiently and at 100 percent, work as a group, as a team to get the tasks done.

“There’s similarity on set, everybody’s got a job to do, from lighting to actors to hair and makeup to people who make the food and the goal is to make this machine run smoothly and as efficiently and as quickly and safely as possible. And it’s basically the same thing in life, whatever you’re doing.”

Known for his work in the crime series South of Heaven: Episode 3 – The Long Walk Home and as a cyborg talker in Z Nation, Kyle’s work spans a range of genres including commercial, thrillers, horror, fantasy, comedy-musical and adventure.

“It was transition from military life and military bearing to my union iron work and eventually all that stuff transitioned to my acting,” Kyle said. “In the military, what do you do? You train and you train, and when you’re sick of that you train some more – so when that time comes and you get called up or there’s an emergency situation, you know what to do. You are there at the right place at the right time and you’re ready. That’s basically what acting is too. You work and you work until that training is done and when it’s time, I know how to work because I’ve done all this other work where I never got cast or where I never got a call back – but I did the work, so now I get the call and I’m ready to go.”

Dan Kyle in monster makeup on movie set.

Though the COVID-19 shutdown slowed things for the industry, Kyle said projects that were postponed last year are shooting now and the past few weeks have been busy. Postproduction work has resumed on several projects, including Jason Rising: A Friday the 13th fan film expected to be released later this year.

“I'm playing Jason Vorhees, the main bad guy,” Kyle said. “Last year I also worked on my own role, a mini-biography/documentary that we’re finishing up on the relationship between body building and acting and how the body building and the acting cross. It’s only about 7 minutes long and it was a lot of work being the executive producer. That’ll be coming out later this year.”

The more challenging the real or imagined character, Kyle said, the more he wants to play it.

“Monsters are fun, you can get away with your own take on it,” Kyle said. “Well, what does an Orc do? What does an orc do swinging an axe? Getting together with the people making the prosthetics and the writer along with your (own) vision, it becomes a team of people working together to bring this character to life and that’s the challenge that I like.

“With real people from history, the challenge is how did that experience feel and how am I going to be that in a way that is realistic. I’ll never know, a lot of us will never know what certain combat is like or to be scarred or disabled because of war, but as an actor we try to get as close as we can because it’s an honor and a privilege to play some of those characters and you want to do it right.”

DK McDonald is an award-winning Arizona-based writer. She comes from a multi-generational military family, spanning all branches of service. She is also a former Army spouse.