For Got Your 6 managing director Chris Marvin, the answer is clear: Since its founding in 2012, his group has worked with the entertainment industry, helping Hollywood better understand military men and women and using the power of celebrity to inform civilians of the leadership and other skills returning service members can bring to their communities.
"We've done surveying with the general public, and what we've heard is that people only see veterans on film or in television in a hero role or as a charity case — what we call a 'broken veteran,'" said Marvin, a medically retired Army captain who suffered severe leg and other injuries after a 2004 helicopter crash near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. "We know that in real life, most veterans fall in between those two things, and we're hoping that more film and television content creators can be incentivized to show the everyday veterans."
That idea led to the "6 Certified" campaign: Films that pledge to hire or consult with veterans can ask the group to certify the finished product. Vets may still be the bad guys or the comic foils, but a less extreme portrayal, Marvin hopes, "will help shift perception of veterans in communities across the country, and that will of course help reintegration."
Marvin launched the campaign late last month with help from first lady Michelle Obama and "American Sniper" star Bradley Cooper. He spoke Tuesday with Military Times on that effort and other work being done by Got Your 6 to benefit veterans.
Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity, and acting on a suggestion from Marvin, whose group "does everything in sixes," we've extended our traditional "5 Questions" format:
Q. What was the impetus for "6 Certified," and what has the reaction been so far?
A. It's gotten a tremendous reaction the past couple of days. ... It doesn't hurt that we had the first lady and Bradley Cooper involved with the launch. They were able to express the level of expertise in the area that they have, with films that portray the military and veterans, and also to attract the press. We're just really pleased with the public response to the need for some sort of certification that shows films portray veterans accurately and responsibly.
Q. How does this push benefit the average veteran?
A. Our public polling has shown us that people are very influenced by what they see on film and television. And we know in the past there have been a number of efforts around different social issues that tried to change things through film and television — everything from being a designated driver to the LGBT movement to "no animals were harmed in the making of this film." For us ... we're improving perception in people's living rooms. That allows civilians to have higher expectations for veterans who return to their communities. Veterans are expected to lead and presumably will take on leadership roles, and the end result is, communities are stronger. If we fail with this, we'll miss out on that generation of leaders, and it will really harm veteran reintegration.
Q. Leadership is one of your group's "6 Pillars." What are some other things that you've done to help service members translate that skill?
A. Got Your 6 takes a two-pronged approach: We call it "planting the seeds" and "tilling the fields." Tilling the fields happens as we work through Hollywood to work on the cultural narrative around veterans — preparing communities to use veterans in a leadership role. Planting the seeds is when you're working directly with the best national nonprofit organizations who are empowering veterans. As we advance this veteran empowerment movement, we've identified organizations like Student Veterans of America, Team Red, White and Blue and Team Rubicon, who are, at a very individual level, empowering people to be leaders in their communities. We've brought together a coalition of 30 of the best national nonprofits to help do that, and we've distributed more than $4.2 million in grants to them over the last two years.
Q. What are some other projects beyond "6 Certified" for your group?
A. We see our goal as to raise public awareness. We do that with everything we do with film and television, but of course there are so many other channels where people are consuming information, gathering ideas and building their own perception of veterans in the military. Got Your 6 Storytellers is an annual event that we did for the second time in 2014 and we'll do again in 2015 around Veterans Day. We're bringing together some of the best and the brightest in the veteran community — people who are having a profound impact on the civilian world through tech innovations, though entrepreneurship, through social impacts, through leadership, many multiple ways that people are taking their veteran skills and using them to make the community or the country stronger. ... One that we're really excited about is something I call "The Resilience Project," which is where we're trying to inject the concepts of growth and resilience into the military mental health system ... not taking away from anything that already exists in that complex world, but saying that there are a lot of people that come back, and they have experienced a traumatic event in combat, and they are better off for it, and we're not talking about it. We need to give a fair shake to those stories as well.
Q. Do you still get star struck? Was there a celebrity meeting that gave you pause?
A. I was recently at a small event that had all of the chiefs from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including the chairman. And that was pretty significant — you talk about the deference I had as a young military officer for four-star generals and admirals. That was pretty impressive. I was also really pleased to have a chance to meet Clint Eastwood at the premiere of "American Sniper." He's certainly an American icon, and a veteran himself, who then made this film that addressed the issues of the day that we're interested in. It was really great to meet him. Beyond that, I think that every person we meet and we're able to work with at different levels of fame presents something very valuable to what we're doing.
Q. The stereotype of Hollywood as left-leaning or anti-military ... some of that has come out in the recent "American Sniper" debates. It seems like you've had very positive engagements with the industry.
A. We understand that veterans issues are probably one of the few, if only, things that do translate across party lines these days. Some of the people who made ["American Sniper"] were Republicans, some were Democrats, but making a film like that brought them together to tell an important story. We hope that at Got Your 6, we're doing the same thing: Bringing people together. We've got an important message, an important story to tell. ... We're actually doing this for something that no political party can argue about: Veterans make America stronger. Anybody disagrees with that, we don't have to work with them.