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Why I Serve: Officer Explains Military Life to Hollywood

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 9, 2004 – "I got in and decided I really liked it it was the career for me" is how Bob Anderson describes his first impressions of serving in the U.S. Navy.

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Navy Cmdr. Bob Anderson, 55, has 30 years in the Navy, including time as an enlisted man. In his work as director of the Navy's Office of Information-West in Los Angeles, he helps Hollywood depict the Navy accurately. Courtesy photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

He had dreamed of working in Hollywood when he studied radio, television and film production at the University of Wisconsin years ago. Eventually, the Navy took him there.

Today, Cmdr. Bob Anderson, 55, has 30 years in the Navy, including time as an enlisted man. As director of the Navy's Office of Information-West in Los Angeles, Anderson regularly mingles with Tinsel Town movie and television producers, directors and actors.

"Our mission is to provide liaison between the Navy and the entertainment industry," Anderson explained, noting that Hollywood interest in producing military-themed films and television programs seems to have increased since the 9/11 attacks and the ensuing global war on terrorism.

Anderson, a native of Dodgeville, Wis., had his university degree when he enlisted in the Navy for specialized electronics training while he was in California looking for work in the film industry.

Later, Anderson became a public affairs officer when he was a lieutenant, afterward spending his time "bouncing all over the world" until about four years ago when he applied for and received the liaison job in Los Angeles.

Anderson said film companies often seek Navy support for filming on military vessels and installations, using military equipment as props or employing sailors as extras. To obtain that support, filmmakers are required to provide scripts for Navy and DoD review.

He said he first meets with film and television producers - some of whom may never have served in the military -- to explain what the Navy is all about.

A key criterion for Navy involvement in television shows and movies, Anderson explained, is whether the scripts provide accurate depictions of military life.

For example, one movie script was turned down, Anderson noted, because it had a four-star admiral running a drug ring an improbable situation.

Another script that didn't win Navy approval, he continued, depicted an executive officer on an aircraft carrier stealing money "and strangling people and throwing them over the side."

"We need to be portrayed accurately in how we do things," Anderson explained. And while, for example, "bad" sailors may occasionally be depicted on the "JAG" TV series, Anderson noted that authorities are sure to mete out justice to unsavory characters by the end of the episode.

Sailors "love to work with the movies," Anderson observed, noting it's exciting and "has a tremendous impact on their morale," while simultaneously aiding recruiting and retention missions.

Navy involvement in television and film productions, he pointed out, also shows U.S. taxpayers "what we do and how we do it and how professional our people are."

Anderson said he's worked in an advisory capacity with such Hollywood films as "Behind Enemy Lines," "Antwone Fisher," "Tears of the Sun" and others.

Anderson said he especially enjoyed working on "Antwone Fisher," a 2003 movie that stars Denzel Washington as a Navy psychiatrist called upon to treat the film's namesake, a troubled young sailor portrayed by actor Derek Luke. Washington made his directorial debut on the film.

"Antwone Fisher," which had earned kudos from critics but realized only limited box-office success, was produced from real life. Fisher, Anderson said, was a "problem" sailor who turned his life around after the Navy helped him to comprehend that his angry, antisocial behavior was caused by a brutal childhood that featured parental abandonment, beatings and sexual abuse.

Fisher left the military long ago, Anderson noted, but he said the former sailor still praises the Navy.

"For me, it was a special movie, and I'm really proud of our part in it," Anderson said. "Antwone will tell you that he's a walking recruiting poster for the Navy because he said, 'I would have been dead or in jail for life if it hadn't been for the Navy.'"

"Antwone Fisher," Anderson explained, "is a movie about people and how we treat our people." The Navy, he pointed out, didn't give up on Fisher.

"And, I like to be able to tell that story," he concluded.

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