Scott DeLuzio: [00:00:00] Thanks for tuning in to a Drive On Podcast where we are focused on giving hope and strength to the entire military community. Whether you’re a veteran, active duty guard, reserve, or a family member, this podcast will share inspirational stories and resources that are useful to you. I’m your host, Scott DeLuzio, and now let’s get on with the show.
Hey everybody. Welcome back to Drive On. I’m your host Scott DeLuzio, and today my guest is Mike Dowling. Mike is a Marine Corps veteran and an Emmy nominated producer, author, and a veteran advocate. And we’re here today to talk about his veteran advocacy, his work in, uh, the entertainment industry, and, uh, other things that he’s been up to since leaving the Marine Corps.
So without further ado, welcome to show Mike. Glad to have you here.
Mike Dowling: Thanks Scott. I’m glad to be here. Appreciate the invite.
Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, absolutely. Um, yeah, before we started recording, I was telling you that I was doing, just doing some research for, uh, potential [00:01:00] guests to have on the show. I came across your name and, uh, saw a bunch of the stuff that you’re involved in, and I was like, I gotta have this guy on the show because, uh, you got a lot of projects that you’ve worked on in the past and that you, you’re working on now.
And to me it was just like, You got a lot of stuff going on and probably a lot of great advice that you can offer to some of the veterans. Um, but before we get into that, for the listeners who maybe aren’t familiar with you and your background, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Mike Dowling: Sure, yeah. I, um, served in the Marine Corps, uh, two times, um, from 2001 to 2005.
My job was a military working dog handler and I was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California Marine Corps. Uh, I deployed to Iraq in 2004. Uh, I, my, with, with my military dog. His name is Rex. And, uh, we worked with Second Battalion, second Marines in 2004. Um, thankfully we survived that. We came home, we got, I got out in 2005, but then I went back in, in 2008 and I worked with the Marine Corps, [00:02:00] uh, wounded Warrior Battalion at Balboa Hospital in San Diego.
I worked there for two years, from oh eight to 2010. And then I got out of the Marines for good at that point, which I then moved to Los Angeles. I grew up in Northern California and I wanted to stay in sunny California, stay close to the ocean. So I came up to la, uh, started gonna school ucla and I was interested in learning, um, how to work in the entertainment industry.
I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do in entertainment. I just thought the industry was really intriguing and interesting, and I’ve always liked film and tv, so I thought I would, um, kind of immerse myself in the environment to, to see where I fit in. And, um, and I’m glad that I did. And then at the same time that I moved to la, um, I got involved with military veteran initiatives and projects and groups and, and, and that’s what, and so basically that’s been my life since for the last.
12 years is working in [00:03:00] entertainment and also working in the veteran community. And then along the way, I was fortunate to have a book published about my experiences with my military dog, Rex. It’s called Sergeant Rex. And, um, you know, he was a dog that was worthy of having a book written about ’em. So I was really lucky and fortunate and I’m grateful to have that out there.
And yeah, that’s, that takes us to where we are today, I guess.
Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, and we’re gonna get, we’re gonna get into more of that in a little bit later on in the show. Um, but I, I like how you were able to basically just follow that, that passion, the, the thing that you were interested in after leaving the military and getting into the entertainment industry and also, Kind of combining both sides of your life, your, your civilian career and your past as a veteran and continuing to serve veterans and your veteran AVO advocacy work that you do, um, I think is [00:04:00] really awesome because when you have that, uh, the, the two worlds combining, I feel like it probably would make it a little bit easier for you in your transition into the civilian life because there’s still some crossover between the two, right.
Mike Dowling: That’s exactly right. There’s a lot of crossover actually. And, um, you know, I think there’s a lot of truth to the statement of if you really follow your passion, you know, opportunities will kind of present themselves. And that’s kind of what happened in my case. I, uh, I didn’t, I didn’t know what I really wanted to do when I got out of the Marines.
Um, one of the wounded Marines that I was helping take care of. While I was working at the Wounded Warrior Battalion, he was, he recovered for a year and a half after his, uh, from his wounds. And he was interested in going to film school. When I was helping him with his transition plan, he talked about wanting to go to film school because I.
During his recovery, he couldn’t do very much. So he just sat in his room and watched movies all the [00:05:00] time and developed an affinity to learning how to make movies. And so he talked about wanting to go to film school. And at the time that I was talking to him, that was around the same time that I was about to get out and it just kind of hit me like, Hey, you really intrigued me.
Like, yeah, film school, I never even thought about that. But I’ve always loved film and TV and something I’ve always interested in. So together we kind of researched. Uh, film schools, how the GI Bill can pay for film training and, and, um, and, and, uh, yeah, just kind of set up a, a, a plan. And so when I decided to come here and just go for it, cuz you know, I like to have that mindset of once I really feel like I want to do something, I gotta go do it.
Cuz if I don’t go do it, then I, I, you know, I’m always gonna have that, what if in the back of my head. Sure. And something about, something about me told me that I always. That I really wanted to be in the entertainment industry at that time. So I came here at the end of 2010, early [00:06:00] 2011, and, uh, started gonna school.
But like any other veteran, I didn’t, I barely knew any veterans in Los Angeles. And so, um, but I think what, uh, I did that really benefited me. Was, I was very proactive in seeking out veterans groups in LA to, to, to connect. I needed to find connection mm-hmm. With people, um, with, with similar background as me and, um, and start building up my support network and friends.
And, and that’s what happened. Now, at the time, this is early 2011, Los Angeles has a lot of resources for veterans, but at that time it wasn’t well organized. It was very scattered. They didn’t really talk and communicate well with each other. So, um, uh, but I got involved with the gr, you know, I was a volunteer at the va.
I got involved with the American Legion. Um, and I just started meeting veterans in that way. And then, um, it turns out, entertainment wanted, uh, [00:07:00] actors, writers, you know, people behind the camera who had real military experience. To work in Hollywood. And it was kind of a big, um, uh, opportunity for veterans transitioning out, coming here to entertainment.
The entertainment industry wanted veterans to come here. And so I started working on, uh, productions for, for the va. The VA had videos and commercials that I got to work on. Um, and then, you know, well there’s a bunch of stuff out there, but a lot of it was military related, so sure. I, I never. You know, it was nice to kind of be able to have my background and, and combine it with what I was doing out here.
Mm-hmm. But I didn’t realize how big of an opportunity it was being out here to have that kind of a
Scott DeLuzio: background. Uh, we mentioned your time in the Marine Corps. Uh, can you talk about your, the time in the Marines, uh, specifically as, uh, working dog handler in Iraq? Um, uh, how was that experience for you?
Mike Dowling: [00:08:00] Uh, you know, I don’t know where to start with that. I, um, it was intense. Um, Yeah. You know, Rex and I, when we deployed the military dogs really hadn’t been used in Iraq and Afghanistan very much prior to US deploying. And, um, and the threat in 2004 was IEDs bombs, explosives, and it was a, it was the number one threat to troops and civilians alike.
And so they needed bombs, detecting dogs to see if they could work in that type of environment. And I was one of, um, I, I don’t know, about a dozen military dog teams. We got deployed and attached to different units. Uh, I had no idea what unit I was gonna be with, where I was gonna gonna serve. All I know is that myself and this group of dog teams, we deployed together to Iraq.
And when once we got there, we were just, they were gonna do what they were gonna do with us. And so they picked us, [00:09:00] uh, um, each, each dog team went to a different unit in a different area of operation. And I got sent to a, a base called Fab Maia. And again, that’s where two, two was operating out of. And two, two is a East Coast infantry, uh, battalion in the Marine Corps.
And I was stationed at Camp Pendleton. I had never met any of these marines in my life and now I’m gonna be with them for the next seven months. Six, seven months. And um, and my dog and I are expected to. Say, you know, find IEDs, i e d making material, uh, weapons, explosives, things like that. And, um, but I had never, you know, other than marine combat training, I never did much infantry training ever.
You know, I was a military police, that was my primary mos, which by the way, I came in the Marine Corps on an open contract, which is crazy to, to think about, like, I’m the luckiest marine, well, lucky and hardworking, you know, [00:10:00] because, Um, cuz once I was given these opportunities, I made the most of them. So, uh, being in our, in Iraq with my dog Rex, he had a very special skill set, which is detecting explosives.
And once the Marines in Tutu realized that and that we were there and that, uh, we could be effective, we could work, we found explosives. You know, we were in high demand within the battalion, and, um, it didn’t take very long for us to have a very high op tempo because with, with, you know, none of the companies, we were the only dog team for a few months.
I eventually got another dog team, but still only two dog teams for a Hope batalion. That’s not that many. It’s not a lot. And they’re doing multiple, they’re doing multiple patrols and. And two, two, they, um, they were hardcore. I loved working with them. Great battalion, great Marines. Uh, they were part of the 2003 invasion, so they were very [00:11:00] experienced and that helped me a lot because they had a lot of confidence in who they were as Marines and their confidence helped settle my nerves when I was out with them because I was brand new to this stuff.
And, um, but we got thrown in the lion’s. Uh, then, you know, um, right away I got, I, I was assigned to them in April, 2004, and that same month we went to go fight in the first Battle of Fallujah. And, um, and once, you know, because of the Blackwater guys getting burned and hung from the bridge, that sparked that whole chain of events.
I had just got there when, when that happened. And so, um, it was very dangerous. But I knew that, um, you know, um, I just knew that my dog and I could do what we were trained to do. Right. And the Marines were confident that. We would do what we needed to do. And so we just kept going out there. And if it was [00:12:00] my time or my dog’s time to get hurt or killed, then so be it.
But that wasn’t the mindset we had. We just went out there to go do our job day in, day out, go on all these H V T raids and quartering and knock quartering, a search checkpoints, um, walking down i e d bridge, i e d, alley, et cetera, et cetera. And. You know, finding cachets and, and, um, day and night and it was very hot.
You know, it’s one thing for us marines and, and troops to, to acclimate to the weather. But our dogs, you know, they have to go through it too, right? And so, um, um, it was really, um, my deployment was a lot of things, but, um, I’m happy I experienced it. I’m happy I came home. It made me very grateful. In terms of what I have here at home, like, you know, sometimes we take for granted all the little things we have here.
And once you go to a, a war zone, a combat zone, you realize, you know, I felt so terrible for the people who have to live in that. [00:13:00] Like, that’s their lives, you know? Right. And um, so when you come home, it makes you realize, How fortunate we are to have what we have here. And, um, it kind of gave me a, a huge, I mean, I wasn’t the, I wasn’t the same person when I came back than when I left, you know?
Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. Most of us aren’t when, when you come back. Yeah. It, it’s, it changes you and in some ways for the better. Sometimes it’s for, for the worse, but it, I don’t think anyone comes back a hundred percent the same. Um, and. But having that appreciation when you came back with that appreciation for those, even just small things that we take for granted here at home, uh, I think that’s a good change because again, like a lot of people just take that for granted and.
They don’t really appreciate the fact that we have things like running water and toilets that flush and stuff like that. But when you, when you’re talking about going over to Iraq, Afghanistan, a lot of those places don’t have those things. And it’s um, you know, it’s a very different way of [00:14:00] life and. You, you start to take, uh, take a little notice and have a little more appreciation for those types of things, uh, you know,
Mike Dowling: um, yeah.
And at the end, at the end of the day, you know, I signed up for, for, for this, you know? Right. This is, this is, I, I knew that this could happen. And so I didn’t think, I wasn’t thinking about the politics of the war. I was just thinking about surviving and doing what I needed to do to help the Marine to the right and to the left, survive.
Help them get them home, you know? And, um, you know, I. Uh, those marines, even to this day, they, they’ve become some of my best friends. Um, people who I never met or trained with, that I met in a war zone have become my best friends. Cause you know, when you go through tough exp tough experiences, bring people who tough shared experiences bring people closer together, you know, and, and, um, you know, I got friends all over the country.
Because of that.
Scott DeLuzio: So let’s talk about your book. Uh, again, you mentioned it earlier, [00:15:00] but, uh, the book, Sergeant Rex, the Unbreakable Bond between a Marine and his military working dog. Uh, tell us about the book and what inspired you to write it.
Mike Dowling: Um, sure. So my dog’s name was Rex Military working Dog Rex. His tattoo number was Echo 1 68.
Every dog has a tattoo number, just like we all have social securities. And um, Rex was a German Shepherd and he was a dual certified dog. He could detect explosives and he was trained to. Append suspects. Attack. Attack suspects if needed. He was a very aggressive dog if he needed to be. And um, I was working, uh, um, well, initially when I got out of the Marines, I really missed dog handling.
I really missed, I loved, by the way, lemme just put this out there. Being a dog handler was the greatest job ever, like in the Marine Corps. That was like, I’m sorry, it was just, The best job being a dog handler in the Marines, and I’m so thankful I [00:16:00] got to do that. And um, and Rex was a great, great dog. He was a great dog.
So I, um, when I got outta the Marines the first time, uh, I missed being a handler and so I would just kind of blog about it. I started just putting posts online. About, you know, different dog stories that are out there and just kind of bringing awareness and education to what dog handling was all about.
Well, some author, um, an established author, his name is Daniel Lewis. He’s written a bunch of mili, uh, mainly military books. He was a war journal, a war correspondent. Um, and then it became an author. He’s actually based out of the UK. Uh, he saw my work online, reached out to me and started building a relationship with me.
Now, at the time that he reached out, I was working at the Marine Corps Wounded War Battalion, and I just didn’t have time to do a book. I wasn’t, he was interested in doing a book with me, and I actually, um, I just told him I didn’t have time, but he was very persistent and he straight up asked me, he [00:17:00] said, how good was Rex?
How, how much do you love him? I said, Rex was the best. He said, is Rex worthy of having his story told? And I said, yeah, you know what he is. And he’s like, I’m giving you an opportunity to honor Rex by doing this. I said, you know what? That makes sense that I’m gonna, you know, let’s go ahead and do this. But I had no idea where it would take us.
Like, I didn’t know if we were gonna self pu. I didn’t. I was brand new to the publishing world. I didn’t know much about it, but, um, things felt, you know, aligned this again, following your passion, following an opportunity. And we ended up getting a book deal with a major publisher and. And we were off to the races and it just kind of, you know, I was just every single step of the way and I was very happy that I did it and that he was persistent with it because that whole process was very therapeutic for me to go through.
Uh, I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, I needed to get that story out on the paper because I had a lot of emotions about, um, the war and, and what ha you know, one of my best [00:18:00] friends was killed and. Lots of others were wounded. And, and also seeing the wo when I was working with the Wounded Marines, seeing their process of recovery and their families and the struggles that they went through.
You know, you just start to think about things and, um, sometimes it’s not all good thoughts, you know, and, um, but writing that book was a good distraction. It was, it was something very positive at the time that I needed to do. It was very cathartic, you know? Right. And, um, and, and so,
Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, I, I, I had the, the same experience.
I wrote my book, um, and, and it was, it was, it was a therapeutic experience to, to get that stuff down on paper. Didn’t realize how much, you know, I needed that experience to. Actually put the words down on paper and, and process the emotions and, and relive some of that stuff. And, um, you know, but it, it was very therapeutic.
And I, I’ve talked to other veterans who’ve done the same thing. They’ve had, had this very similar experiences and they, they’ve said, you know, pretty much the same. Same deal. Mike, you’ve, you’ve served on the board of [00:19:00] directors at, uh, hounds and Heroes, which is a nonprofit that pairs disabled veterans with service dogs.
Um, tell us more about the work with this organization and other things that you, you might be involved in.
Mike Dowling: Sure. I, yeah. I currently am on the board of Directors of Pounds and Heroes and, uh, it was founded by, um, Bonnie Jo Laughlin, whose family, her fa, her family was heavily in the military. She’s a big military supporter.
Um, she’s very resourceful. She put resources together to benefit veterans. I’ve been friends with her. She used to come down and visit all the wounded warriors. Uh, in San Diego among many other trips to, uh, military bases, and we just kind of hit off and, and she’s a great human being. So when she asked me to be on the board, I was happy to accept.
And what Hounds and Heroes does is we take rescue dogs. And we pair them, uh, we get them trained up and we pair them with veterans in need of a service, uh, animal or a therapy animal. And, um, so really you’re kind of saving two lives in the process, the animal and [00:20:00] the service member. And, um, it’s a very, I’m very proud of the work.
Um, it’s very impactful work. Um, yeah, but that’s what I do recently, you know, I just, when I got to LA again, I mentioned earlier, I just kind of threw myself into the veteran. World to learn how the Los Angeles veteran community worked. Um, because I knew that one of the thing, you know, when I first got outta the Marines in 2005, I didn’t stay connected to the military or the veteran space.
And um, but I knew after going back the second time around, I. That it was important for me to have a military support system, a veteran support system when I got out. So, um, I was reaching out and f and I found great mentors. In fact, one of my best mentors that I met as soon as I got here was a retired Marine, uh, multiple Vietnam tours.
And he recognized kind of himself and me a new Marine coming to the neighborhood. And he just kind of, you know, Vietnam veterans really welcomed. [00:21:00] Post nine 11 vets and I have a lot of respect for them and, and, um, and even to this day, he’s still a good friend of mine and he just kind of sat me down, took me out to lunch and said, Le listen, you know, these are the veterans in LA that you need to know.
These are the groups you need to know. These are the benefits you need to start reaching, uh, start applying for, and. Et cetera, et cetera. So I got really fortunate in finding a mentor early on in the veteran space that really helped guide me or someone that I could reach out to if I had questions on how to go about veteran stuff, you know?
And, um, I think that’s really important for any veteran who’s making a transition to make sure you have a support system, someone you can reach out to at any time when you, when it comes to this type of, uh, information.
Scott DeLuzio: Right? Absolutely. When, uh, I’ve talked to other people who. You know, they, you mentioned things like the VFW or American Legion or other organizations like that, and they kind of just write them off.
They think of ’em, kind [00:22:00] of like their, their grandpa’s drinking club kind of thing. And, uh, it’s not, that’s not for me. I, I don’t want to be involved with, you know, these older guys, I got nothing in common with them. But the thing that we do have in common with them, some of the younger veterans is that.
They’ve been there, they’ve been in that transition period, getting out of the military and trying to figure out what they’re gonna do with their lives. And they’ve worked some, if you’re talking about some of these, you know, 70, 80 year old guys or whatever, they, they’ve, they’ve been there and they’ve start, started their career after the military and they’ve raised a family and all these things that maybe you haven’t been through quite yet.
And. They have that knowledge and experience and wisdom that you can tap into. So yeah, like exactly what you’re saying, like tap into some of these, these older guys because, you know, they, they’ve been there and just like what we’re doing right now, we’re, we’re out here trying to help veterans. I don’t think any of them are out there like, ah, well, you know, screw those younger guys because, you know, they, they’re, [00:23:00] they’re not the same generation that we were.
So they can figure it out on their own. Like we all, like, I wanna help veterans. I don’t care what generation they’re from, and I think they’re very similar. Right.
Mike Dowling: 100%. Um, uh, you know, veterans that came before us have been there and have, uh, good knowledge that they can share. And, you know, look, not every veteran group is for every veteran, right?
Right. There’s some veterans groups that. I don’t enjoy being a part of. And there’s others that I love being a part of. And, um, you just kind of find your own right? And so I’m not gonna say, don’t use this one, or don’t, or go to this one. Like, each person has a different, you know, each has a different personality.
So what might not be a good fit for me? I. Could be a good fit for someone else. But I think the common thread is having a support system, even if it’s just that 1, 2, 3 other vets that you can really rely on, you know, someone that you can feel good about calling in the middle of the night or whatever for any question related to this type of stuff.
Cause you know, we. Uh, you know, I was just thinking about surviving my deployment. I’m just trying to, you know, I try to survive every day at this point. [00:24:00] Right. You know,
Scott DeLuzio: and, um, yeah. When, when you get back, I mean, that, that’s really what it is. And, and you don’t have the support network that you had in the military of those other guys or whoever you are serving with you.
You don’t have those people who are there to support you. You’re, you’re on your own. And so you kinda have to build your own support network of people who are gonna look out for you and help you out when. You need the help or that you can help out when they need the help. And you know, we all need to have a purpose and a, a mission and, you know, a sense of belonging in a group.
And so, you know, why not go with people who already sort of understand where you’re coming from? Right.
Mike Dowling: Yeah. And I appreciate people like you who are, you know, putting out, uh, interviews and, and, and, you know, introducing great people to the community. Cuz you never know where veterans might find. A connection or learn about something.
And so having podcasts like this, you know, just, it’s great. It’s great to have, which is why I agree to come on here. Cause it’s always great to, you know, [00:25:00] offer some kind of information that someone can connect with, you know? Yeah,
Scott DeLuzio: absolutely. Um, and just, just briefly, um, after your military service, you moved.
To Los Angeles. You talked about that a little bit. Um, and you completed, uh, I, I, I was looking up on your website, you completed a, an entertainment certificate program at ucla. Um, and what, how did that help you get into the entertainment, uh, industry?
Mike Dowling: Yeah, well, if you wanna work in any industry, it’s good to learn about that industry.
And so, uh, I found a curriculum there at UCLA that, uh, taught me about entertainment. Um, but I also wanted to meet other veterans that worked in entertainment. And there wasn’t really a mechanism to do that. I mean, I. There was kind of cliques of veterans that worked in entertainment, but if you weren’t a part of their clique, then you weren’t a part of it, you know?
And I just kinda, uh, decided, I, I luckily [00:26:00] through, uh, my outreach in, in terms of, um, trying to connect with veterans, I came across another veteran. Uh, his name is Kyle. And Kyle is an army veteran, Iraq boarded, and he went to USC film school. And, and, uh, I was able to connect with him and the two of us just became friends and, um, And we worked on the Veterans Affairs make the connection, uh, mental health campaign, which goes on.
We helped the VA launch that campaign, which, um, continues to this day. Actually, if you go to make the connection.net. You’ll see hundreds and hundreds of videos of veterans being interviewed or their spouses about talking about mental health and what, you know, being proactive about your mental health.
And I was really lucky to work with Kyle and the VA and to be a part of that um, uh, program. And in that process we realized where are all the other veterans that work in entertainment? Like there’s gotta be more of us out here and. And so we decided to create an organization [00:27:00] at the time called V F T Veterans in Film and Television.
And once a month we would meet to, uh, and invite any veteran that wanted to work in entertainment. Actor, director, writer, uh, crew. If you were working in the industry, why don’t you come here and let’s network and support each other? And it turned out that there was a huge need and, and, and demand for what we created.
Uh, cuz we had a lot of, I’m talking a minimum of 150 to sometimes 200 veterans every single month for like two years. We did this, um, We would just, um, put on these events and give veterans opportunities in entertainment and it turned out to be a great success at the time.
Scott DeLuzio: But Mike, I wanna talk about some of the projects that you’ve been involved in.
Uh, you have had a few, like PSAs and short films supporting the veteran community, um, stuff that we were talking about a little bit earlier before the break. Um, but I saw them, a few of them on your [00:28:00] website. Um, but one that stood out to me the most was the, the one that you did with the Shakespeare’s Henry the fourth, which was built by veterans.
And I’m not much of a Shakespeare fan myself. I mean, like Reddit in high school, like most people probably did. But, um, in watching that video, I was seeing how much all those veterans were able to come together, work as a team to build the stage and. Put the, the production together, all the props and everything else that they, they were working with, uh, to me that was amazing.
So tell me about some of these projects and, uh, the things that you’ve been involved in and how they’ve been impacting the veterans lives.
Mike Dowling: Sure. Yeah. That was a, uh, that program, the Shakespeare, the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles is a nonprofit that does exceptional work in teaching, uh, you know, theater and stage skills, acting, and also crew to, um, All kinds of underserved communities.
Uh, [00:29:00] but they also trained veterans and they partnered with the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs out here. At that time, they were, they had that program. The program, uh, actually still exists. I don’t know if they’re partnered with the VA anymore, but there’s these smaller programs and unique things out there that people have no idea about.
And, um, I partnered with another veteran friend of mine, a filmmaker documentary. Very good. Um, uh, filmmaker Rob Hammond. We went out and we found these stories and programs that we wanted to spotlight, and we just kind of took our skillsets and relationships and, and, um, we made these productions to showcase these stories that we thought were worth telling, that we want, that we thought would inspire other veterans.
Um, And make them aware of these stories and programs. And so the Shakespeare was one of them. And we got, and Tom Hanks was, um, the star of the play. So what happened was, uh, veterans who were going through some kind of recovery program at the [00:30:00] va, uh, who they, they were made aware of this program was Shakespeare.
The VA at the time granted the Shakespeare Center to put on a. A, uh, professional Shakespeare play on the VA campus, cuz the VA campus is huge out here. And, and, um, and so the Shakespeare Center took these veterans who wanted to learn a skillset or just wanted to be part of it. And they taught them how to build the stage, how to do all the crew work, how to do the props in the makeup and wardrobe.
And, and they hired a and they got paid to do it. And uh, so they were taught these really valuable skill sets. They were paid for it. And on top of that, a superstar like Tom Hanks and a totally professional cast, these are professional actors and actresses starred in the play at the time. And so, uh, they let us interview the veterans to showcase their stories and tell, and, and showcase the program.
And it turned out to be a really inspiring program. The [00:31:00] pr, the program still exists at the Shakespeare Center. Uh, but again, we just wanted to showcase, um, what they were doing. And Tom Hanks. Uh, you know, I, we, we got to interview him, uh, to get his thoughts about the program. He’s super supportive of veterans and he was great about it.
And it was just kind of one of those, one of those things where the stars aligned to where we were put in a position to where, uh, we could do something like this. And we, we were able to secure financing from veteran supportive, um, organizations to, to, to make this the, the LA County Department of Mental Health, uh, came through for us and.
Yeah, we got to work with some great organization and that’s just one of a few different projects, uh, that I was really proud to be a part of. And, um, you know, we’re always looking for really unique stories, um, especially within the veteran community to share, to tell, to make productions out of, and then, um, and also be creative, you know, just being a creative, uh, person [00:32:00] in, in the space and having relationships and, and knowing people, uh, that are very talented in their skill crafts.
Uh, you know, just being able to team up with them and, and utilize our skill sets, which we are now taught and experienced with, to spotlight things in the veteran community that are inspiring. It’s just, it’s been a great, it’s been, it’s been a great process for me to go through that and to be a part of this.
And, um, yeah, I have a lot of fun just having a lot of fun along the way at the same time,
Scott DeLuzio: you know? Right. And. Uh, when I watched the video that, that one with the, the Shakespeare and Tom Hanks and everything, and just watching the veterans interacting with each other, um, it reminded me of like a platoon or a, a company size, uh, you know, element where they’re, they’re out, they have a mission and that mission is to put on this production.
And everyone’s got their job and everyone’s out there, they’re doing their job, whether it’s, uh, Whether it’s building the stage, hammering the wood and, and the nails into the wood and, uh, or, [00:33:00] or. Making the props or, uh, the, the costumes or anything else that they, they needed to do. Everyone had their job and everyone was just focused on that job.
There’s one woman in the video who was talking about how, um, she was sewing something. I, I forgot exactly what it was that she was sewing, but, um, you know, it just helped her to just focus on that one thing. And, and that’s what she was, was doing, is that’s her job now. She’s, she’s sewing this thing and that that’s what she’s doing.
Um, And so seeing the veterans come together like that, it just reminded me of the, the comradery and the, uh, the, the values of just working together and coming together towards a common goal, a common objective, and knocking it out of the park. And they, they came through, they did this, and, you know, the program, like you said, is still going on.
So it’s, it’s obvious that they didn’t. Totally butcher this thing. Like it, obviously they knocked it out of the [00:34:00] park and they, they did a great job with it. Otherwise, you know, they, they’d probably be a little bit hesitant to keep on going with this program. Um, but, but they did it and everything was great.
So, um, you know, that type of thing to me, uh, is one of the things that I, I feel like the, the VA and other organizations when they come together, like great stuff like this can come, come out of it, and. I saw the looks on some of these veterans faces and they were, they were proud to be doing this type of work.
It was, you know, people with, with maybe difficult backgrounds, people who were battling maybe an addiction or something like that, and they, they were able to, uh, put in an honest day’s work and get paid for it, like you said. And, uh, and they felt good about the work that they were doing, and they, they learned that skill and that, I think that’s an important thing in, in helping some of these veterans in their transition.
Mike Dowling: Right. And they did it while working side by side with some of the most professional actors in, in entertainment. Right. You know, [00:35:00] and Tom Hanks. And, and, um, it’s a testament to that, how good that program is. Sure. And, uh, also to how resilient veterans are. And, um, a as you mentioned, the program still exists today.
Some of those veterans continue to work in that industry. Even to this day, some veterans. Might have, uh, found a different path, but at least the opportunity is there. And again, you know, if we didn’t produce that piece about it, who would, maybe it wouldn’t, people wouldn’t be as aware of it as they are today, you know?
Scott DeLuzio: Right. And I think, like part of the thing when I was talking about earlier in this episode when I was doing research to figure out, uh, you know, who’s my next guest gonna be on this show? And I, I came across your name, uh, somewhere. And again, I forget where exactly where I came across your name, but I, I went to your website and I started watching some of these videos and I was like, yeah, this, this is a story that I want to tell.
And like you were saying that. Ve they’re veterans out there. They have great, incredible stories to tell, inspirational stories to tell, and that’s what I want to do with [00:36:00] this podcast is share some of these inspirational stories of people who, uh, maybe overcame some sort of obstacle or, or, um, you know, found their way after the, the military and got themselves into something that they really enjoy doing.
Because that in and of itself could be very inspirational because there’s, there’s people out there who leave the military. That’s all they really knew since maybe getting outta high school. And they don’t just, they feel lost. They don’t know what to do with themselves. And so when you talk about, you know, here’s someone like yourself who found your calling and you’re involved in this work, um, you know, to me I think it’s just an credible, uh, incredibly motivating, uh, story to put out there.
Um, but like you said, there’s, there’s thousands of these stories, right?
Mike Dowling: And there’s thousands of these veterans wanting to do this. You know, we created that, that group Veterans in Film and Television. Back then it was called B F T, now it’s called bme, veterans in Media and Entertainment. [00:37:00] And we realized there’s a lot of veterans that, um, are hungry in, in the entertainment space that not only wanna learn entertainment, but that also enjoy the comradery of staying connected to veterans.
So, um, when we created that group, uh, we. It was very successful. There’s a huge demand for it in the veterans space here in in entertainment. A lot of veterans wanted to network and support each other, as we all, you know, faced these challenges because it’s not working. It, it’s not easy working in entertainment by any measure, no matter what you’re trying to do out here.
Just because you’re a veteran, nobody’s gonna hand you anything. It’s still very, very, very hard work. Right. Uh, and also kind of, you have to be kind of personable and build good relationships so that people will invite you back, things like that. And, and, um, and, but having people going through that process with you and being surrounded and, uh, by them is very important.
And so that’s what VFT was for. And we were able [00:38:00] to build a lot of relationships with all the networks and studios and create all these. Career educational programs, uh, for veterans who wanted to work in entertainment to, to go work at these studios and production companies. And it was really inspiring to see, um, the careers of a lot of veterans, uh, in entertainment just kind of really take off through the organization.
And, um, and that was great, you know, and then in 2000, so we created that back in 2012 and, uh, and then like three years later, 2015, I want to say. Uh, the co-founders, myself and Kyle, uh, we, we withdrew from the organization so that we could just focus on our own careers, you know, cuz at the time that organization became kind of a full-time job to us and we hadn’t even established ourselves in the, in the industry yet.
So we decided to take a step back and, and, um, and that’s what we did. And then, and so my very next, um, opportunity after doing that was working for. Uh, working on the [00:39:00] Netflix show called Medal of Honor. It’s a docu-series about Medal of Honor recipients and, and, um, it was a huge honor to
Scott DeLuzio: work on that.
Yeah. And there’s so many different opportunities and I think we, we touched on a few of them, uh, just in this episode, just ta in talking about, um, you know, things like. Uh, the, the background stuff, the, the props and the, the costumes and the set and the, um, you know, all that kind of stuff, which is essential for that.
Obviously there’s the actors and there’s the music and there’s the other size of things, but there’s so much that goes into putting on a production, uh, any sort of production. There’s so much that goes into it. Um, for people who might be leaving the military, maybe already have left the military and kind of.
Struggling with that transition. Maybe they want to get into the entertainment industry. Uh, what advice would you give to those people who want to get involved and, you know, what options are out there for them? [00:40:00]
Mike Dowling: Well, I think, um, my advice would be no matter what entertainment, whether it’s enter entertainment or um, financial or whatever industry you’re trying to get into.
I’m willing to bet that there’s veteran organizations that have been set up, uh, around that industry that you can tap into, uh, to find other veterans that have had success in that industry that you can connect with, that you can find mentors, uh, from, uh, and, and, and comradery with fellow bets. So, Enter, you know, in the entertainment industry, um, thankfully there’s lots of groups out here, whether it’s the bme, there’s also a lot of student, uh, film groups.
Uh, there’s also the Writers Guild Foundation. There’s also the, the Veteran network groups. So each studio, whether you’re Fox, NBCUniversal or, or Paramount, they all individually. There’s a lot of veterans that work at those studios, and they created their own little, uh, [00:41:00] supportive networking employee group at the studio.
So, These are all separate and, and veteran groups in entertainment, uh, that you can reach out to and find, uh, veterans that can kind of help you guide your process as you enter this business, cuz it’s not easy at all. But, um, but at least there’s support, uh, there’s support here for any veteran that wants to come into this business.
And, and also I would use your educational benefits. So you have the post nine 11 GI Bill. I used it to learn about the industry. Whatever you’re trying to get into, take advantage of your educational benefits to learn about what you’re, what you’re interested in, um, you know, and then, and then just keep following that path and hopefully opportunities will start presenting themselves and you just start making the most of them.
So, but I think first and foremost, no matter what you’re doing, make sure you establish, establish a support system, some kind of support network. Of other veterans, hopefully [00:42:00] of veterans that are in the, in the industry that you’re looking to get into. And just, and start
Scott DeLuzio: going from there. Been talking here with, uh, Mike Dowling for, uh, this episode, and we’ve been talking about, uh, just such an interesting career that he’s had, uh, everything from being a, uh, working dog handler in Iraq.
Um, In some pretty hostile territory dealing with, you know, finding IEDs and everything like that to now working in the entertainment industry and, uh, being a veteran’s advocate and, and the work that he does now, um, it, to me it’s, it’s just awesome to see that there is that progression that, um, that there is life after the military that you don’t necessarily have to be, It tied to that military background that you have, that you’re, you’re not a hundred percent locked into that, that, that you, you can get into something else.
You can pivot your career. Um, you know, he’s, He’s [00:43:00] working in the entertainment industry, doesn’t necessarily have to be, uh, a hundred percent working with dogs, even though dogs are a passion of, of his. But like, you can have other things and, and you can move on and, and pivot in that career. So, um, Mike, before we wrap this episode up here, um, are there any other resources or tips or advice or anything like that that you might, uh, want to let the listeners know about?
Um, for anyone who maybe want to get involved in the entertainment industry or, or anything else that, that may come to mind.
Mike Dowling: Sure. You know, um, there’s lots of opportunities for veterans and many industries, especially in entertainment. Uh, there’s groups set up for veterans specifically wanting to be in entertainment to help them on their career paths.
There’s networking groups at each studio. Um, but I also want veterans to know that. You ho people have this perception of Hollywood and what it might be like l listen, working in any industry, [00:44:00] but especially entertainment is not easy. And, uh, no matter what success you’ve had in this business, you have to, it’s still very challenging to, to continue that success.
And, um, I, I’ve been very lucky and fortunate I’ve got to work with some great, um, talent over the years. I got to work with Jennifer Lawrence, uh, will Smith. Um, and a lot of, and the whole cast and crew with the Netflix Medal of Honor docu-series and, and you know, and there’s some more to come. And I think the common thread is just being able to work hard and, uh, and also build great relationships.
And, um, some of that you could learn in school, the skill trade part of it, but some of it you just need to kind of. Figure out on your own and, um, and build your own personable skills and, and finding your place, uh, within, within the, uh, the, the, the industry itself. So I guess I would just say, just kind of throw yourself into it, but have your support network, [00:45:00] build up a support network, find other veterans that are going through this like you are, and have that safety net no matter what.
Sure. And just kind of, and allow yourself to be in a position to where opportunities can happen for you. Right. You can have this whole plan and this whole idea of what you might want or expect, but you might be presented something completely different that might be really great for you. So be open to opportunities and, and continuously learn and continuously building relationships.
So, um, uh, and, and don’t just look to the entertainment veteran groups. There’s also veteran resources in LA like the Department of Military Veterans. Uh, um, military Veterans Affairs in la, which is separate from the va, and then the VA itself, like, you know, stay dialed into these resources in your area.
Um, because as a veteran going through life, no matter what you’re going through, there’s always a resource to help you out. And so it’s always good to stay connected, uh, and be aware of [00:46:00] what those, of, what those resources are. So, yeah, uh, just kind of whatever industry you’re going into, get a, get a support network.
And, um, and be open to opportunities.
Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. Th that’s great advice. And I think, um, the thing that you were talking about as far as like building that network and having that group of support, uh, for you, um, the nice thing about that is you may not know about all of these resources, like some of the ones that you just mentioned.
Uh, you may not know about all of these things, but there may be people who are in your network who do know about some of them. They may not know about all of them, but when you have multiple people in this network, There’s, you know, a few people might know about one thing. It’s a few people might know about another.
And, and when you get all these people together, they help each other out and help direct people towards the resources that they may need. And so that’s just another benefit of getting involved in organizations like the ones that we’ve talked about today throughout this episode. So, um, Mike, with that, um, I want to thank you for.[00:47:00]
Taking the time to come on the show, um, and, and sharing your experiences with the listeners here. Um, for anyone out there who wants to find out more about the things that you’re working on and, uh, the other, uh, types of, uh, projects that you have going on, uh, where can people go to find out more about all of that?
Mike Dowling: Uh, there’s really, you can go to my website, official mike dialing.com. Um, I try and update it here and there, but otherwise I kind of like. There’s really nowhere you can find. You can probably, you can connect with me on social media, maybe on Instagram and Twitter at Mike Dowling. That’s, you know, just Mike Dowling.
But, um, in terms of projects and things that I work on, I try and keep things kind of quiet until. Until I’m done with them, you know?
Scott DeLuzio: Got it. So, okay. Well, that, that sounds great. And I will have a link to your, your social media and your website for people to take a look at, uh, when they, uh, when they, they take a look at the show notes, so [00:48:00] they’ll have that in there as well.
So thanks again for taking the time to join us. I really do appreciate it. Thank you, Scott. I appreciate being here. Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to support the show, please check out Scott’s book, surviving Son on Amazon. All of the sales from that book go directly back into this podcast and work to help veterans in need.
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