Before participating in this video, what details did you know about the project?

A good friend reached out to me about the opportunity so I did have somewhat of an idea that it was going to be a one-on-one table discussion. I didn’t know what to expect when I got there, but I was excited about the uncertainty around that.

Before participating in this video project, what was your impression of service members and the military? Did you have any particularly strong opinions about service members?

I wouldn’t say that I’ve had strong opinions about service members in the past. I’ve had friends who have served, and I have a friend that’s still serving, and we talk about it generally, but we never really get into the details or anything about what they do or what their lifestyle may be like.

When you first started speaking with your conversation partner, Leonardo, did you get any impression that he might be in the military?

I would’ve never guessed that he was part of the military. We talked about it a little bit because he was transitioning to a new base in Germany, which is why he was at the airport that day. I could tell that he was well put together and orderly, but I wouldn’t have said, “Oh, he’s a service member.”

What did you think of the experience and conversation with Leonardo?

Amazing. I thought it was really unique in the sense that the USO brought together a bunch of strangers and put together a set of questions that allowed us to engage with each other and get to know each other on a deeper level, more so than you would if you just walked by a stranger in the airport and said, “Hi, how are you today?”

So, I got to know Leonardo in that short session we had. And speaking with him, he let me know that I made him feel comfortable; he doesn’t realize that he made me feel comfortable, too. I was extremely nervous.

Was there a particular moment in the conversation that stood out to you?

Hearing how close he was with his family and their importance in his life, I thought that was very sweet. And I commended him on being able to travel and be as far away from his family for the amount of time that he has been and will continue to be until he’s finished [with his service]. That was one thing that really stood out — how close we are with our loved ones.

What was the strongest connection between you two?

It was really just being so family-oriented and just essentially what we do now for our families, being the trailblazers of our immediate families at home. He mentioned his family is in Mexico, and I’m the first person in my family to leave New York and explore the world and really just try to take what I feel is mine in this world and set a path for my family along the way to do the same.

What was the greatest difference between you two?

I don’t know if we talked long enough to really find a big difference between the two of us. We were more focused on finding common ground. So as far as our differences are concerned, I can’t really think of any.

What do you feel is the most important thing you gained from this experience?

As someone who’s extremely shy in front of a camera, for me to even come and do this was something that I was pushing myself to do. Afterward, I actually did a small video [on my social media] just explaining how excited I was to have stepped out of my comfort zone to have been a part of a project like this.

Did your opinion of service members change at all after speaking to Leonardo and finding out he is in the military?

I think instead of just looking at [people in the military] like, “They’re a service member, and that’s what they signed up to do,” I looked more at the fact that this may be something that these individuals are choosing to do as a career, like many of us do to provide for our families. What I never really considered is how hard it may be for them or their families — or how hard it is for them not having their families there, or just not being able to communicate with your loved ones as frequently as you would like. I can call my parents every day.

Service members don’t have that luxury because they are doing something that in the greater scheme of things, is protecting us as a country. They’re making sacrifices for us. And I think maybe some of those issues should be brought to light a little bit more. And I think that there should also be alternative ways or ways that can be suggested to increase communication … and the ways that partners and children can visit their service member.

What’s something about the military that you learned during your conversation that you didn’t know before?

I really would love to travel and explore more of the world. So, the fact that he gets to do that is amazing to me, and I’m a little bit jealous of that. The only downfall is that you’re not doing it for luxury. You’re not traveling and doing these things because you want to enjoy this by yourself or with family or friends.

If you could ask a service member a question, what would it be?

Other than being away from family, what is the hardest part of being a service member? And outside of the physical fitness tests, what really makes it difficult? What makes the decision worth being away from your family?

We often talk about the “military-civilian divide” — the sort of social and cultural gulf between service members and civilians, in which there are a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings. As a civilian, how many service members do you talk to regularly? If none, why?

Oh, it’s very few. I know one active service member, and we still speak sporadically. It is a pretty big gap [between service members and civilians]. I think there are definitely some good conversations and discussions to be had around those relationships and how they impact those service members.

In your opinion, what are some of the barriers that prevent civilians from connecting with service members?

I know sometimes a lot of it is secretive, right? You’re not able to discuss certain details. I would feel that, as a civilian who’s trying to relate to my partner, spouse, or whoever is serving, that those conversations would feel pretty one-sided. All you can really tell me is that you’re alive and well, so it’s a lot of uncertainty. If I were to ever date someone who was a service member, those are things that would be concerning to me, not really knowing the status of my partner or this person that’s in my life and what their day-to-day life looks like.

If you were to propose a solution to bridging the military-civilian divide, what would you suggest people do to meet each other halfway across that bridge? Do you think organizations like the USO can help with that? How?

I don’t know if I could recommend something that would be sufficient because I don’t know the process or the policies surrounding guidelines for communication and visitation. So, I would say that the first major thing is discussion. And that seems like what the USO is attempting to do, bring to light these issues. So, bringing those topics up for discussion, and then reviewing policies, seeing if there are ways that guidelines can be adjusted to fit the needs of our modern world. Is there any technology to make communication effective for the service members?

Also events where service members are engaging with the community in the areas they serve. It’s not just, “We’re serving our country, but we’re serving in New York; we’re serving in Georgia; we’re serving California.” They serve our one country, but that doesn’t mean we can’t educate and touch lives across the board. Who’s better to give information about a particular branch than that person? But you can’t if you don’t know who to ask, or who to go to, or who to guide you.

Do you see any benefits to bridging the divide? If so, what are those?

I think that bridging the gap will encourage more participation in our military. For a lot of people, if they don’t understand something, or they don’t know something, then they shy away from it. For me, I didn’t know why my friends in high school were signing up to go into the military, but I knew I didn’t want to do that. I don’t know what I’m signing up for and what does this mean? I think that by bridging the gap, we’re providing information and the education that’s needed for all levels across the board to make educated decisions about their future. That just comes down to the information you have provided to you.

Have you stayed in touch with Leonardo since filming the project?

We follow each other on Instagram, but I took a social media break recently. We haven’t really texted much, but once this video comes out, of course I’ll reach out to him.

Any other thoughts or feelings about your experience being a part of this film project?

Talking with Leonardo made me consider service members more on a personal level, rather than their actual title and what they do for their job. I probably never would have stopped and talked to Leonardo in that airport.

I think that as the world moves so quickly and things are going so fast, we forget to stop and just talk to people and get to know one another, and before all the technology, a lot of us used to do that. I really did enjoy this. This was a great experience.