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

Literally nothing, like absolutely zero information. A friend of mine invited me and I trusted him not to send me into anything crazy.

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 don’t have any really strong opinions on the military either way, but if I must pick one, I have to say that it’s positive. Definitely positive, if they go and they work their career bravely and honorably. And then I just hope that when they come home, everything is okay for them. If they’re deployed, I hope they go home whole. They’re doing a dangerous job, and I want them to be okay.

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

I did. He didn’t have any facial hair. That was the first tell. He was totally clean and totally sharp. And then we got to talking. Then I asked him, “Were you in the military?” And he said “Yeah, I still am.”

So I could tell from his demeanor. But the clean face was the first clue. And his handshake was very firm … so there were a few clues.

What did you think of your conversation with Albert?

Overall, the experience was great. Albert was a good guy. It’s always nice to meet new people who have interesting stories, and he had an interesting story. The USO team strategically stacked these cards with questions on them so certain questions were further down, but we got personal on our own before the questions even got there. I don’t think the questions would have gotten as personal as we did on our own. We connected quickly, I think just out of curiosity. We both had a genuine interest in each other right away.

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

I would say we had a couple of moments where it got really personal. I told him about losing my mom last year. He told me about his parents and some of the pressures of his upbringing.

What was the strongest connection between you two?

We connected the most over trying to live up to expectations. I brought up the subject of having these expectations for myself … having these certain milestones set. You want to be here by this age, and here by this age, but not necessarily hitting all of them … and how that made me feel. And he had a similar experience with living up to the expectations set by his parents. So we were able to connect on that level.

What was the greatest difference between you two?

I think the way we differed the most was the way we were brought up. I noticed right away that he was biracial, Black and Korean, so I asked him a lot of questions about that. Having two cultures in one home was very different from mine. Mine was all Black, while his mom’s Korean culture influenced how he was raised and I was very interested in that.

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

I think if you put any two random people together, which I guess is what the purpose of this project was, I think that story will be the same: Everybody’s got stuff going on. You never know what people have going on behind the facade. And that’s one of the things where we really got deep in our conversation. No one person is better than the other. The conversation affirmed for me that you can find a connection with just about anybody. As long as you’re open to it, you can connect with anybody.

Did your opinion of service members change at all after speaking with Albert and finding out he was in the military?

It didn’t. It just affirmed it. He’s a good guy. And that’s been my life’s experience with service members that I’ve met … that they’ve all been cool, standup people. Not every single service member is the same, as with any group of people, but Albert continued the trend for me.

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

We didn’t really talk much about the military at all, honestly, so I can’t say that I learned something new. He confirmed that he was in the military and that was pretty much the end of the military talk.

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

I’ve always wondered how they do it. Because that first part of the military, the basic training – at least my perception of it – is something that I know I cannot handle. I can handle the whole principle of “destroy and rebuild,” which is what they do in basic training, in my opinion, and not necessarily in a bad way. But you’re trying to build a certain type of soldier, I guess. So you kind of have to break down the old, casual version of you that was at home, sitting on the couch, and make somebody stronger. But the process that they use to do that, to forge that, still is, at least in my head, this drill sergeant screaming at you, cursing at you all in your face, like in [the movie] ‘Full Metal Jacket.’ And I cannot handle that psychologically.

And [military service] just seems scary. Anything can happen. You can get deployed now. You got to go fight. And it’s scary. I’ve always wanted to know how … what makes you so brave to go and do that? And when you get out of the service, how will you be treated? Because there are so many veterans who are on the street. I live in Atlanta and there are a lot of homeless people. I talk to them, take guys to eat and just talk to them. And a lot of these guys went to the war, and they came home and stuff happened and they couldn’t get the help they needed. And years later, they are homeless.

At the USO, we often talk about the “military-civilian divide” – the 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?

There’s none that I talk to regularly. I don’t have any service members in my close circle.

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

One thing Albert talked about is so much of it does depend on where you live. If you don’t live near a military base, or you’re not military, you’re not going to have those interactions. [Also], my educated guess would be that politics have a lot to do with it. I don’t know if the country has gotten more political or if I’m just noticing it more. That’s always been one of the things they say you don’t talk about – religion and politics now. It just seems like people are hypersensitive to it. There’s a segment of the population, if they don’t agree with the war, they put that on the soldiers.

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?

If we’re going to take an example from the experiment that we did – just talk to each other. I’ve never encountered a service member, at least one that was in uniform, who was not willing to have a conversation. But first, you have to be interested in bridging the divide, right? Spark up the conversation. Or, on social media, you can find a military group – or not even a military group, whatever group you’re in … if somebody mentioned they were in the military, ask them questions.

What do you think the benefits would be to bridge that divide? How is it going to make our lives better or make the country better when civilians and service members better understand each other?

Well, I think if we all had a better understanding, or at least would strive to gain a better understanding, I just think the world would be a better place. I know it’s cliché, but I think it would make everything a little easier … everybody would be a little less anxious, and that would make everything better.

Would you want to see activities where civilians would be invited to USO events, for example?

Yes, because that’s how you create a situation where they have to talk. There’s going to be some mixing and mingling. Now here’s your perfect opportunity to spark up a conversation, for sure.

Have you stayed in touch with Albert since filming the project? Any other thoughts or feelings about your experience being a part of this film project?

No, we just met and sat down and chit-chatted, and that was it. There was no expectation on either side. So it was a good conversation. I’ll definitely remember it, for sure. It’s something I hope the USO will continue to do … I think it could be helpful, even in these small doses. Every little bit helps to get these people sitting down and get them talking and connecting.