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

Really not much of anything. A request was sent out through our entire command and they asked for volunteers. So, I didn’t volunteer initially, but then my colleagues said, “You’ll be good. You should do it.” I just knew it would be a conversation with a stranger.

As someone who has been in the Army Reserves for 14 years and who is also a police lieutenant, how often do you talk to civilians about life in the military? Are you honest with them about life in the military, and all of its ups and downs?

Not very often, because of the field that I’m working in now, but a lot of people who work in the police department are former service members. So, we tell old stories to each other, but it’s not a daily conversation. But we do have them from time to time.

I’m absolutely honest about life in the military. You don’t want to skew the Armed Forces to be one way, and they may perceive it to be another way. You want to make sure that you’re keeping people well informed so they can make their own decision, not based on their good or bad experiences. Being in the Armed Forces is very similar to a regular job. We have ups and downs.

What did you think of your conversation with Lyla?

At first, we were both apprehensive, but then once we continued to have a conversation, you could see we were very similar in ways that we didn’t realize. Of course, obviously we didn’t know each other, but we were very similar. She was very nice, very welcoming. We talked for more than an hour. Initially, we were nervous because we were in the middle of the airport, but after a while, you don’t notice it. It was very strange, but it was good.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I definitely would encourage other people to do it if the opportunity came for them.

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

We both were talking about how close we were with our parents, and I had recently lost my dad right before. And we were talking about how we both were daddy’s girls. I felt that because she was so close to her father, she understood the loss of my father. We went pretty in-depth with that too, so it was good.

What was the strongest connection between you two?

COVID was a thing for both of us. We got used to being at home, working in remote environments versus being at work. She never went back to the office after that. She may have switched jobs since then, because something she told me is that she has jumped around a lot. My job as an Army recruiter, a four-year assignment, was very affected. So that was a big thing.

What was the greatest difference between you two?

I’ve always been in the Army or policing. I’ve never had a job where I was behind a desk or at a computer all day. So, I think that was the biggest difference. We both were extroverts, though. The more and more we talked, we realized we were both very outgoing people. Our backgrounds were very similar, and our jobs were the main difference.

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

I enjoyed it. She wasn’t what I expected her to be. She was stoic at first … just kind of standing there. She was interested, but not really interested. And then I thought, “Oh, it’s not going to be good. There’s no way we are going to connect on anything.”

And then once we started having the conversation, I was like, “Oh, she’s nothing like that. She’s more like me.” I think that was my biggest takeaway. I was kind of leery of it because I didn’t know how she was going to be.

So that made me stop doing that with people … I don’t expect people to be a certain type of way now. I’ve stopped trying to formulate what I think about someone so quickly.

Did you feel comfortable speaking about your military career with Lyla?

Definitely. And when I told her, she was surprised. She was like, “You’re what?” And I was like, “Yeah, I’ve been doing it for a long time … 14 years.” And she thought I was more feminine … and that most women in the military were more masculine-looking. She could never think to put it together that I was in the military.

What is one thing about being in the military that you wish civilians knew or understood?

I would definitely tell them that it’s safe. I think a lot of people have these misconceptions from bad things that have occurred within the military. We’ve had bad things, just like the regular civilian world has bad things, but for me, the military has always been safe. It’s always been somewhere you can turn to that for stability structure. Some countries require you to do some military service. So, I would encourage people to do it … people need to experience it, and I think they would appreciate it a lot more.

I think that the image of the military right now is a bit swayed. When I was recruiting high schoolers, they thought that it was just like in the 1970s, that we didn’t have all the things that we have today. Kids now, they want to be influencers, and they don’t want to think about stability and stuff like that. I got in the Army to retire from the Army. Now they say, “Oh, I’m just going to serve for five years and get out.” But I got in to retire, committed to it from the beginning.

What is the most challenging aspect of being a service member?

Balance. That’s the hardest thing. You have to get to a point where you have balance … family life, work-life balance. As an Army recruiter, I didn’t really have a balance initially. You recruit from sun-up to sun-down, constant, so by the time you got home, you’re tired, exhausted. A lot of people come out on recruiting assignments and they expect it to be just simple. It’s a career that is more demanding than someone might expect. Some Saturdays you may have events that come up. You may have last-minute events that come up. You might need to be available on a Sunday. But it’s only more demanding initially until you get the balance. For me, I was very successful as a recruiter, and once I reached a certain level in recruiting, I was able to get the balance.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being a service member?

The honor that comes with it. You achieve something that less than only 1% of the nation can do. It’s very honorable. It’s traditional. You set the standard for the next generations after you. People respect you in a different way, and I think people recognize the sacrifice, too. I think people know we work a lot, and they expect us to work a lot. They expect us to have discipline. They expect us to be good citizens. So, I think that people respect that. They respect it and expect it.

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. When you were active duty, how many civilians do you talk to regularly? If none, why?

With my job as a recruiter, it was every day, especially in the schools or while we were out doing recruiting events.

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

Maybe it’s impressions. They expect us to be this hard-charging, don’t talk to me, don’t look at me type-of-person. People think that we are machines, and that’s not the case. We’re regular people.

You naturally will gravitate to what’s familiar. So, I think that’s one of the barriers, too. [As a recruiter], I would look for people who met a demographic, who met the look. And sometimes that’s how we identify people who’ve retired from the military. And we gravitate more to those people. Military people are just different, I’ll say that. We’re different people, but I think with civilians, they view us in a certain light. It may not be the right light.

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?

Well, the experiment that we were involved in, I would use a program like that, because you would not know. For instance, if you are near a military base and you go to a nearby hospital and you interact with a military doctor, you won’t know. You have no idea that that’s a military doctor. Or a nurse. I would allow those two worlds to collide.

Do you think organizations like the USO can help with that? How?

I didn’t know about the USO before I joined the Army. A lot of civilians don’t know much about the USO. So maybe if they market themselves to show that they are the common thread between the civilian and the military, people may gravitate more to it. Expand and market the USO volunteer program, because a lot of civilians probably want to come and volunteer. Offer that opportunity to more civilians, because people really want to do it besides Memorial Day, the 4th of July and Veterans Day.

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

I think it would definitely just dispel some of the stigmas that we have attached to service members. And it probably would do the same for us, too, about civilians. It would dispel some of the things that we think of civilians – of some civilians, not all. I think bridging that gap probably would increase our overall positive presence. It may encourage them to join. If they have a good interaction with a service member, they may say, “Hey, it’s something that I can do or my child can do.” We’re all about sustaining the force and building the force. So, I think that bridging the gap between civilians and soldiers definitely could be truly beneficial to us, even to the country.

The media does what the media does, and they push out negative stories. But you rarely see a soldier that’s being highlighted for doing something good. But civilians, you see them on the news all the time … highlights on this person and that person. But you rarely see a service member being shown in a positive light.

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

We exchanged phone numbers. We didn’t call each other, though. I probably need to call her today or send her a text!