Anne Heche & Hadi Tabbal
Ex-Navy SEAL Mikal Vega has turned his military life into an entertainment career, working as a technical consultant on NBC’s hit drama “The Brave.” Co-starring Salute to Service honorees Anne Heche, who plays Deputy Director Patricia Campbell, and Hadi Tabbal (Amir Al-Raisani), the series centers on the dangerous exploits of America’s elite undercover military operators, with the special ops narratives consistently rubbing up against current headlines.
Vega, who will present Heche and Tabbal, with their award at the Jan. 11 event, says, “when Dean Georgaris pitched it, I became interested because he wanted to do something that was realistic. Creative license is taken with certain aspects, but the plot-lines are real-world relevant, and there’s a level of honesty in the show’s depiction of the men and women who serve our country.”
Heche and Tabbal, along with other “Brave” cast members, have become active in the Horses for Heroes organization, which is based out of New Mexico. They are also involved with USO events and activities, including an appearance at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, and at the New Mexico State Fair.
“Anne is a special actress,” says Vega. “She’s got a great heart and she’s completely dedicated. She’s been able to craft an amazing career with very distinctive roles, and she’s been great to work with.”
Some of the actors on “The Brave” required more patience with their combat training than others, but it’s the effort that Vega looks for. “The most improved from where he started to where he finished was definitely Hadi, who plays an intelligence officer. He looked like a librarian at the beginning, and now he’s completely believable. And it’s because he cares as an actor that it all came together.”
Keeping that level of realism is what drives Vega as a technical consultant. “It’s more than just telling people how to hold their weapons. I’ve worked longer on ‘The Brave’ than any other project I’ve landed, and they involve me with script development and shot blocking and various other aspects. They want to get it right, and it’s my job to make sure it looks great on camera.”
— Nick Clement
Stand Up for Heroes
No sooner did Variety’s Salute to Service honoree Caroline Hirsch abandon the world of retail for the world of cabaret, en route to developing the premier brand in New York stand-up comedy, than she began to use her good fortune to pay it forward.
“When you’re brought up in a kind of lower-income home the time when you really have some money to give back, you should give back,” Hirsch says.
She’s organized benefits for everything from the Ms. Foundation to medical charities, demonstrating a heart as big as the mouths of the A-level talent showcased at Carolines on Broadway and in TV specials.
That heart was particularly engaged by a documentary on ABC News reporter Bob Woodruff, whose traumatic brain injury in Iraq occurred during what’s called — interestingly enough — a standup.
The film brought back memories of growing up during the Vietnam War, when soldiers were drafted and pressed into service “because of economics, because they couldn’t afford to go to college,” and of the weekly casualty lists on TV: “21 years old, 19 years old, and it just brought tears to my eyes. I said, ‘I want to do something for all those people who have served us so that we have a safe country.’”
She and partner Andrew Fox approached Woodruff’s wife, Lee, in March 2007 “and we had a benefit in November,” hosted by Conan O’Brien and featuring Robin Williams. Now Stand Up for Heroes has become an annual fall classic, attached to Hirsch’s N.Y. Comedy Festival and attracting top comics and musical artists as well as veterans themselves. It’s a much-coveted night of big laughs, big tears and big money. (Williams autographed one vet’s artificial eyeball in 2012. A day with Bruce Springsteen was auctioned for $300,000 in 2014.)
This year’s 11th edition, at the Theater in Madison Square Garden, racked up a record $6 million for the Woodruff Foundation, and “we’ve raised probably over $45 million since inception,” Hirsch proudly reports.
Salutes to military personnel might seem incongruous from the likes of noted social critics Jon Stewart (“kind of a constant” at the event, says Hirsch), John Oliver and Trevor Noah, all of whom performed this year. But the stars “absolutely worship and adore these people who’ve served,” the producer says.
“Whether or not they make fun of United States policy” — and her chuckle implies there’s plenty to make fun of there — “never, never, the service people. They hold them in the highest regard. … Everybody’s in this for the same reason: to honor these people who have sacrificed for us.”
— Bob Verini
Across Wes Moore’s many roles — Rhodes scholar, White House Fellow, officer of paratroops in Afghanistan, bestselling author and social-change agent — there’s a consistent focus in his belief that “service needs to be the underlying DNA with which we choose to live our lives.” He’s committed to “making others’ lives more meaningful and supported,” and no single constituency has engaged him more than his fellow veterans.
Back from the Middle East, Moore, who will be honored at Variety’s Salute to Service event Jan. 11, recognized “we made promises to these men and women and their families, and we have to honor them.” He quickly became a vocal advocate, serving on the Veterans Advisory Board for the poverty-fighting Robin Hood Foundation and keeping close watch on key issues: the homelessness crisis; academic support for those attending college under the GI Bill; and the special difficulties of female veterans (20% of the total, he reminds us).
One huge barrier, Moore believes, is civilian stereotyping. Since only one in 100 Americans has served (down from one in six in WWII), “it’s very easy to draw misconceptions,” such as seeing soldiers as “these automatons, very good at taking orders and that’s about it.” In fact, everyone who deploys quickly learns that no two days are alike; the resulting need for creative problem-solving turns out “not just remarkable leaders, but remarkable entrepreneurs.”
Equally problematic is the stereotype of returnees as PTSD-suffering substance abusers.
“Everyone who deploys comes back different, but not everyone comes back damaged,” he says. More often than not, their altered view of the world leads to “a power that’s actually forged through the experience.” Military personnel don’t demand anything, they “just want to be heard and seen. They want their stories known.”
Moore has other irons in the fire besides telling veterans’ stories. His monthly show and podcast “Future City,” supported by Prudential and airing on NPR, has been renewed for a second year. It explores how various cities’ innovative solutions might help revitalize Moore’s cherished hometown, Baltimore. He’s six months into his tenure as Robin Hood’s CEO, concentrating on “poverty alleviation and economic inclusion,” while preparing a new book examining “the rise, and rising-up, of the disillusioned.”
Moore says nothing gets in the way of his commitment to his fellow vets. “Just because I took off the uniform does not mean in any way that my service has come to an end. … I pride myself on never forgetting where I came from, and never forgetting the things that got me where I am.”
— Bob Verini
“The Long Road Home”
When Martha Raddatz covered the Pentagon in the 1990s, it was a time of peace. And like so many who grow up during peacetime, a part of Raddatz was hopeful there would never be war again. But unfortunately that was not the case, and in 2003 she became ABC’s senior national security correspondent and began to report exclusively from Iraq. Then in April 2004, the siege of Sadr City took place in Baghdad; this marked a turning point for the kind of contact Raddatz had with the armed forces. The experience changed her personally and careerwise. In 2007, she published “The Long Road Home,” which National Geographic adapted for a scripted limited series a decade later. Now, Raddatz is being honored for her contributions to servicemen and women on Jan. 11 at Variety’s Salute to Service event.
“I had covered famine, natural disasters — stories I will always remember — but this was my first immersive experience in what it was like to go through combat. And I just never thought about not going back again and again to combat zones,” Raddatz says of the siege.
Although Raddatz has decades of reporting under her belt, she says she doesn’t view these things merely as stories that she can just let go after the camera turns off or she flies out of the area.
“For sacrifice and service, I’m not objective, and I don’t think I have to be,” she says. “I am a tough correspondent, but I am also a proud American. I’ve seen what these guys do up close and I’ve seen the effects on them and how they fight through it. They will never be the same, and I will never be the same.”
Raddatz admits that at times the journey with the men and women she met and interviewed for “The Long Road Home” was daunting. She feels a great responsibility to tell their stories properly and in an on-going fashion. Since the book was published 10 years ago, she has checked back in on them frequently. She recently completed a companion docu-series hour to go with the scripted show.
Raddatz also works with the Bob Woodruff Foundation, which helps those who return from battle wounded.
“Sometimes the hardest part about battle is coming home. They’re trained warriors, but they’re not quite trained the same way to recover from these things. My reward is that hopefully more people will see and understand and empathize in a way that’s not ‘Thank you for your service’ but in a way where the service guys can say, ‘Thank you for understanding.’ ”
— Danielle Turchiano
Although Rob Riggle is best known for comedic roles in films such as “Step Brothers” and “22 Jump Street,” as well as in television shows “The Daily Show,” “The League” and “Modern Family,” his first career was of a much more serious nature. Riggle joined the Marine Corps in 1990, staying on as a member of the Reserve for years and that led him back to active duty after 9/11.
“I worked down at Ground Zero moving rubble by hand in the bucket brigade for many, many days,” Riggle says. “I was a captain at the time and had a pretty high security clearance for my job, and I knew they were going to need people — that a battle was coming — and I was mad that all of these people were murdered. So I volunteered to go back into active duty.”
Two and a half months later, Riggle was on his way to Afghanistan, where he worked under Lt. Col. Max Bowers doing public and civil affairs work. Riggle retired from the Marine Corps in 2013, but he still keeps his military connection close.
His work with “The Daily Show” allowed him to travel to Iraq to report on the environment, as well as to perform stand-up for the troops stationed there. He has spoken out about veterans affairs; he serves on the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation board; and just last month he hosted a celebrity golf tournament designed to benefit veterans through the Semper Fi Foundation.
Riggle also portrays his former boss Bowers in Warner Bros.’ upcoming military drama “12 Strong.”
“This story is finally declassified and able to be shared. When enough time goes by, people are ready to talk about [things] and these stories start to get told. Fifteen years later, people are ready to start talking about what happened over there — and what, on some level, might still be happening.”
Just as his time in the USMC helped him grow into a man decades earlier, Riggle credits working on such an important, serious project as “12 Strong” with helping him grow as an actor.
“Throughout my whole life, comedy has been the best release there is. I enjoy joyful things and I enjoy laughing, but I did find when I did these more dramatic roles that, without sounding too corny, I felt like I grew as a performer and as a professional. People are always looking for fascinating stories, and militarily speaking, this is one of the most fascinating stories you’ll hear.”
— Danielle Turchiano