April 15, 2014 —
EAST FARMINGDALE, N.Y. - The Soldiers of the 1st Battalion 69th Infantry aren't Navy SEALs, but now they've played them on TV.
Nine members of the battalion were among the 18 members of the New York Army National Guard who supported a Universal Studios television show, "State of Affairs," during filming on April 3.
The show is due to air on NBC TV this fall.
The program stars Katherine Heigl - famous for her roles in the TV show "Grey's Anatomy" and the movies "Knocked Up" and "27 Dresses" - as a CIA agent. It will be a high-intensity thriller, heavily focused on operational maneuvers, said Sam Glenn, the show's military and technical adviser.
The pilot was being filmed in the New York City area, which is home to many TV productions.
Along with the infantry Soldiers, the TV production company used a UH-60 Black Hawk and four-member crew based at Army Aviation Support Facility 1 in Ronkonkoma, and four members from the New York Military Forces Honor Guard to lend reality to the TV story. The 69th Infantry also provided Humvees and Light Medium Tactical Vehicles to "dress the set."
For the purposes of the TV show, the Army Guard infantrymen portrayed Navy SEALs exiting the helicopter instead of an Army unit.
"It was really cool to work on a show that's going to be on an actual TV network. All of the guys had a good time especially since a lot of them have never been in a Black Hawk before," said Sgt. Herbet Gomezmaldonado, a member of B Co. from Central Islip,N.Y.
The Honor Guard team, which portrayed a military color guard during a funeral, was filmed at Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale. The bulk of the shooting involving New York National Guard members took place during a 12-hour session at Republic Airport in East Farmingdale.
The Guard Soldiers worked closely with production crews and costume staff as they meticulously tweaked details to ensure accuracy.
For the Army Guard aviators it was business as usual. They were asked to fly the UH-60 into a hover, do a 180-degree turn, and taxi into position. They also shot a third scene in which they landed at night and the 69th Soldiers, costumed as SEALS, exited the aircraft.
This is something they'd all done before in Afghanistan or Iraq, said Chief Warrant Officer John Seeger, a pilot from Center Moriches, N.Y.
The infantrymen executed a standard air assault drill as they exited the helicopter.
"It was fun to use what I learned in Air Assault School for something other than the military. It's good to know that some of the skills they give us here can apply to the civilian world," said Sgt. Anthony Olivari, a member of Company F, 427th Forward Support Battalion, from Brooklyn.
Television production companies come to the Department of Defense, and the National Guard in particular, for assistance in providing equipment and personnel because "there is nothing more authentic than using the real thing," explained Russell Maheras, the National Guard Bureau's expert on working with TV and movies.
The military wants to help Hollywood get it right, but the rules about when the military can provide equipment and personnel are strict, Maheras said.
"We do our best to be very selective," he said. "Support must not interfere with the unit's mission, must come it no additional cost to the government, and must be accurate - even for programs that are primarily fictitious."
"In addition, visible National Guard portrayal is also an important deciding factor, as is whether or not the production is fully funded by a studio or network and is scheduled to have national distribution," he added.
Before the National Guard Bureau, and the New York Army National Guard, agreed to support the TV show, Maheras negotiated with the studio's lawyers and producers to ensure that the New York National Guard was reimbursed the $25,000 it cost to support the TV show. This covered the cost of three hours of helicopter flight time, Soldier pay, and additional supporting cost.
He also insisted that the New York National Guard gets mentioned in the script.
In the scene leading up to the helicopter landing, one of the actors will mention New York's 3rd Battalion 142nd Aviation.
"I have the JSOC (Joint Special Operations Commander) on the phone with command center - tell them, his guys and the third of the 42nd are RED CON 1."
The sequence culminates in the SEAL team being airlifted into Somalia to execute a daunting night rescue of a key figure (or figures), whose identifies are left purposefully undisclosed to maintain suspense.
The helicopter's tactical maneuvers were dead on, they were accurate and looked good on film, Glenn said.
This type of work is nothing new to the show's director Joe Carnahan, whose work includes NBC's current thriller, "The Blacklist."
"The movie business is just like being in the Army, " joked Spc. Evelio Garcia, a Soldier from D Co. 1-69th who lives in Selden, N.Y. " You spend a whole day waiting to get something productive done."
"It was a pleasure to be a small part in the filming of 'State of Affairs', said Chief Warrant Officer Robert Hansen, a 3rd 142nd member from Patchogue. "It was great to showcase some of Army aviation's capabilities, especially on prime time TV," he added.
Being on TV and in the movies is nothing new for New York National Guard members. Soldiers from the 1-69th appeared in the Will Smith science fiction thriller "I Am Legend" and Airmen from the 106th Rescue Wing are portrayed in the movie "The Perfect Storm."
And of course the 69th Infantry itself is one of the stars of the 1940 Jimmy Cagney movie "The Fighting 69th."
"Knowing that I was a part of an event like this, that millions of people are going to see, is really exciting and exhilarating," Seeger said.
Another production, the recently released blockbuster "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," had assistance from the Air National Guard, Maheras said.