If Got Your 6 and its collaborators have their way, most media outlets’ stereotypical depictions of veterans in film, television, theater, and digital content will be laid to rest, finally.
Five new productions have just earned the organization’s “6 Certified” designation. These designees have been determined to meet a number of criteria that provide viewers with accurate portrayals of veterans as “leaders and civic assets” in American culture and society. You can read more about Got Your 6’s organizational mission in LifeZette’s previous coverage here , but in short, Got Your 6 helps dispel the damaging stereotype of all veterans as “broken heroes.”
A special namesake episode of one of the five designees, “The Gifted,” aired Monday night, November 6, on Fox at 9 p.m. EST/8 p.m. CST. “The Gifted” is a family adventure series set in the X-Men universe. Other newly minted, 6 Certified designees include National Geographic Channel’s “The Long Road Home,” Amazon/Lionsgate’s “The Last Flag Flying,” Netflix/Warner Bro’s “Disjointed,” and Mike Rowe’s Facebook-only series, entitled “Returning the Favor.” (Summaries of the most recent 6 Certified projects appear at the end of this article.)
Written and co-produced by longtime Got Your 6 collaborator Melinda Hsu Taylor, the Monday night episode of “The Gifted” features Thunderbird, a character from the X-Men universe who served as a Marine. During a pivotal flashback scene depicting an attack at a fundraising event staffed by real-life veteran group Team Rubicon, viewers had a glimpse of the character’s life prior to his joining the mutant underground.
In "The Gifted" and in other projects, Taylor goes to great lengths to depict veteran characters — even those with mutant powers — as accurately, realistically, and positively as possible. Her motivation for collaborating with Got Your 6 is not just for professional reasons but is deeply personal.
Her childhood friend, featured on a Newsweek cover years ago, is an Army Ranger who served multiple deployments in the Gulf. When Taylor discovered her friend had narrowly escaped death when a private he was walking with was killed by a sniper, her reaction was shock — followed quickly by relief and gratitude. Her friend's reaction to the incident, in contrast, involved feelings of guilt.
The stark differences in their reactions informed Taylor's work when she was writing and creating military-impacted characters on shows such as "Vampire Diaries," "Falling Skies," "Lost," and, most recently, "The Gifted." When creating characters with military connections, she strives to ensure accuracy and realistic depictions. She takes the extra steps to discover how actual veterans might think, feel, and behave in real (or imaginary) situations.
She has been involved with Got Your 6 since 2013, when she attended its Vetfronts event in Los Angeles. Due in part to what she learned there, she invites veterans to participate on set as actors and consultants — and engages Got Your 6 across different phases of project development for its input and guidance.
In the "Got Your Six" episode of "The Gifted," actual veterans are featured in the show. One offers a calming presence to the angry, pre-leader version of Thunderbird. Another, an amputee, distributes fliers for Team Rubicon. A third, an elderly Vietnam veteran, appears complete with his own, genuine military cap behind a fundraising table. Behind the scenes, Taylor fondly noted the bond the on-set veterans had forged almost instantly, describing it as a "cool and special kinship" and as a "window to a different culture."
Though his status as a veteran was undeniably part of his identity, it didn't tell the whole story.
Taylor, a Chinese-American woman, credits some of her success with writing about characters from different cultures to feeling different herself. She was raised in a small, mostly white town in Maine in the '70s. Not unlike some military members who struggle to re-integrate with their communities when they get home, Taylor felt different— set apart. As a child, she spent much of her time sequestered in her room reading "Lord of the Rings," "Star Wars," X-men comics, and other science fiction and fantasy material (a blue-skinned DC Comics character named Shadow Lass was her favorite).
Reading about the adventures of those fictional characters with differences gave her hope, she said. In sci-fi material, differences were "cool." And in her writing, she celebrates differences, rejects lazy stereotypes, and champions efforts to portray all characters in a believable, realistic way.
Not unlike Taylor, the motivation of Got Your 6's Mark Szymanski for working with the organization is also personal. Szymanski comes from a military family in upstate New York. His father, brother, and multiple nephews are all active or retired Marines.
He notes that as a child, he saw his father as much more than a Vietnam veteran. He saw his dad instead as a volunteer ambulance driver, a baseball coach, and an active community member. Though his status as a veteran was undeniably part of his identity, it didn't tell the whole story.
On the stereotypical "broken hero" image of veterans held by about 80 percent of civilians, Szymanski says, "That perception isn't good for anyone. It isn't good for the veteran to be burdened with that stereotype, and it's not good for a society to fail to see veterans as the leaders and civic assets they are."
Szymanski was reluctant to name a favorite among Got Your 6's newest certified designees. "We're excited about all of them," he said. Mike Rowe's "Returning the Favor" project, however, seemed to strike a chord . "It's gorgeous," Szymanski said, choking up when describing Mike Rowe's Facebook-only "Returning the Favor" project.
As we prepare to honor those who have our country's back, organizations like Got Your 6 have their backs — and ours.
In "Returning the Favor," Mike Rowe, perhaps best known for his "Dirty Jobs" series, travels the country in search of people who are giving back to their communities. He profiles their efforts and then provides them with tools, cash, or other assets so that they can better achieve their goals. In the now-viral and deeply touching pilot episode, seen by more than 12 million people, Rowe features a veteran who established a motorcycle-building program for fellow veterans.
Veteran's Day is this Saturday, November 11, a day that Americans set aside to honor our citizen volunteers who serve in our military to defend our collective liberty. As we prepare to honor those who have our country's back, organizations like Got Your 6 have their backs — and ours. Got Your 6 and storytelling collaborators like Melinda Hsu Taylor are working hard to ensure that our treasured veterans' lives are portrayed not as stereotypical cardboard caricatures, but as the solid community assets that they truly are.
Got Your 6 has announced the following projects have been awarded 6 Certified status (descriptions are courtesy of Got Your 6):
"Disjointed" — Cannabis legend Ruth Whitefeather Feldman (Kathy Bates) employs her newly graduated son and a team of young "budtenders" to help run her Los Angeles marijuana dispensary. The security guard, Carter, is a U.S. Army veteran focusing on successfully reintegrating into civilian society, while grappling with survivor's guilt and PTSD. Carter is written with great humor, creativity, and care, particularly when it comes to his animated, introspective spoken-word poetry pieces. Chuck Lorre Productions, Warner Bros. Television, Netflix.
"The Gifted" — Set in the "X-Men" universe, family adventure series "The Gifted" tells the story of a suburban couple whose lives are rocked by the sudden discovery that their teenage children possess mutant powers. Forced to go on the run, the family seeks help from an underground network of mutants and must fight to survive. Writer Melinda Hsu Taylor attended Got Your 6's Vetfronts event in 2013 and has written veteran characters into her shows ever since. In one of the series' flashback scenes, the character "Thunderbird," a U.S. Marine Corps veteran (and mutant), utilizes the skills he learned in the Corps to protect other mutants from a pipe bomb thrown at them while raising funds for Team Rubicon, a Got Your 6 partner and veteran-led disaster relief organization. 20th Century Fox Television, Marvel Television.
"Last Flag Flying" — Thirty years after they served together in Vietnam, former Navy Corpsman Larry "Doc" Shepherd reunites with his old buddies, Marine Corps veterans Sal Nealon and Reverend Richard Mueller, to bury his son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War. The film follows the men on their journey, realizing along the way the enormity of their shared experience in Vietnam and grappling with its consequences. These veterans are represented as diverse and human, neither heroes nor broken. Amazon Studios, Lionsgate, Big Indie Pictures, Cinetic Media, Detour Filmproduction.
"The Long Road Home" — Based on Martha Raddatz's best-seller, "The Long Road Home" is an eight-part mini-series that chronicles the events of April 4, 2004, when a platoon was ambushed in Sadr City, Baghdad, in an attack that came to be known as "Black Sunday." The series follows the lives of those affected by the events of that day, telling their varied and human stories with kindness and care. Finngate Pictures, Phoenix Pictures.
"Returning the Favor" — Host Mike Rowe travels the country in search of remarkable people  making a difference in their communities, and gives back to those who pay it forward. In the pilot episode, he visits a garage in Indiana to surprise Jason, a former Army engineer, who runs a therapeutic motorcycle-building program for veterans. The episode showcases Jason and his efforts, along with those veterans making use of the program. The veterans profiled are strong and impressive, thoughtful, and, most importantly, human. mikeroweWORKS Productions, Hudsun Media.
Since the launch of the 6 Certified program, 65 projects have been certified, the organization notes — including Warner Bros. Pictures' "Sully,"  Lionsgate's "Hacksaw Ridge," and Universal Pictures' "Jurassic World," as well as episodes and seasons of Netflix's "Marvel's Luke Cage," FX's "Justified," FOX's "Gotham," FX's "Fargo," and ABC's "Modern Family."
Michele Blood is a freelance writer with a passion for children's literature. Based in Flemington, New Jersey, she leverages her background in psychology in her work for publishers, businesses and NPOs.