Defense Media Network

Act of Valor: Why the Movie Was Made

The story within the story, Part 2 of 3

Now for a truly behind-the-scenes look at Act of Valor. Few websites have as much of an “informed readership” as this one, so the “story within the story” about how Act of Valor came to be made in the first place will resonate with you. It is a story that is as intriguing as the movie and novelization.

Like many things that still affect us today, it started on Sept. 11, 2001, a day that is riveted into the consciousness of all Americans. That day caused a national catharsis and forced civilian and military leaders within the Department of Defense to begin to rethink how to deal with threats to the nation in the 21st century.

As this re-evaluation began to take shape, one thing became immediately apparent: the U.S. Special Operations Command – or SOCOM – would have a vastly more prominent role in dealing with emerging threats to the United States. As explained by Rear Adm. Denny Moynihan, the Navy’s Chief of Information, in a Feb. 19, 2012 article in the New York Times:

Act of Valor

U.S. Navy SEALS are engaged in a personnel recovery mission in Relativity Media’s upcoming release, ‘Act of Valor’. Photo courtesy of IATM LLC Copyright 2011 Relativity Media, LLC

Every four years the Defense Department looks at itself and says, “What is it that you need to be moving forward and where do you think you are?” For the Navy and the SEAL community it was, “Hey, you need 500 more SEALs,” and that launched a series of initiatives to try to attract more people. This film was one of those initiatives.

For the U.S. Navy SEALs, knowing they would have to have 500 more enlisted personnel serving in SEAL teams within five years presented a unique challenge. As all SEALs know, you cannot create SEALs overnight. The U.S. Navy SEALs received an incredibly tough challenge. But true to their nature, they didn’t shrink from that assignment. But how tough an assignment was it?

Given the number of young Americans who are qualified in all respects for military service of any kind, the fact U.S. Navy SEALs are all male, and especially the fact that the rigors of SEAL training result in an attrition rate of over 75 percent of thoroughly-screened candidates for this training, the U.S. Navy SEAL community recognized that it was facing a daunting challenge.

How daunting was this challenge? The average net growth of the SEAL force for the previous decade had been fewer than five new SEALs each year, far short of the 100 new SEALs required annually for five consecutive years in order to reach the Navy’s goal for SEAL manning. To address this challenge, in late 2005, the Navy Special Warfare Command reinvigorated the Naval Special Warfare Recruiting Directorate and charged it with accelerating its efforts to tell the Naval Special Warfare story.  As part of this effort, the directorate reached out to the civilian media community.

Previous efforts in the first half of the decade to tell the SEAL story, while somewhat successful, had been fraught with a number of issues. As Navy SEAL Capt. Duncan Smith explained it to The New York Times, “There’s quite a bit of misinformation in the way movies usually represent us.” In November 2006, the Navy and the Naval Special Warfare community invited production companies to submit proposals for projects where the Navy would grant access to Naval Special Warfare training sites for projects that would support SEAL recruiting. As part of this agreement, all costs needed to be funded by the production company.

Act of Valor

U.S. Navy SEALs open fire on the enemy in “Act of Valor.” Photo courtesy of IATM LLC Copyright 2011 Relativity Media, LLC

It is important to note how unique this outreach was. While the military and the media have worked together on many projects (such as Top Gun, Red Dawn, Men of Honor, and others), for the most part, the military and Hollywood have held each other at arm’s length. As John Anderson explained in his article, “On Active Duty for the Movies (Real Ammo),” in The New York Times:

After a decade of war and with the economy shaky, the services are seeking to remold themselves into a leaner, less-expensive force made up of soldiers capable of special-operations missions involving cyberspace and intelligence. How better to attract those elite fighters than with a film about an elite force? Hence Act of Valor, which is opening Friday, Feb. 24, 2012. It actually originated with the Navy in 2006.

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Captain George Galdorisi is a career naval aviator. He began his writing career in 1978...