A buzz shot through the Washington offices of the Labor Department’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service late one September day when the staff learned that he was coming for a meet and greet.
The he was Marine veteran R. Lee Ermey – an iconic figure in military circles. Ermey served 11 years in the Marine Corps, including a stint as a drill instructor. Ermey arrived in Vietnam in 1968, spending 14 months attached to Marine Wing Support Group 17 and completing 2 tours in Okinawa. I could relate to him as I served with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam about that same time.
If his military record wasn’t impressive enough, Ermey portrayed tough drill instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in “Full Metal Jacket,” Stanley Kubrick’s gripping 1987 drama about the Vietnam War. According to Ermey, he was only a technical adviser at first, but Kubrick put him in the film after witnessing his extended hair-raising drill instructor tirade towards several soldier extras. Ermey’s performance won critical raves and he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award as Best Supporting Actor. He has since appeared in a variety of films and television shows − including as the voice of plastic army men leader Sarge in the “Toy Story” films − and is the author of a soon-to-be-published fitness guide.
Of course, Ermey hadn’t come just to meet with us! The real reason he had come to the Labor Department was to record several public service announcements that will be distributed to broadcast outlets nationwide to be played on and around Veterans Day. Two of the PSAs are designed to encourage employers to hire veterans as well as how to find help in doing so. In a PSA for veterans and transitioning service members, Ermey shares how American Job Centers can help with career counseling, writing a resume and finding a job.
Ermey graciously posed for photos with each veteran in our office, making small talk and asking what branch they had served in. When he was getting ready to leave, I presented Ermey with a VETS pen and pencil set in appreciation of his work. I thanked him for his time and effort on behalf of all veterans. Ermey told me he recorded the PSAs pro bono because, “if veterans need my help, I’ll be there.”
Keith Kelly is the assistant secretary of labor for veterans’ employment and training.