ENLISTED/IAVA Contest Winner: Lewis Nelson

3 02 2014

EnlistedLogoENLISTED on Fox and IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) teamed up to send three lucky winners to some Super Bowl parties in the New York area with some of the show’s stars. Lewis Nelson was one of those people. I was eager to know about this wonderful veteran and his adventure.

IAVAI noticed that you were part of the 101st Airborne Division of the Army. That has such a noble history going back to World War II. How did you become part of this division? Is it someplace you apply to or some place you are asked to join based about your skills?

The Army always tells soldiers assignments are based on the “Needs of the Army.” That being said, every soldier can fill out a sort of ‘wish list’ of assignments they’d like to have. It’s not a specific unit, but a base or geographical area. I majored in history in college and for one of my WWII class assignments, I wrote a paper on the Battle of the Bulge, particularly the role of the 101st Airborne Division. Ever since then, I’ve been fascinated with the unit, especially after reading Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers (later released as an HBO miniseries). I put Fort Campbell, KY, as my top choice and luckily they were in need of a junior solider in my career field!

IMG_2757

Parker Young, Lewis Nelson, Geoff Stults

You are a combat veteran so you have seen action I presume in Iraq and/or Afghanistan? How many times have you been deployed?

Yes, I deployed twice to Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division. I first arrived to the unit in 2003 after they had already departed for Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom I or OIF I). I joined them near the end of that deployment mainly participating in convoys and redeployment operations (the process of moving a deployed unit from combat back to their garrison base). I returned in early February 2004, almost exactly 10 years ago today. Later that year, the 101st Airborne created a 4th brigade combat team flagged the 506th Regimental Combat Team (Currahee). This was the same unit that was featured in Band of Brothers. I volunteered to join the new brigade and in late 2005 deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, for a full 12-month tour, returning in November of 2006 (OIF IV). I was medially retired from active duty as a staff sergeant (SSG) (E-6) in 2008, but have also deployed to Afghanistan twice as a civilian, for six months in 2012 to Kabul and four months in 2013 to Jalalabad (I just returned mid-December 2013).

IMG_2760

James Marsden & Lewis Nelson at the Shape Magazine and Men’s Fitness Super Bowl Party at Cipriani 42nd Street

Did you have family at home while you are deployed? I have family in various branches of the Armed Forces and it has always been difficult to see the sacrifices they make at home while their loved one is away.

The quick answer is yes. When I left for Iraq in 2003, my son was only two weeks old. Leaving him was hard, especially with all of the unknowns that first year of conflict in Iraq. When I deployed the second time, we also had a little girl, who was only six months old when I left. I unfortunately missed her learning to crawl and learning to walk, but through the beauty of the internet, I got to see it virtually! Their mother is true hero to me. She’s been so strong, able to essentially handle being a single-mother every time I leave the country. She also stayed at home with all three of our kids during my two tours to Afghanistan. To further prove she’s a hero, she’s now a volunteer firefighter and training to become a paramedic.

IMG_2762

Geoff Stults, Lewis Nelson, Erin Wilkinson, Craig Washington & Parker Young at the Shape Magazine and Men’s Fitness Super Bowl Party at Cipriani 42nd Street

How did you hear about the ENLISTED contest?

I follow @EnlistedonFOX and the main actors of the show on Twitter and saw the contest advertised by the cast. I’ve also been an avid supporter of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), who helped sponsor the contest, so I may have seen it through one of their tweets as well.

IMG_2765

Terry Crews & Lewis Nelson at the Shape Magazine and Men’s Fitness Super Bowl Party at Cipriani 42nd Street

Did you watch the show prior to this?

Ironically, I was almost a vocal dissident of the new show when they started advertising it. I fully assumed the show would mischaracterize the service, and I didn’t want to watch. But then I heard Geoff Stults talk to a Washington, DC, morning show, Elliot in the Morning, and was impressed with what he had to say. After being convinced the show was making a great effort to support the military, I gave it a shot and loved it! I immediately followed the show and their main characters on Twitter; I even downloaded the ENLISTED iPhone app and wrote a short review of the show on my own, very neglected blog http://baghl.com/2014/01/20/heres-why-i-couldnt-hate-enlisted-on-fox .

IMG_2776

Craig Washington, Lewis Nelson & supermodel Bar Refaeli at the Leather and Laces 2014 Super Bowl Party, Liberty Theater, Times Square

When did you learn you had won and what was your and/or your family’s reaction?

I received a phone call from IAVA just after lunch-time on Wednesday, the day after the contest ended. Funny story, I actually thought the contest included a trip to the Super Bowl. Some of the initial tweets about the contest made it seem like the contest included the game. I even jokingly tweeted that I’d definitely win since I didn’t like either team! When I got the call from Christina at IAVA, someone I had actually worked with at an IAVA event in Baltimore back in 2011, I just remember saying, “No way, really? I actually won?” It was my birthday that Saturday and I already had plans with my best friends to go to Atlantic City, so I had the mixed emotions of happiness, combined with the “oh no, what about my other plans?” Luckily my friends were excited for me, and we all decided to reschedule our Atlantic City trip. I was still pretty excited after getting the email from Christina confirming it did not, in fact, include tickets to the Super Bowl.

IMG_2777

Model and actress Brooklyn Decker, Craig Washington, & Lewis Nelson at the Leather and Laces 2014 Super Bowl Party, Liberty Theater, Times Square

Were you the only winner or did they pick others?

There were three winners, all of us Iraq or Afghanistan veterans that are no longer on active duty.

IMG_2785

Nelly performing at the Playboy Super Bowl Party at the Bud Light Hotel

Had you been on active duty how would that have worked? Because it was a special event, would you have asked for special leave of absence, or something else?

All three of the contest winners are civilians, but if it had been military, we would have just told our leadership about the contest and requested leave. Unless there was some crazy circumstance, almost any command would willingly authorize the time off!

IMG_2792

Wristbands from Leather and Laces, the Maxim Big Game Weekend Super Bowl Party at eSpace, and the Playboy Super Bowl Party at the Bud Light Hotel

Had you ever been to New York City before?

This was my fourth trip to New York City, with all three prior trips being focused on hitting all of the tourist sites. My first and second trips to New York City were in 2000 and 2001, so I visited the World Trade Center prior to 9/11 and then again in December of 2001, while I was on leave from basic training for Christmas (I enlisted the day after 9/11). I also took my two girls to the city just last June. I absolutely love New York City, the culture, the city, the restaurants, and the events. Now that I realize I can get there and back for $60 on a bus from Washington, D.C., I may be going back more often! It helps that I have a cousin and a few friends in the immediate area.

IMG_2725

ESPN First Take

Who picked you up from the airport (or did you rent a car to get to the hotel?)

The contest included round-trip airfare on Southwest Airlines provided through IAVA. Being so close here in DC, I didn’t see a reason to fly. I instead came up a day early (I booked a room at the same hotel IAVA provided for Friday through Monday) and took the DC2NY bus. While IAVA provided instructions for how to get from the airport to the hotel, we were pretty much on our own to get there and be ready at the hotel lobby Friday night.

IMG_2729

Cam Newton at the ESPN First Take filming

Can you share which Super Bowl parties you attended?

Sure! The Shape Magazine and Men’s Fitness Super Bowl Party at Cipriani 42nd Street, Leather and Laces 2014 Super Bowl Party hosted by Bar Refaeli and Brooklyn Decker at Liberty Theater, Times Square, the Maxim Big Game Weekend Super Bowl Party at eSpace, and the Playboy Super Bowl Party at the Bud Light Hotel.

IMG_2731

Desean Jackson at the ESPN First Take filming

Were there any standout experiences for you?

Hanging out with Geoff and Parker was definitely a great time, so let’s just assume that was the best experience in itself. Other highlights included a five-minute conversation I had with Terry Crews about football and the military (he’s really a stand-up guy), and then a very similar five-minute conversation with Brooklyn Decker. She is definitely a supporter of the troops, and I got to talk to her about some of her time on the show The League, which is one of my favorites.

Many of the celebrities we met throughout the night, including Terry Crews, James Marsden, Ari Sandel, Josh Hopkins, Brooklyn Decker, and Bar Refaeli, were very supportive of the troops and happy to meet us. We felt very welcomed in the VIP sections of these parties, places I never imagined I would ever be sitting. It was a far cry from a plywood tactical operations center adjacent to Sadr City in Baghdad.

IMG_2751

A T-shirt ESPN First Take gave out depending on which team they wanted to win.

Who from the cast of ENLISTED were with you? What are they like?

It was just Geoff Stults (SSG Hill) @geoffstults and Parker Young (PFC Hill) @parker_young. We were also accompanied by two of Geoff’s friends who were also wonderful people! I was just telling my best friends at home Geoff and Parker were just like most of my other guy friends and if they lived here, and weren’t celebs, we’d likely be friends. Both are very personable and fun to talk to about life, military, their show, etc. They were really great around their fans (who often recognized them on the street and asked for pictures) and also wonderful about introducing us to people and explaining we were Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. And of course, just like the show, Parker is definitely just like a younger brother to Geoff! I actually feel bad because I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to Parker at the end of the night – if you’re reading this, thanks for the fun evening brother!!

How long was the trip, from the trip day up to the return day back?

I didn’t necessarily follow the program because I came up a day early and then left a day early. The contest itself provided a hotel from Friday to Monday, with the activities starting at 9 pm Friday night through 2 am Saturday morning. One of the other vets and I actually stayed with Geoff and Parker until 4 am before catching a taxi back to the hotel. IAVA provided the transportation, hotel, vehicle and driver for the night, and met us at the hotel Friday night to make the introductions. Saturday through Monday we were provided a hotel room and just encouraged to go enjoy being in New York City! Since the contest didn’t include game tickets, and since I’m not a Denver or Seattle fan (Go Packers!!!), I actually took the bus back to DC and watched the game with my friends in Virginia.

IMG_2791

Lewis Nelson, Geoff Stults & Craig Washington saying goodbye after a night of Super Bowl parties (4:00 a.m. by the way)!

The show has gotten some feedback from people on the internet in the service who are upset that it is not respecting the Army (for a wide variety of reasons). What would you say to them?

I was one of them, but I changed my mind. The actors attended a short boot camp at Ft Bliss with actual drill sergeants they could watch on FOX’s YouTube channel through a series of webisodes. They also have a crew including multiple military advisors—both former commissioned officers and non-commissioned officers—who joined the show after the Pilot episode (so I’d tell them not to judge the show on the Pilot alone). They also have to remember this show is a comedy and I’d hope they can look past the obvious parts of the plot that would never happen in the military and focus on the characters. If they were straight male soldiers, I would point out the fact that they could just enjoy Angelique Cabral as SSG Perez—she’s definitely one of my favorite parts of the show! The show has already hit a few topics very close to home, even for me… such as the more subtle signs of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) shown in “Pete’s Airstream” or the sadness and joy of family separation and reuniting from combat deployments shown in the episode “Homecoming.” There are also quite a few comical moments many soldiers should instantly relate to from garrison life. Finally, I would encourage them to watch the show because the show’s writers and producers, Kevin Biegel and Mike Royce, really respect the military. They and the cast are working with veterans’ organizations, such as Operation Gratitude and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, to support the troops and help raise awareness for military issues.

(You can help support these great organizations by clicking on the links above or below).

Biography

armyLewis Nelson is a 36-year old former Army staff sergeant with two combat tours to Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division. He enlisted in the Army in Charlottesville, VA, the day after 9/11 and served seven years active duty as a cryptologic linguist before being medically retired in 2008. He is a father to three children age 10 and under and now resides back in Charlottesville, VA, where he works as a DoD employee and freelance web designer and social media strategy consultant. In addition to supporting IAVA, he is also an active member and webmaster for an American Legion Post and is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). You can follow Lewis in Twitter at @lewisnelson or Instagram @baghl

All pictures were provided by Lewis Nelson and I wish to thank him for letting me borrow them for the blog post. 


Actions

Information

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




%d bloggers like this: