BLK OPS™ - How a cold day in Columbus, Ohio turned into a Documentary - Part 2

Ruben Ayala

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Time to read 4 min

Author: Ruben Ayala

BLK OPS™ CONCEPT

   In my previous article, I hinted at an intriguing conversation I had with my business partner, Chris McPhee. “What if we interviewed our people in SOF and told their stories and what their service journey meant to them”, Chris eagerly relayed to me and promptly continued;  “Then, just to throw everyone off we name it Black Ops!”  I think my response was, “Yes!”

   The Special Forces Operational Detachment - Alpha is organized around 12 positions.  Since 12 is the magic number we decided to interview 12 African American Veterans who had served in SOF (Special Operations Forces) between Korea to Present; across all services.  The interviews would be accessible to the museum, along with pictures and written text.  This small exhibit would be amplified by our efforts at Triple Nikel on our website for all to see.  This was the initial BLK OPS concept in early May 2023 - too easy!  

   Needless to say that the pitch for BLK OPS™ to the museum went extremely well.  However, as the saying goes, “No plan survives first contact”.  The first idea change was to expand the concept to all underrepresented groups who had served in SOF (Women, Latinos, Asian/Pacific Islanders Americans, Native Americans, Middle Easterners, and African Americans).  The second idea change was to expand the exhibit into 3 short documentaries as it would be easier to digest by the consumer.  I believe that our collective answer was, “Yes!”

ASSEMBLING THE TEAM         

   The first thing we threw out of the window was the concept of 12 subjects because; 1) We quickly realized we did not have the manpower to capture that much content, 2) We did not know that many SOF personnel across all services within those brackets, 3) We never filmed a movie before and 4) We were running out of time!   

   Phase I of our operation revolved around recruiting Veterans that had amazing stories that were uncommon and worth listening to.  The second phase was establishing a Seasonal format that made sense given the subjects we wanted to attract.  Season 1 would air in February of 2024 and focus on African Americans, Season 2 would focus on Women, Asian and Middle Eastern Americans, and Season 3 would focus on Latinos and Native Americans.  

   We knew that creating a team would be vital to the success of this project given its scope and depth.  We started with partnering with key staff from the museum as they would be the curators of the physical exhibit beginning in June 2024.  To solve our problem of access to key subjects we recruited our brother Mike Clark who is a retired 18Z with so much experience under his belt he should be labeled a “Jedi Master” - plus he works at the Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) and is well connected.  Capturing footage and editing would be the bane of our existence so we reached out to our friends at GruntStyle to ask if they wanted to collaborate with us in this project by way of capturing video and editing.  They agreed!

ASSEMBLING HEROES         

   Have you ever tried to convince a former Special Operator to tell their story; because you are curating a museum exhibit and producing a documentary - for the culture?  Let me tell you, recruiting the right people has been the toughest part of this project!  People who have served in SOF tend to be naturally skeptical and when approaching subjects we usually get about 1 minute to get the pitch right.  As an FYI, I never met any of our subjects for Season 1 until we began the process.  Recruiting each individual has been a constant effort of engagement between Chris McPhee, Mike Clark and myself.  

   Ultimately, we decided to keep our subject list to 6 veterans for each Season.  Six became our magic number.  As of today, 10 months after having that conversation with Jennifer Ballou outside of the NVMM, I am proud to report that we are on track to distribute Season 1 of BLK OPS™ (an 8 episode mini documentary) and premier a temporary exhibit at the National Veterans Museum and Memorial sometime in June, 2024.  

   Season 1 will feature veteran SOF legends; Command Sergeant Major (Retired) “Jack” Frost, Major (Retired) James Capers, Master Sergeant (Retired) “Mad Max” Mullen, Command Sergeant Major (Retired) “AC” Coley, First Sergeant (Retired) Shirley Baez, and Chief Master Sergeant (Retired) Robert Zackery.  If you have never heard any of these names before, then BLK OPS™ is a documentary you will want to check out - and if you are in Columbus, Ohio, see the exhibit at NVMM while it is open.

   Tentatively, BLK OPS™ will stream on Amazon Prime beginning on June 19, 2024.  We are currently planning events across the country to showcase the documentary and raise funds for the completion of Seasons 2 and 3.  Yes, you read that correctly - raise funds.  Because we believe in this project and the outcomes they will bear, we funded Season 1 out of our own pockets.  Moving forward, the NVMM will become the collection point for sponsorships and donors.  As of now the best way to help, if you feel led, is by visiting www.blkopsvhp.com.  There you can let us know how you would like to help; 1) Tell your story, 2) Assist with future events, 3) Sponsorship or 3) Donate.  

   Until then, I encourage you to check out the trailer for Season 1 to hear from the subjects themselves.  It is my sincere hope that you are able to connect with each of their stories and journeys, as they are unique and worthy of undivided attention.