Celebs Who Served: Film and TV Stars Give Back to the Armed Forces

From HBO’s hottest series to the big screen, these service men are becoming leading men.

Rob Riggle. (Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Aug 15, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Mike Dowling is author of Sergeant Rex: The Unbreakable Bond Between A Marine and His Military Working Dog, and cofounder of the non profit Veterans in Film & Television. He is a contributor to Take Part Live’s “Return The Service" campaign honoring the military veteran community.

The passing of Robin Williams this week shocked the nation, and one of the communities that loved him most was the veteran community. The Good Morning, Vietnam star was one of the first celebrities to entertain the troops in Iraq, performing shows in Baghdad in 2003, and he would go on to perform on six more USO tours in more than a dozen countries, including Afghanistan.

Williams joins a short list of celebrities whose commitment and support for the military did not end with a simple “thank you for your service.” As with Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe, and Gary Sinise, his entertainment of the troops spanned years and earned him their love and respect.

Many celebrities have taken the time to express their gratitude and support for the veteran community, and recently a slew of veterans who have become celebrities are giving back.

Actor and comedian Rob Riggle, who was a reporter on The Daily Show and has had comedic roles in the films The Hangover, Step Brothers, and 21 Jump Street, served 23 years in the Marine Corps and retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2013. Riggle is known in the veteran community for his comedic military skits but also for his USO tours. He has also teamed with celebrity friends Paul Rudd, Jason Sudeikis, and other comics to create his own charity, Big Slick Kansas City, which hosts an annual fund-raising event that has raised more than $1 million for the Children’s Mercy Cancer Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Actor Mark Valley, a West Point graduate and a U.S. Army veteran, has starred in Days of Our Lives, ER, and Body of Proof and recently signed on with CSI. When he is not acting he moonlights as a comedian and regularly performs at comedy fund-raisers. His shows have benefited veteran organizations such as the Veterans Program at Volunteers of America. He also works with the Entertainment Industries Council, a nonprofit that promotes the accurate depiction of health and social issues—including veterans’ issues— in film, television, and music. He is a member of SAG-AFTRA’s Armed Forces Committee. His work supporting the veteran community earned him a Veterans in Entertainment Award from the GI Film Festival in 2013.

Jon Huertas is an actor-singer who has appeared in many shows and is known for his roles in HBO’s Emmy Award–winning miniseries Generation Kill and as Det. Javier Esposito in ABC’s Castle. He is an Air Force veteran who is quick to acknowledge his time in the military as having helped him with his success.

“Without my time in the Air Force, I don’t know if I would have been able to accomplish what I have today. That time in my life was important in shaping who I am, so it’s only fair that I continue to lend my support to the U.S. military and its veterans by volunteering and working with organizations and causes like the United Way’s Homeless Heroes Walk, Volunteers of America, and Got Your 6,” Huertas said.

Finally, Adam Driver is an actor who stars on HBO’s Girls and was cast in the upcoming film Star Wars: Episode VII and Martin Scorsese’s Silence. Prior to his work as an actor he served in the Marine Corps, graduating from boot camp five months after 9/11. Driver is a graduate of the Juilliard School in New York City.

“I feel like there were so many reasons that I joined the Marine Corps, and then all those things kind of went away once I started serving with that particular group of guys—all political aspirations or motivations that were there before started to change once I grew to love that group of people,” Driver told GQ magazine in 2012.

Driver has since started his own nonprofit, Arts in the Armed Forces, which produces theatrical and musical performances at military installations and also for mixed military-civilian audiences. Though his career is just budding, he has wasted no time in giving back to the community he once served with.

Troops appreciate the celebrities who show their support, but to know that some of those celebrities have also served has special meaning.