ABC News’ Producer Angel Canales and Editor Arthur Niemynski report:
U.S. Army Sergeant Don’re Walker says he knew he wanted to be a filmmaker from a very young age.
“I’ve been writing since I was a child and it has always been my goal and dream to be a filmmaker,” Walker said.
He grew up in the Los Angeles area and he would write stories and poems and attended various writing workshops. But he put his dreams on hold in 2001, when he joined the U.S. Army Reserves at the age of 18.
“It was an opportunity for me to go through college and see the world,” he said.
He was deployed to Iraq in 2006 and again 2008 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was later transferred into a public affairs unit, where he worked on media projects until he retired from active duty. He said he loved being a filmmaker so much that after his first deployment, he used the money he saved during that time to buy a camera.
Two deployments and being far away from his family wasn’t easy, Walker said. “My first deployment was very tough. I had my daughter when I was in Fallujah and I didn’t get to see her until she was 3 month old and it was hard because I was really young,” he said.
When he returned from Iraq, he didn’t think there was much support for troops. “I would see the yellow ribbons on people’s cars,” he recalled. “It felt like it was more for marketing and you would ask people why they wear the yellow ribbon and they didn’t know.”
Yellow ribbons show support for military service men and women at war and it is a sign of hope that a loved one will return home safe.
Walker got the opportunity of a lifetime this year to produce a film about the meaning of yellow ribbons as part of ABC’s annual “Home for the Holidays” campaign. ABC put out a call for story submissions and selected five U.S. veterans with aspirations to work in the entertainment industry.
They were selected to create digital short films that are thematically centered on U.S. veterans coming home this holiday season. Each film is a unique story based on the veteran’s experiences. Four are scripted and one is a documentary. Each film touched on friendship, family, honor and the holidays. The films also pay tribute to the brave men and women with whom the filmmakers served. Support for the “Home for the Holidays” initiative was provided by the veteran organization, Veterans in Film and Television.
Walker’s film is “Yellow Ribbon,” which was inspired by his relationship with his daughter. It celebrates the power of hope.
“It is a great way to thank the families and a great opportunity to bring back the pride we should have in our service members,” Walker said. “There’s so many times we hear about veterans having divorces, or losing families or coming back to broken homes, but we never hear about the families that stand waiting for us, which is our motivation to keep going.”
Walker said his daughter was his muse. “I wanted to show her how much she helped me through my time in the military and how she helped me get back home,” he said.
All five filmmakers had mentors in the process. For Walker it was Wendy Calhoun, writer and supervising producer from ABC’s “Nashville,” and Dwight Little, director of ABC’s “The Practice” and “Free Willy 2.”
“I broke down in tears when I heard I was selected for this project,” Walker said.
“I want families and troops to be able to see the impact that family support has on troops while they are in combat,” Walker said, noting he would like other veterans to see more veterans in the entertainment industry.
He’s currently a military liaison for Columbia College Hollywood, helping veterans pursue their dreams of working the film and entertainment industry.
Walker also has a message for veterans.
“Find out what you want to do, set a goal and push towards it,” he said. “If film is not your path, still set a goal and don’t let anyone discourage you.”
Second Tour is an ABC News digital series profiling the lives of military veterans who are doing unique things in the civilian world, including vets who took on an entrepreneurial venture to create a business, grassroots organization or a second career. For more stories visit http://abcnews.go.com/US/Second_Tour/.