Noam DeGuerre served 6 ½ years in the 75th Ranger Regiment where he was an assaulter as well as a Team and Squad Leader. He was a MOUT and CQB Instructor. Upon leaving the Army he worked as a PMC (Private Military Contractor) where he worked in Principle Protection and trained foreign military’s in counter terrorism operations. Now he works in the private sector as a Military Consultant, his largest client being a large video game production company as an Authenticity Adviser.
Justin Sloan: Thank you for agreeing to share your experience, Noam. To get us started, what did you do in the military? Why did you join and did you feel you got out of it what you expected?
Noam DeGuerre: I was an 11B (Infantryman) with the 75th Ranger Regiment. Rangers are primarily tasked with large scale raids. Our bread and butter are airfield seizures and the capture of large facilities, but with the wars of the past 13 years we have added several capabilities to our repertoire. I was an assaulter before moving to our reconnaissance element. I joined for a number of reasons, partly to get out of the small town I grew up in and see the world and partly to do what I felt was my duty. Most of the men in my family had served in the Armed Forces, so it was a bit of a family tradition. Also the men that were my mentors had predominantly been Rangers or Special Forces, so I had a pretty heavy draw to the Special Operations community. It also helped that it was peace time when I enlisted. I had a pretty good idea of what to expect, as much as a 17 year old can have. I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy path, but I wasn’t looking for easy and knew it would be fulfilling. As for getting out of it what I expected, like anything in life, you get out of it what you put in it. I was very fortunate to be a Ranger, it afforded me the opportunity do many things I never would have been able to do anywhere else, and I took advantage of every second.
JS: When you were preparing to leave the military, did you know what you wanted to do? What was the transition like?
ND: I honestly hadn’t given any thought to it. I didn’t plan on leaving the service. My intent had been on serving a full 20 year career. But that turned out not to be in the cards. I ended up crushing 4 disks in my spinal cord, as well as herniating 2 disks and slipping 2 disks, that and a collection of other nominal injuries saw the end to career in uniform. So when the decision was made for me to separate from the Army I had to make some decisions relatively fast. I was pretty angry for a while about having to leave the job I loved. That’s why I started contracting. I hadn’t lost my commitment to “Sparkle Motion” but I had to find a new “Dance Team.” For me the transition was a little awkward, I was playing it a little fast and loose while I figured out what civilian life was going to be like for me. It took some growing pains before I settled into my post service life comfortably.
JS: Somewhere along the line you started consulting for games, correct? Can you tell us how this started?
ND: The Phrase “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” comes to mind when trying to describe my start as a consultant, although in my field it’s most definitely about what you know. I had a friend that is a writer and editor, she knew a little about my military service and wanted to chat a little and pick my brain, to see what my experiences in the service and war were like, so she could have a better understanding for her own writing. She’s the one that syuggested I start consulting. Through her I was introduced to other writers who were looking for a military consulant or just someone with my knowledge base to bounce ideas off or get opinions. She was also the one that gave me my indroduction to the gentleman who ushered me into the gaming community. I really owe her everything for getting me into this kind of work.
JS: What is it about you that made you right for this role? Did you do anything specific when you were in the military that directly translated?
ND: Well for my role, it’s really all about the knowledge base. Unfortunately, not every service member is going to come away with the skill set and information a Ranger or other SOF soldiers are. So for consulting it keeps us in a small pool. Special Operations Forces don’t even make up 1% of the Armed Forces, so it leaves us uniquely suited. A lot of my work is based off of our basic skill sets in weapons manipulation. Designers are very aware of the scrutiny they are under to “get it right” as far how we operate a given weapon system. So all the hours on the range, in MOUT sites, in the field and perform “dry drills’ on my own are still paying dividends. Let alone all the other information and skills I gather attending schools and operating down range, helps to provide the designers all the information I can shed light on for them to produce the best results. Whats helped me the most were the skills I developed as an Instructor, being able to not only preform the task, but explain not just the how but the why and put it into context for others to others, has been the real gem of my consulting work.
JS: What about after you left the military, did you attend school or do any sort of training related to games?
ND: Not specifically, I majored in International Studies with a focus in the Middle East. And to be quite frank I loathe computers. My studies in university much like with the military just help to give me a base of knowledge the designers and writers can use to put out a better product.
JS: Do you have any advice for other military veterans that may wish to be involved in games in a similar capacity?
ND: The best advice I have is pretty much universal. Network and socialize with the people and communities you want to be a part of. It’s much easier to break into a field when you know people and can learn from their experiences, which also helps in finding the right place for you. The only other piece of advice I have is to put the work in, if you really want to do something, then you need to lace up your boots and get to work, add to your knowledge base and don’t stop learning. The environment is ever changing and growing and it’s always best to stay ahead of the curve, because if you don’t someone else will, and its hell catching up.
JS: What was the actual work like? Were you reading script and providing comments? In the room with the video game developers and simply having conversations?
ND: It’s a bit of everything. I can be brought in to discuss certain technical things, or to be put in a Mo-cap suit and preform all manner of drills. It really runs the gamete. For me the medium in which I’m needed matters very little, I’m there to provide the authenticity they need in whatever format suits them best.
JS: How do you feel about military representation in games? Do they get it right and if not, how could they improve?
ND: Yes and no, games much like movies are always going to struggle to completely capture an experience like war. When you jump out of a plane in a video game everything happens fairly quickly with the whole jump taking a minute or two at the most. I don’t think anyone wants a game where you sit around in your parachute and gear for a few hours, then for the 14 or 18 hours in the aircraft for jump at 500ft that’s almost over from the time you exit the door until your boots hit the ground. I don’t think we will ever see weapons malfunctions or jams in gaming and that’s probably for good reason. Nor the black magic it sometimes takes to even get your radios to work. These are common experiences in war but would leave broken controllers and keyboards all over living and bed rooms in this country. I think for the most part the job is done right, although a little more attention could be paid to how much ammo a soldier actually does carry, and how rare re-supply is, but I’m pretty sure gamers would riot if that happened,
JS: Have you interacted with many other veterans who work in games? Has the network helped you at all in this career?
ND: I’ve worked with a few, the company I work for has about 5-10 of us. The veteran community helps me more when I begin to advise a little out my experience base. Life in the 75th is very different from what life is like in the regular Army or other branches. It wasn’t until I got out that I learned how many miles apart my experiences were to other fellow service members in the regular Armed Forces. So in that regard having a network of fellow vets has been incredibly beneficial.
JS: If you could give one piece of advice for a service man or woman preparing to leave the military, what would that be?
ND: Have a plan and stick to it. Life out of uniform can be a bit bewildering at first, civilian life does not operate the same way and can take some adjustment. Also prepare to work from the bottom up again, many of the things on your jacket that will go on a resume will have little to no meaning to someone who has never served. So be prepared to put the work in, you have experiences and knowledge that others in the workforce/school don’t have to put it to use.
JS: Thank you again, Noam. Before we sign off, do you have a last piece of advice for anyone out there looking to break into the gaming world?
ND: Have fun with it. It’s a rare and unique opportunity, one in which I never thought I would have. So savor it. And try to make as many friends as possible, it’s quite rewarding.
For Noam’s interview and others like his, see my ebook Writing Video Games, an excerpt from the full book Creative Writing Career: Becoming a Writer of Movies, Video Games, and Books.