Veteran uses film to make impact

Army Veteran George Ohan. (Photo courtesy of George Ohan)

As he struggled to adjust to civilian life, George Ohan found the answer to his problems in a film studio in Fresno.

Ohan’s struggle started after he was relocated from Germany to the United States immediately following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Ohan, who served with the M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank Gunner in Germany, found himself in a new role as the Army made adjustments because of 9/11. 

“The Army started moving people around in different places,” Ohan said. “The military started saying ‘we need a 1,000 sergeants to be drill sergeants. Then we need 1,000 more sergeants to be recruiters, we need 10,000 sergeants to be infantry trainers because we’re going to start training up like 30,000 more soldiers.’”

Ohan was taken from Germany back to the United States, where he would work as a recruiter.

“They were like ‘He’s a young sergeant. He’ll be able to identify and connect with the young community,’” Ohan said.

Ohan’s ability to speak Armenian and Arabic also made him the ideal recruiter.

“Because I speak foreign languages, they brought me to Southern California, where there is a large Middle Eastern community,” Ohan said.

For Ohan, however, connecting with civilians turned out to be more difficult than he anticipated. 

“The Army does a really good job with training you and they hold up their end of the bargain. But when you come home it’s like ‘Hey that’s not our problem. We don’t know how to undo that,’” Ohan said. “There’s no real reintegration. There’s no type of resiliency training.”

Ohan, who is used to stern interactions in the Army, sometimes finds it difficult to interact with civilians without making them think he’s a jerk. Other times, Ohan gets frustrated because too many civilians don’t know the right way to approach a veteran.

Army Veteran George Ohan in the studio. (Photo courtesy of George Ohan)

As the stress continued to mount, Ohan initially didn’t know where to turn.

“There’s no tools given to you to help you like ‘Hey this might happen or this might happen and this is how you can deal with it,’” Ohan said.

What helps Ohan deal with his problems is helping others. What helps him help others is mainly film production.

“I realized that the power of film is you get to tell your story from your perspective. The way I approached it was, I’m not doing it for me,” Ohan said. “I’m just a guy that holds the camera, but I want to tell your story. I want to be the cheerleader, the best promoter of somebody else’s story. I want to make one film and I want 10,000 people to say ‘Wow that really helped me.’”

His journey into film began after many unsatisfactory jobs, including one as an IT specialist.

“I was an IT specialist making $80,000, but that was stupid,” he said. “I felt inadequate there, so that’s what inspired the film thing.”

Ohan took classes at KP 1 studios in Fresno, then moved to Hollywood to learn some more. As he continued to study film, he realized that Hollywood movies are exaggerated and hardly capture a realistic image of everyday life.

In producing his own films, Ohan found the power to show a real-life portrayal of everyday people. Especially when it comes to veterans, Ohan set out to capture the “grit.”

“[Veterans] bounce back,” Ohan said. “It’s a tough group of people. Not tough muscle tough, but tough mentally.”

Ohan grows increasingly frustrated as he sees society’s misunderstanding of veterans.

“These veterans are not the same as they were when they first signed up and there’s no understanding,” he said. “The government doesn’t seem to understand what a veteran is really going through. They put a bandaid on a gunshot wound. They’re like ‘Oh, this guy is really hurt, so here is some pills.’ It’s not fair to that group of people.”

(Photo courtesy of George Ohan)

In his everyday life, Ohan is approached by people who want to thank him for his services. Still, that doesn’t satisfy him.

“When you say thank you for your service, what do you mean by that?” Ohan said. “We get responses like ‘Thank you for being in the Army, for going to war for me and thank you for my freedom.” But that’s offensive to me. You don’t even know what it means. You’re trying to say thank you, but do you actually mean it? You mean thank you that my friend died? You mean thank you that I had to sleep outside for 18 months? Thank you that I didn’t see my kid born? What part are you thanking me for?”

The important thing, Ohan said, is for people thanking a veteran by making a difference in the community.

“The way you say thank you for your service is by doing something positive in the community,” Ohan said. “Volunteer at the VA hospital, read some books to kids, go feed the homeless.”

When people show interest in building a strong community, Ohan feels that the veterans’ sacrifice is paying off. Otherwise, he feels that his friends died for nothing. 

In his films, Ohan recruits veterans and many other groups to take part. The subject of his films also reach beyond veterans’ issues.

“We have diverse groups, always giving a chance to somebody that wouldn’t have a chance to be in that film,” Ohan said. “The content of the film is something like somebody with cerebral palsy or young stroke victims. We’re bringing awareness to different types of medical issues that happen in the United States. It doesn’t have to a veteran issue on the film.”

One place where Ohan has seen a strong relationship between veterans and civilians is Clovis. Ohan especially credits Lorenzo Rios, Clovis Veterans Memorial District CEO who is a retired lieutenant colonel.

“Clovis is innovative. Clovis is leading the way,” Ohan said. [Rios] is a visionary.”

Looking ahead, Ohan sees an even brighter future for the Clovis veterans’ community.

“We’re going to get robotics programs going with veterans. We’re going to get technology going,” Ohan said. “We’re not building something that we want in Clovis today. We’re building something that our children’s children will want. We’re trying to think 100 years ahead. What would they want coming out of this building? What would they want done here at the Veterans Memorial District?”

Tomas Kassahun :