Gate's Good!

On the set of REDACTED:

For those of you who tuned into this blog - thank you. This was the first time I've blogged and besides my formatting issues (special thanks to Tom Penketh of Backstage for correcting many of them) the experience was great.

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The best way to conclude the experience of being in Jordan is to highlight moments that will forever stay with me.

HEARING A .50 CALIBER MACHINE GUN DISCHARGE:

The majority of the crew were at lunch essentially enjoying what was a productive day. There were probably 75+ people on set including many locals dressing the background on the shoot. The moment was a classic one - shamelessly I will say it was right out of the movies.

As we are all enjoying our meal (props to Wael Jabaji and his staff- our meals were tasty and plentiful) talking about the Nets/Raptor series, the movie '300', the Yanks and Sox, playing B.O.M.B (this is a game for true movie enthusiasts - it's sort of a 6 degrees of actors and directors and the movies in which they participated. If you were wrong about whether an actor was in a certain movie or who the director was of said flick you'd get a letter, in this case 'B'. The first one to spell 'BOMB' was out. For the record, there was a solid 10 days where this game was being played. DePalma, O'Neil, Traynor, Kliot, Figueroa, Diaz, valiantly battled the overall champ Daniel Sherman. After several days of listening to this game, it was like Chinese water torture. I hated this game - mainly because I sucked at it) we literally heard a series of loud, powerful explosions that silenced the entire area.

There was a collective 'WHAT THE FUCK.'

The sound came from about 100 yds from where we were eating.

It turns out the military advisors were testing the .50 caliber machine gun. This weapon can be used effectively against personnel (it will split humans in half over 500+ yds away), light armored vehicles, low flying aircraft and small boats. Powerful.

First and foremost, it was completely safe. It was just that most of us hadn't ever heard anything like this - except for the Iraqi refugees on set. The heart jolting power of that weapon was a recent memory void of any mystery.


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LOST IN TRANSLATION:

I had just finished rehearsing a scene where a number of local children were going to be utilized. These children were amazing. On point. Excited about the movie. Listened well. Tough.

When I say tough, I mean it.

From my perspective, it's a hard life in the Middle East. I already have a low tolerance for excuses. And after being in the Middle East (and especially South Africa last year) if you happen to be of the whiny, occasionally spineless, privileged ilk, I can name a couple countries that will straighten that backbone right up. We don't have it so bad on the North American continent.

Now mind you, accountability - absolutely, without question - must be taken into account as to why a large aggregate of the world's population suffer interminably. And if the ruling classes don't straighten up and fly right, the abhorrent exploitation of the world's poor will come full circle.

Back to being tough.

You build a certain armor living in this region and the strong survive. But I never saw anyone void of humanity. No venom was hurled at me because of my citizenship. Now there weren't too many kind words for the Bush administration but these people knew the distinction between leaders and those being led. Their polemic about how the region is governed were clear and cogent.

Forgive me for going off on tangents. But the one thing I will walk away with in my discussions with the local people is the thought that the Israel / Palestinian conflict is NOT largely religious. But rather a political one. I don't mean to oversimplify the issue, but break it down to the very basic: If someone came into your home, forced you to get out without any just reason - would you not fight those who took it from you? Regardless of how you worship, I think one would fight tooth and nail - even to their death - to exact revenge on the aggressors.

My thoughts on the Palestinians and other Arabs in the region are most likely of little use. American policy in the Middle East has been one of keeping the Arabs divided. In my short time (one month) over there, I get the feeling the policy has worked.

My message to the Arab people: Change your tactics. It's clear. There is a double standard when it comes to what you call Occupied Palestine. But instead of using your energy and resources towards an aggressive stance against Israel, use it towards engineering, IT, mathematics, sciences, agriculture, civics - and you will be the shining example to the WORLD on how to honor the legacy of those who were and continue to be brutally mistreated. You are a strong people and even stronger - united.

Which once again brings me back to being tough. Whew.

Some of these kids, particularly the ones who were Iraqi - let me stop once again to clarify.

There are estimates of up to one million Iraqi refugees in Jordan. Many of them are not registered and risk being deported. They still showed up to work - EVERYDAY.

These kids were simply amazing. Many of them, particularly the Iraqi children may have seen more destruction and violence than many of us will see in a lifetime. There were disciplined. Somewhat rigid. Confident. Which made me believe that any trauma they suffered was reinvented or internalized. They didn't look at our weapons and ammo with wonder nor fear, but rather a respect.

I had to shoot a scene where I had to make the kids scatter. Me and a young boy whose name I think was Qazi worked out a moment where I would grab him and shove him away.

Action! I run down a treacherous hill that has a 45 degree angle, full of rocks that are all sizes with 50 pounds of gear on me. I grab the young boy (about 9 or 10) and shove him - way too hard. He goes rolling down the hill hits his head on all kinds of rocks and debris. It was the kind of fall where you want to stop the shoot to check on the condition of the actor. He gets up and runs off. I finish my lines. CUT!

I immediately go to check on Qazi. He comes around the corner of a building he ran behind with dirt and dust all over him. He comes up to me. I am really afraid I hurt him. He brushes his shoulders off and literally gives me a look that says, "...that all you got!"

He's ready for another take.

We finish the remaining takes and I gather up the kids to tell them what a beautiful job they did.

The word for beautiful in Arabic is 'Jamilla'.

From this point, I don't know what happened. Perhaps I was still amazed that Qazi didn't even so much as have a bruise on him. To cut to the chase, I go to give praise to my young fellow castmates and shout - "JIHAD".

I was mortified.

"I mean Jamilla."

The kids came up and hugged me, gave me hi-fives and pounds. I am absolutely sure the "Jihad" didn't register. Rob Devaney looked at me like I had a third eye. "I think you just said, Holy war is beautiful."

I got abused. Deservedly.


JORDAN- THE COUNTRY


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Number one. No night life. None. Nada.

Jordan's day off is Friday. So you would think Thursday night would be off the hook? Nope.

Now I have to admit, I am from NY. Some would say this is not fair. They would be right. This is a country in transition. You can see Jordan is trying to embrace some western influences while keeping their cultural integrity. In my opinion you need 2 things. A middle class. And equity for women. Both require time. Once those really begin to take hold - watch out spring breakers!

But Jordan's number one asset is its people. Service was excellent everywhere, from small shops to higher end restaurants. I felt welcome wherever I went. The people on the set were amazing. I was told that the infrastructure for the film industry was in its infancy in Jordan. Well, I guess they learned to walk before crawling because there were few signs if any that Jordan was lacking in film resources. Fuad Khalil, Lara Atalla, Reem Bandak, Tamir Naber, Phaedra Dahdaleh, Beisan Elias, Mohammad Majali, Hajji Abdulraman, Maggie Kabariti, Tamer Alsalaita, the dog handlers Raed and Issa, and many more scored big points for Jordan. It's a great country in which to film.

It's also a great country to see amazing sights.

The Dead Sea. Petra. I will not do either justice in a blog. Just go to Jordan and visit. You won't forget it.


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HONORABLE MENTION

This one is hard. I am a big sports fan and have always had a problem with MVP awards. This isn't so much an MVP, but rather an observation of some people who I worked with and without whom REDACTED would have met some serious challenges.

Anas Wellman. AKA "Tipsy". (Look him up when you go to Jordan and you will soon find out why he's called 'Tipsy'. This guy is the mayor of Amman. He acted as our defacto tour guide - any bar/restaurant we patronized - they knew him) He was a featured extra playing Pvt. Jones. He and another featured extra, Yanal Kassay, playing Pvt. Smith (also very helpful with making sure the fellas were comfortable in Jordan) participated in Boot Camp with us.

On many occasions we would arrive at places (like the Jordanian Military Base where we had Boot Camp) where there wasn't sufficient communication ahead of time about our arrival. Tipsy would act as our interpreter. Every day for a week something happened at Boot Camp that required translation. Had he not been there we simply would not have been able to do our job.

The others were our Military Advisors Charles Taylor and Scott. Thankfully they were there to make sure virtually every facet of the military featured in this movie was authentic. From things we said to making sure our snakes were in our boots. (shoestrings tucked in)

I can imagine the Art Department on movies of this magnitude could get territorial. To the benefit of the movie they deferred to Scott and Charles to make sure our shit looked right. Hopefully our acting complemented the dedication those two fellas gave us.

In conclusion, REDACTED is going to be much more than just another war movie. Sparks will fly. The gloves will come off. We are talking about a film that will not only promote vigorous dialogue and debate about the ever increasing unstable theatre that our world is today but one that will move people to take action.


All the best, and many thanks.
Ty JonesImg_2402_ty

The Fellas

On the set of REDACTED: Img_2016_4 Izzy Diaz as Pvt. Angel Salazar Img_2015 Patrick Carroll as Pvt. Reno Flake Img_2088crop Kel O'Neil as Pvt. Gabe Blix Img_2036 Daniel Stewart Sherman as Cpl. BB Rush Img_2444 Rob Devaney as Spc. Lawyer McCoy Img_2153 Mike Figueroa as Sgt. Vazques (formally Jim Ross) Img_2622crop Yours truly, as Msgt. Jim Sweet "These sandniggers..." I recoiled a bit when I initially heard the word 'niggers'. Being that 30+ percent of the armed forces are people of color I questioned several soldiers (former and current) about calling people 'niggers' - with or without the 'sand'. (The response of 'nigga' vs. 'nigger' came up. I personally think the 'a' vs 'er' is juvenile. If I say 'trigga' vs 'trigger' does that mean the bullet won't hurt?) Here are some colorful and equally informative responses. One soldier's unit was an eclectic mix of fellas. He said people in the beginning still tended to migrate toward what was familiar. "The NY'ers hung out with the NY'ers. The Southern boys tended to hang with themselves. But the units were made up of people from all over the US and for the most part we became tight. Black, Brown and poor white!" A Hispanic soldier said of his ethnically mixed unit, "We're brothers. That simple. Now some of the shit the white boys say here while we're chillin', playing cards (things like 'nigga please' or 'my nigga') might get their asses kicked back home, but the funny part about it, is that we would have their back." What I gather is that a psychic dormitory effect takes over. You don't see one another as a box on a census data form, or a sensationalized headline on the local news. Everyone wants the mission carried out. Everyone wants to succeed. Everyone wants to come home alive. When it comes to self-preservation your sensitivities change. Fags, queers, niggers, (niggaz), crackers, (crakaz?), cunts, polocks & porn, just don't have the same weight in a wartime infantry as it does in civilian life. That man next to you has got your back. Regardless of persuasion, background or orientation. Now it would be naive of me to say that military personnel outright accept 'homos'. The brass won't accept 'open' homosexuality because they say it would bring down morale, harm recruitment and undermine military cohesion. In simpler terms, they found a mannerly way to say it's just plain wrong and unnatural. I think the body of the military know there are gays serving, but kinda look at it as that one uncle or cousin that always seemed a little 'different' but everyone loved them the same as long as 'it' wasn't in their face. The 'don't ask, don't tell' policy seems to be a strange but useful compromise in both civilian and military lives as our culture evolves. As often as I hear people suggest that being in the military implies one couldn't get into college, and that it's filled with drones, dolts and dummies, it is the one institution that has tackled issues of race unlike any civilian establishment. Anyone of any background overwhelmingly achieve rank based on merit and service. Not race. When people are provided equal access to achieve and compete, respect and dignity are by-products. Which is why I think the politically incorrect words I mentioned above don't have as much significance amongst a Ranger unit, Special Forces or Infantry - there is a tangible equity. No one person has institutional power over you - where the use of those words are an expression or abuse of that power. You have access to housing and health care just like the man or woman next to you. Now of course as a GI you are government property, but no policy exists that gives someone an unfair advantage over another. Nor will your wallet determine your access to success. You achieve, you earn. The idea of having actors with little name recognition was a gem. There was an "equity" with which we all approached our work. It's fair to say there is always a bit of self interest at play in our business. But the kind of narcissism where self-absored individuals can no longer see they are the common denominator in their failures or breakdowns - didn't exist on set. I can't begin to tell you how refreshing it is to approach one another to try things without feeling you were the one who took their little red wagon when they were eight. Not once did I hear, "well I don't think my character would respond that way." No one is the star of their own cinema on this set.

Checking the Gate!

On the set of REDACTED:

Principal photography has begun! Img_2233 Eric Schwab is the Second Unit Director. His task for the first week was to capture the essence of the American Soldier while manning a checkpoint. It's clear he and BD have a great professional relationship. BD would occasionally arrive to set to look over the 'ABC's' of Eric's work. He would then flash a smile to the actors in a sort of 'carry on while I go have a margarita' way and off he went. I produced an Off-Broadway show called "CREATION: A Clown Show!" and learned volumes about trust. I only hope the day I begin producing features that I'll have cultivated relationships similar to the one I see with BD and Eric.

The design of our checkpoint was intimidating. Many of the local people doing background work on the movie were profoundly impacted by its presence. Img_2159

Concertina wire, .50 caliber machine guns (.50 cal), serpentine design, brightly colored signs in both Arabic and English, Berettas, tanks, Humvees, sandbags, M4's, real bomb-sniffing dogs (his name was Kevin -- awesome!) and... waiting.

Now there is a double meaning here. On the set there is inevitably going to be a lot of 'hurrying up and waiting'. This is very similar to an infantry soldier's experience. But in war, a situation can turn from 'white' to 'red' in an instant. No matter how hard you train, how equipped you are, when things get 'hot', you don't think about how to prepare for the fight -- you just do. As an infantry soldier you are given a directive. You follow it. You are executing a plan. You do your job. And when self-preservation kicks in -- it's either them or you. There's an old saying: "Here lie the bones of Lt. Jones, a graduate of this institution.  He died last night in a fire-fight; he tried the school solution."

You know, those 30+ people who died at VT most likely didn't know it was their last day on Earth. These wartime infantry soldiers and their victims face that thought every day.

Imagine as a soldier and being 'wound tighter than a 10 day clock' with any of these scenarios: A car backfiring; someone driving too slow; too fast; a car with only one driver -- is he a "friendly" or not?

Can peace and terror coexist? Some say yes. Some say no. Some say, as long as the bad guys are out there, I'll sleep when I'm dead.

--Ty Jones

Ty Jones is an Obie-winning actor now on location in Jordan working on the Brian de Palma film Redacted.  He is writing about his experiences.  Check back periodically to read more.

What Price?

On the set of REDACTED: Img_2248

I have a pretty big scene to shoot tomorrow so I will have to save the thoughts on contradictions for another time.

I want to pay respects to the Jordanian people. We have for the last week shut down approximately 1.5 miles of highway in the city of Amman. There is a perpetual traffic jam from 6am until after we leave. For the NY'ers reading this - imagine both the west side highway and the FDR being blocked from 34th St. to 79th St. forcing all drivers to go local to get to their destination -- for over a week! I would not want to imagine how they are being inconvenienced.

The Jordanians on the set also deserve praise. Prompt. Hard working. Patient. Very patient. There is a lot of hurry up and waiting on this shoot. (The Sun sometime doesn't cooperate.) They are working in all areas from Kraft services to extras to technical positions on the shoot.

Before I get into trouble I should say that not only Jordanians are on this shoot. There are a plethora of Arab people from different countries.

The most interesting are the stories. Powerful. Profound. Very politically aware but yet nothing disparaging about the King of Jordan. His picture is everywhere. As if he is watching you. Uh oh...I'm starting to get into the contradictions...

I have heard very little in regard to the King's policies, yet the people seem clear as to what needs to happen to revitalize their country. The people also have a very rational opinion about "Occupied Palestine" -- what we in America call Israel.

To be continued...

--Ty Jones

Ty Jones is an Obie-winning actor now on location in Jordan working on the Brian de Palma film Redacted.  He is writing about his experiences.  Check back periodically to read more.

End of Week 1!

On Set of: REDACTED

I am going to commit what I believe is a no-no with blogs. Img_2154_5 Create a long one. So the pressure is on to keep your attention! (Kinda like acting...) Here we go!

I left off last time asking you to wait for the following blog regarding PT. 

BD/BP (Brian DePalma/Big Poppy) -- ok -- before I go any further, let me explain the initials. When he is on set or even when I casually run into him, on many occasions I call him 'BP.' Why? Well, there is a 'Don' quality about him; with a mixture of Santa Claus -- you know presents await you but he knows if you've been naughty or nice. He is a guy who moves to his own rhythm and establishes the beat.

Daniel Stewart Sherman (portraying BB Rush and also a fellow castmate of mine in Lincoln Center's Production of Henry IV Parts 1 & 2) put it best: we have an ally in Brian. How many director's are willing to take the risk of putting a major motion picture together without even a pseudo celebrity? The producer's deserve some love too -- they are always there on set right among us and accessible (not off in a designated area where conversations abruptly come to a halt if you dare approach their 'trigger line' (military term we learned). I even saw one help with the movement of crew's gear. Not a big deal, but little things can mean a lot.

Back to PT.

During the filming of Casualties of War (Sean Penn, Michael J. Fox), Brian had to fire a person for overexerting the actors to the point where many returned to set injured. He made it clear to Scott & Charles, this was unacceptable. It was followed to the letter.

But they definitely turned up the volume. Hundreds of Overhead armclaps. 100 yard lunges. 50 yard Bear crawls. 50 yard Crab walks. Jogging in cadence. 50 yard sprint. Scissor kicks. Hello Dolly's - and some other exercise that I titled, 'WHAT THE FUC*?!'

To Scott's credit, anyone who seemed to be even remotely having trouble he pulled them out while making sure we supported one another to finish. Awesome.

Now, building a military unit is more than PT and weapons drills. You had to sound like a unit.

From here on out in this blog I offer you a fair warning: what you read may be insensitive and offensive. I won't be calling anyone a 'nappy-headed ho' -- but I want to be clear that the language will be charged and more than likely create tension. The sensitivities of civilian vs. military life are sharply distinct. Particularly in a time of war. You author how you feel about an incident or situation in military life where oftentimes in civilian life one allows themselves to be victims of how they feel. I could continue to preface some of the things that I'll be saying -- but you get the point -- from here on out you are on your own.

Some sayings that we as a unit adopted:

-Don't mistake my kindness for weakness.

-Let's get it did.

-It's a small world, but you wouldn't want to paint it.

-How loose was she? Like throwin' a hot dog down a hallway.

-Been to three state fairs and a goat fuckin' and never seen anything like this.

-Darker than a bag full of assholes.

-Never date a woman until you see how she treats her husband and kids.

There's many more that'll be making it into the movie -- but don't ask cuz I'm not tellin'!

Slowly but surely, much of our actor-like facades, begin to diminish. We are taking on being soldiers. For the most part, egos are in check and we work together with a sense of purpose. Whether it's carrying heavy loads of military items to making sure two people are always together - even when going to the bathroom (or hole in the ground).

Probably the hi-lite of bootcamp was when weapons were issued to us. M-4's. These shoulder firing weapons are gas-operated, air-cooled, magazine-fed, selective fire firearms with a telescoping stock and provides the individual soldier the capability to engage targets at an extended range with accurate, lethal fire. Badass. The engineering and mechanics behind this weapon is like a piece of art. It is almost too easy to use and too easy to admire -- and I say this as a person who does not like guns (weapons)... or do I?

Next up:  The acute contradictions that present themselves when presented a real life circumstance.

--Ty Jones

Ty Jones is an Obie-winning actor now on location in Jordan working on the Brian de Palma film Redacted.  He is writing about his experiences.  Check back periodically to read more.

Boot Camp

On set of: REDACTED (Day 3):

4:30am. "Be in the lobby ready to go."

Like a unit, we all arrive on time. We are taken out to a Jordanian Military Base. I would venture to say that most are beyond excited to get to training. I personally am ready for PT. Physical Training. 100lb backpack running up and down hills, pushups, situps -- the kind of stuff that separates the men from the boys so to speak.

We arrive. It's about 50 degrees outside. We climb up a hill to a shell of a trailer. No lights. No running water. The 'bathroom' was basically a hole in the ground and a non-flushing toilet. The smells were 'unique.' There are a total of 11 of us (including 2 instructors and 2 local actors) and only 6 beds. Was the production staff trying to simulate a situation that a unit could encounter?

Our instructors are Scott and Charles. These two guys -- well, let's just say they could kill me in more ways than I could think of dying. They are clear, structured, concise and to the point on any instruction or command they give us. We learned the basics of an Army Unit -- about face, left and right face, present arms, fall in and out, at ease and, of course... A-TEN-TION!

The instructors tell us that we are catching on and doing a good job of learning commands. I don't know if they were blowing smoke, however, at one point during the day they called up producers to come and see our work for themselves. (They never showed.)

But still, no real PT.

We learn the basics of how to hold a weapon (the word "gun" is not appropriate in this case). Unfortunately, we didn't have any weapons. For some reason, the Jordanian Army was not allowing us to use them for training. We were drilled with commands and marching, but no weapons (imagine air guitar). To pass the time during the crisp Jordanian morning, we listened to stories of real missions in which our instructors participated, learned army lingo (IED = improvised explosive device) and -- in all truth -- started to wonder if we were really staying overnight in that trailer.

The sun came out and thankfully warmed us up to the point where some of the melanin-challenged fellas in the unit had to go get sunblock. We finally started to do some PT. Push-ups, sit-ups, knee lifts -- yeah! -- finally the blood started to warm up!

Then, it was over. Surely, they were just giving us a taste. I looked over at Rob Devaney (currently a cast member of Spring Awakening -- on leave, of course), who like myself enjoy and welcome physical challenges that an actor may encounter (Rob is preparing to run the NY Marathon) and started wondering if that was it. Unfortunately it was. (Be sure to read tomorrow's blog regarding PT.)

During one of our breaks we got a chance to have an MRE. Meals Ready to Eat. MRE's are a self-contained, individual field ration in lightweight packaging procured by the US military for use in combat or field conditions where organized food facilities are not available. MREs must be capable of withstanding parachute drops from 1,250 feet, non-parachute drops of 100 feet; packaging is required to maintain a minimum shelf life of three and a half years at 80° F or nine months at 100° F.

How was it, you may ask? Well, let's just say that we understood why some military personal nicknamed them: Meals Ready to Excrete. One deserves a medal just eating them.

While dining, the overnight situation again began to surface. Are we really staying here? Who's sleeping on the floor? Did anyone bring toilet paper? Are we getting paid?

Are we getting paid brought us all together, interestingly enough, as a unit. Which coincidentally was what the producers wanted. We called the producers with a few simple questions: What was the expectation of us? To stay out here? And if so, are we being compensated? Well, without getting into all the details, a bus was sent out and we ended up back in hotel that evening.

Overtime, can be a bitch.

--Ty Jones

Ty Jones is an Obie-winning actor now on location in Jordan working on the Brian de Palma film Redacted.  He is writing about his experiences.  Check back periodically to read more.

The Dinner

Redacted (Day 2) --  As a way of getting to know one another, we all go to dinner together.

History tells me from other films (or projects in general) that this also is the time when you dissect the personalities of your crew. I call it the 'witfest.' Right away we all throw our hat into the ring to see who scores points with their verbal gymnastics, innuendo, play on words -- essentially, valiant attempts to be funny. I will say that the conversational exchange was pretty good, but, as is often the case when drinking is involved, there comes a time when something is said which leads to more substantive dialogue.

So, of course, religion & politics rear its head! All I can say is that I wish we had a camera! The experts and opinions at that table could rival any Sunday morning roundtable!

Mr. Daniels (first name Jack) was probably the chief consultant. The liveliest conversation was a debate about 9/11. Being in the Middle East, it seemed to fit. It went from an O'Reilly-esque: "Anyone who questions, thinks or otherwise that any part of 9/11 was enabled in the U.S. is a fatuous, absurd moron," to Chomsky-esque: "Inquiring and investigating the dominant explanations of the 9/11 attacks is an exercise in pursuit of truth and justice," to Farrakhan-esque: "How did building 7 fall? Who shorted those airline stocks? What about Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld and the PNAC? Anyone who thinks all this is just a coincedence is a fatuous, absurd moron." What an evening!

Tomorrow, BOOT CAMP!

--Ty Jones

Ty Jones is an Obie-winning actor now on location in Jordan working on the Brian de Palma film Redacted.  He is writing about his experiences.  Check back periodically to read more.

Day 1 - "REDACTED" Brian DePalma Film

"I want you guys to kind of feel it." 

This is a quote from Mike Figueroa -- the real deal.  What I mean by 'real deal' is that Mike did his tour of duty in Iraq in 2004- 05, serving our country.  This is the guy who, as an actor in this film, has taken the time to give us an authentic account of his experience in Iraq as a supply sergeant in the U.S. Army. 

We have arrived!  We flew coach.

-- Ty Jones

Ty Jones is an Obie-winning actor who is now on location in Jordan writing about his experiences with the Brian de Palma film Redacted.  Check back periodically to read more.