by Debbie Coleman-Topi
Montel Williams was doubly prepped for his latest gig. Most would not be surprised that the talk show guru is the new co-host and executive producer of a television series designed to help military veterans.
However, it is less well-known that Williams not only qualifies due to his TV experience but also as a veteran who was a special duty intelligence officer in the Navy. For that role, Williams attained the military's highest security clearance, which he used while serving on submarines, aboard ships and on land during the 1980s and '90s.
In fact, Williams, now age 62, said he was still serving in the reserves when he launched his long-time television talk show, which carries his name.
His new show, “Military Makeover” this week came to Smithville, where Williams took a break to do an interview with The Landmark in which he spoke a few lines of fluent Russian to illustrate one of his military-acquired skills.
But Williams was quick to assert that Military Makeover is not about him but the show's featured veterans, who continue to sacrifice due to their injuries—whether emotional or physical.
The Lifetime Channel series is focused on improving the living conditions of veterans such as Matthew and Rachel Moyers, whose home is near Smithville Lake. The couple and their two young children are the latest recipients of the program, which re-designs and modifies homes to accommodate the evolving needs of veterans and their families.
Matt, a tech sergeant, specialized in munitions systems (bomb making). Severe back injuries, such as several herniated disks, make walking and standing for long periods difficult, said production coordinator Francesca Nachtsheim.
During an Iraqi deployment, Matt’s camp was hit by mortar, which triggered insomnia. Once home, he also experienced financial and personal setbacks and depression.
Williams said he's glad that today's veterans have outlets for their struggles.
“Back then, (1980s-1990s), we didn't discuss things like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),” Williams said.
The Moyers' first contact with the show was when they nominated their friends, the Harrisons of Independence, the show's last makeover family. When the family showed up on set as volunteers, production crews realized they would be perfect for another Missouri makeover. The two families represent the first time the show has featured friends in back-to-back episodes, Nachtscheim said.
Williams is the show's second co-host and appears opposite Art Edmonds. Williams is so new to the show that executives have not yet announced him as replacement for R. Lee Ermey, a Marine Corps veteran who died unexpectedly this past spring. The show's executive staff faced a dilemma. “Who would be the best fit to carry on Gunny's legacy?” BrandStar CEO Mark Alfieri said.
Williams immediately accepted the offer and on Tuesday joined dozens of volunteers and employees —the show's construction and production teams who worked feverishly during the final day of the home's extensive makeover. The Moyers' home was dated, lacked color and décor and had safety issues, especially since Matthew walks with the assistance of a cane.
A group of Smithville High School students, members of Future Farmers of America, assisted in the effort by laying sod in front and backyard landscaping, said Williams' publicist Jon Franks. Other improvements include a remodeled kitchen and bath, featuring new appliances donated by the show's partner companies.
While in Smithville, the production and construction sets were sprinkled with Missouri area natives, including make-up artist Staci Broski, who hails from Gladstone and is an Oak Park High School graduate. Jennifer Bertrand, the show's interior designer, spent part of her childhood living at Weatherby Lake. Her father had an Air Force career, which makes the show a personal mission.
She said, “You're giving the family a chance to have a fresh start.”
Today (Wednesday), the Moyers will see the house for the first time in an episode tagged “The Big Reveal.” Each makeover is allotted four episodes and each air twice. The Moyers’ makeover airs on the following schedule: (Episode One) Nov. 30 and Dec. 6; (Episode Two) Dec. 7 and 13 (Episode Three) Dec. 21 and 27; (Episode Four) Dec. 28 and Jan. 3.
|TV host Montel Williams at the site of a home makeover being done for a military veteran in Smithville.