Steve Kuryla spent a lifetime serving in the intelligence community and in the U.S. Army. He was stationed in West Berlin and other hot locales around the globe. He has written a book titled "Six to Days to Zeus: Alive Day" that has been optioned in a screenplay and film production by two heavyweights in the Hollywood industry. A Deadline article in April of this year covers the production and is titled "Phillip Noyce To Direct Secret Iraq Mission Thriller 'Alive Day;' Mike Medavoy Producing." He currently runs a program called Tier One Tranquility Base that helps veterans transitioning home where more information can be seen at https://tieronebase.org/index.html.
1. Can you share about your family and your life growing up?
I was born into a very poor Catholic family in Upstate New York, the Finger Lakes region. The house was a single travel trailer that we added onto as more kids came along. The house was built from recycled ammunition boxes as my dad drove explosives for the U.S. Army Depot. He'd bring the boxes home, then take the truck back to the owner. Our job was to have the boxes stripped and nails straightened before he got home. Eventually, there was enough lumber to build the house, but the floors were hardwood and dirt until I was in my teens.
2. What made you want to become a soldier and what was your experience like?
The only other option I had was to go work at a foundry, putting green sand into boxes so pump parts could be poured in "sand castings." By 14 years old, I was living in the woods, showering in the school gym. Playing lacrosse, football and wrestling meant I was a year-round athlete. I joined the service as a way to get away from home. Suffice it to say, steel toed boots and Jack Daniels had a lot to do with my motivation to leave.
3. What are you most proud of from your service in the Army?
At this point in time, I'm not really proud of anything. We played "Whack-a-Mole" against the terrorists of the world, as far back as The Baeder-Meinhof Gang, Abu NIdal, the Red Army, PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah, etc......and I assumed our impact would be greater and bring peace. This is a hard question to answer that I am still pondering. The ripples go away from us. But maybe the one thing that I reflect on and "smile" about, not really pride...is the good we did in places that were hell holes. Srebrenica, Somalia, Bosnia, Bogota and some Central and South American places........ we brought light to some very dark places.
Chief Kuryla received a Meritorious Service Medal (center) while stationed in West Berlin. The left patch is the Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOMM) patch. The right patch is the Berlin Brigade. Photo credit Kuryla.
4. What values have you carried over from the Army back into the civilian world?
Values I brought back into my civilian life: Never quit. "Life is about what you do to other people".... do five meters, even when it sucks, just keep moving forward. Integrity is everything. Honor is a lost concept in the civilian world, but that doesn't mean you should give up yours. Fighting for those who can't fight for themselves is a way of life, not just a bumper sticker.
5. What was one of the toughest lessons to learn coming from the service to Hollywood?
One of the toughest lessons I learned coming from the military to Hollywood: Not everyone has a moral compass. There are those who are in it for the money only, others for fame and they'll stab you in the back in two seconds and step over your corpse just to get two seconds of limelight. In the military, I was in a place where soldiers HAD TO climb through the filters of Ranger School, BUDS, Airborne Training…and when they finally got to my unit, or like units, they stood for something: those filters don't exist in Hollywood. Eventually, you can find like-minded souls and "your tribe" and I am very lucky to have found Phillip Noyce and Mike Medavoy.
My respect for their character and what they've accomplished runs deep, so I'm very proud to know them and be working with them. They stand for the same moral compass I have lived my entire life. They make movies that resonate, make people think and it's not just about "entertainment or money!" They make movies that are about the human condition and the SOUL…and that's what I write about. Anyone can make a military recruiting movie that makes kids "wannabe" a SEAL, or Green Beret, but the people I'm involved with currently go way past the box office. They go straight to the soul and make people think, reflect and hopefully motivate the viewers to become better human beings. It would be very easy to have changed what I wrote in "Alive Day" and make it into some action movie that made a lot of money. But they stuck to the spirit of the story, the journey of Warriors and the consequences of a lifetime of war on the soul. I'm very, very lucky that Karma and Synchronicity came together, and I get to be among these Hollywood giants.
6. What has it been like working on your book and soon to be feature film "Six Days to Zeus: Alive Day?"Cathartic. Therapeutic. Had anyone told me I would be writing; I would have called them nuts. This started out to be a chronological document so a shrink and I could sort through my trauma closet and start working on my nightmares and PTSD. That turned into "The Observing Ego" template and I hit my stride and was able to start working on my issues. I came home with a rage syndrome that scared the hell out of people. Combined with my "adrenaline seeking behaviors," I was socially unacceptable and targeted routinely by Law Enforcement as a possible "ax murderer." And I loved it. It kept people away from me. I didn't have to talk to anyone. I self-isolated, and was taking way too many narcotics and other meds from the VA. After 39 spinal reconstructions and surgery to repair my body from a T.O.W. missile strike, "Friendly Fire," I found myself climbing back out of the crab bucket, living in a wheelchair as a homeless veteran in a park in N.C. to coming to California to see a Dr. G in Daly City who eventually got me out of the chair, surgically implanted a "Dorsal Column Stimulator" in my spinal cord, fused my pelvis and spine finally the correct way and turned my life around.
My wife has been a rock-solid warrior as well, sticking with me through thick and thin, when others simply walked away to preserve their own comfort zone. I was still in a chair most of the time when I met her, so she was either so very desperate that she'd marry a cripple guy with a brain injury and baggage from hell, or there is something about this woman that America missed. I often tell her she's a SEAL that didn't go active duty. She wrestles large animals every day as an Equine Veterinarian..... so wrestling with me is right up her alley.
Working on the book has been like peeling an onion. I had NO IDEA how deep I was into the Intel World. We never had time to reminisce. We just went to the next mission, sometimes having six or seven missions going at the same time in differing phases of "pre-deployment" to "planning" to active operations and then post mission BDA and assessments..... Everything from Non-combatant Evacuation (NEO) Operations to combat support missions to High Value Target (HVT) take downs, to Embassy clearing and hostage rescue, the Cold War, the War on Drugs and the Global War on Terrorism all blended together.
Pictures from Chief Kuryla's time in West Berlin. Photo credit Kuryla.
Over a 30 year period, the mission tempo was pretty active at points that you just never kept up with it all. You just went to the next mission. So, taking the time to go back in time, from 1976 to 2006 and reconstruct the chronology has been very cathartic. Fleshing out the writing, changing names and dates to get through the Pentagon Pre-Publication Review process has been a hurdle, but I firmly believe in the process and signed the "non-disclosure agreements" with full honor and intent. This is a nine book series now…and future endeavors include a TV series as well as several other movies. T
here are 180 covert missions and seven combat tours to write about. Simple things like a 10 year war in Bosnia, Islam against Christianity, led to 9/11 the same day (in 1683 or there abouts) September 11th, for Bin Laden to hit the towers. No one in America seems to understand that the 10 year war in the Balkans led directly to 9/11. "The Asset" was a singular chapter, now a separate book will document American Intelligence, success and failures that led to the 20 year war we are currently in. As well as a look into future wars based on American Foreign Policy and future intent.
7. What leadership lessons in life and from the Army have helped you most in your career?
Listening more than talking... learning all the facts, not just those I want to hear, evaluating and taking the time to look at other perspectives were "leadership" skills that I emulated from some of the great men in uniform that I got to work with. Henry Shelton, David Patraeus, William B. Caldwell, Colin Powell, Stormin Norman Schwartzkopf, Keith Alexander, "Buck Kernan," Kellog, Keene and a list of names no one would know… my mentors and those I tried to emulate are great Americans.
And those around me who were aware, conscious, watched me and recognized my potential are the ones I credit with my success in life. I never knew I could write. Didn't know I had anything to say. "Talking about it" was contrary to everything I knew as honorable in the military. Compartmented Intelligence was just that. Compartmented with a "Must Know" caveat. When I got out, I was shocked at what American Society didn't know about the rest of the world and what our soldiers were doing. Not just the TS/SCI stuff, but the basic foreign policy that put men and women in harm's way. America, especially Congress, seem to be completely unattached, uninvolved in sending troops to war. I found a new mission in life, writing about soldier stories, explaining the chaos in a way that resonates at the human "vulnerability" level. When you connect with another human at the soul, then you're doing something worth doing. Then you're communicating, educating, making a difference. And that's what the "Six Days to Zeus" series is doing. Connecting at the soul and revealing the journey of Warriors in a modern age.
Teufelsberg, German for Devil's Mountain, in West Berlin during the Cold War. Photo credit Kuryla.
Book one, Alive Day is about "what happened." Book two, "Please don't call me Hero" is about the consequences of War on our bodies, brains and families back at "Fort Livingroom." It's a glimpse into the problems, but the unconscious damage we do to our families. They pay the consequences of the US going to war, but they never signed up for it. They get to pay anyway... even when we bring muddy boots back into Ft. Livingroom. Book three, "Walking off the War" is a glimpse into the awakening, the move to conscious intentional living and the medical miracles that got me out of a wheelchair and back on my feet.
The series continues for six more books going back to Berlin in 1976 and Covert Operations against Soviet Illicit Agents and Soviet Special Operations personnel, Spetsnaz working the Morse Code problem for NSA and other US Intelligence Agencies including the Potsdam mission and Field Station Berlin at "Devils Mountain" or Teufelsberg! Operation Elsa, stealing a brand-new Soviet T-72 Tank, Operation Porch Light that broke a Russian cypher and tore down 14 terrorist networks throughout Europe and the US, and many, many more.
8. As a service, how do we get more veteran stories told in the Hollywood arena?Veterans have to be willing to talk. There is a syndrome where veterans don't think they did anything special. It's part of the problem that comes with honor and the "code" we live by. I am working to get a section on my author site for soldiers to write in, tell me their story and see if it's worth pursuing. When guys like me don't think they did anything special and are willing to bury it....they get shocked (like me too!) when they begin to tell their story and find out the world wants to know. The ripple effect of me telling my story has affected so many veterans and so many civilians, that it's truly humbling. For some reason, after they read the book and the two weeks of silence goes by, (digesting time), they now have permission and they come tell me their story. Their trauma and how my writing has affected them, allowed them to heal and talk about what happened. And then I get to help them learn what I have learned: It's no longer about what happened...it's about what you do NEXT that counts!!!
A picture of one of the patches they took of Manuel Noriega (pictured). Photo credit Kuryla.
9. What would you like to do next in your career?Make more movies, learn as much as I can about financing, producing, and getting the stories out there. Tour and talk to our next generation. We need to teach the lessons we've learned as soldiers, teach critical thinking skills, make them aware that "Freedom isn't free" and engage our young minds in active communication. Our children are being hijacked…with our permission, by our silence and preoccupation and our lack of parenting involvement. The America we all fought for is being sliced and diced, subverted and our children's minds are being targeted. We all need to influence that change, through writing, movies, plays, music and active communication and engagement! Our veteran population are some of the most gifted humans on the planet. I hope to be a part of that change.
More pictures of the morning they took Noriega and the patches removed from his uniform. The center photo is a breakfast with Noriega the morning of. Photo credit Kuryla.
10. What are you most proud of in life and your career?
Pride is not a luxury I indulge in. I am more grateful than anything else. I can't say I'm proud of anything, but I am the luckiest man on the planet that I got to live the life I did. That I got to meet the people I love and fought with. Even the disasters, the trauma and the adversity....it all made me a better human being. After all this reconstruction and medical miracles, I truly am coming to a place of PEACE now…finding my inner strength again, counting my blessings and realizing just how lucky I have been. How blessed I have been to have worked with and fought beside some of the finest human beings God ever put on this planet. And that's not a bumper sticker. I truly believe that "All evil needs to succeed is for good men to sit back and do nothing."
I don't mourn the loss of those I served with, I thank God that such men lived.
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