Jon Barton spent his days reading scripts, advising costume departments, and thinking about fight choreography for top military movies.
The retired US Marine brought his expertise after four tours of the Middle East to Hollywood, consulting and supplying military equipment to film sets, a mission to help the entertainment industry better portray military life.
Until late February, when Russian President Vladamir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine.
Duty called back, Barton said.
Barton, owner of Night-Fire Media, a military consulting and rental company, sends most of his company’s tactical gear to Ukrainians fighting Russian troops supporting a David vs. Goliath fight for democracy that the world is watching.
There is this inherent belief that something is wrong, he said. And if you’re someone who’s been trained to fight evil and stand up to evil, you’re inherently drawn to it.
Earlier this week, Barton dashed around the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Echo Park, balancing two cellphones and juggling boxes of gun slings, boots and camouflage uniforms. The supplies were to be packed and flown to the Ukraine-Poland border and distributed by volunteers. He said he hadn’t slept for two days.
It’s super cold, so imagine fighting in those conditions, said Loma Linda University professor Alex Dubov, who has family in Ukraine, outside the church. The boots Jon just brought are like, heaven sent.
Barton does not send weapons or ammunition by law, he cannot, but it is crucial equipment that civilians often overlook, he said. Many are ordinary Ukrainians facing relentless shelling.
He’s donating about 80% of his inventory, including about 620 uniforms of various camouflage colors, 118 boots of various vintages, and 300 pairs of gloves.
Sometimes we forget the details scarves, water bottles, belts, laces. All of that matters, Barton said.
The idea emerged after a friend asked him if he had any extra camouflage uniforms. Barton had previously been moved by an image of young Ukrainian men, dressed in knee pads to fight Russian troops, and videos of Russians shooting at the press.
I said wait, not only that, could you use knee pads? Could you use belts? he said. I’ve got tactical gear, and I’ve got plenty of it.
Barton soon headed to Ventura County, where his company houses its equipment inventory from military base stores and third-party contractors, including colors and removed equipment for each branch of the military.
My neighbors kept coming and saying to me: are you planning war? I’m like, I give it to Ukraine. They fell apart, Barton said.
Bridging Fantasy and Reality
Barton has made a living advising Hollywood since he first worked as an extra on set and realized the uniforms weren’t authentic. He’s worked with actors like Aaron Eckhart and Chris Hemsworth, and his credits include NCIS and Criminal Minds.
When you have a character that uses weapons, you want them to have proper training, and the really important thing that Jon brings to the table is that he understands that it’s not the military, these actors are playing a role and you can’t treat everyone the same, said producer Gale Ann Hurd, who first met Barton on the set of Punisher: War Zone.
It’s not about putting a gun in someone’s hand, he said, it’s about authentically connecting fantasy and reality.
You could tune in Friday nights at 9 p.m. and watch JAG, but it didn’t feel like CBS News at 7 p.m. What fantasy world do you live in? he said.
Now fantasy and reality are colliding again, and the threat of world war, or nuclear fallout, usually reserved for the big screen, seems close to home, he said.
A lot of people aren’t too scared of it, but the sailor in me was used to attending classified briefings and seeing satellite imagery, he said.
There’s also a part of him that wishes he were there.
My knee-jerk reaction is always, let’s go, kick our ass, Barton said. And then I think about it and [realize]we can’t do that because this and that and then politics comes into play and I completely understand that.
He also knows that his involvement is not without professional risk. Barton has noticed that some customers don’t return his phone calls.
I’m less desirable to be hired on a show where they try to take an apolitical stance, even though I don’t do anything political, he said. I’m just trying to help humans.
Still, Barton hopes major movie studios will follow his lead and donate their fleet of equipment.
Some of these prop companies have acres and acres of gear, especially uniforms and boots, which we wouldn’t even be able to do in the film industry, he said. Oh, those are just costumes.
We say costumes, he says. I say uniforms.
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