Army veteran Bruce Haag sits at the control panel in the control room of WPAA's Studio W in Wallingford on Feb. 27, 2014. | (Christopher Zajac / Special to The Citizen)
February 28, 2014 09:40AM
By Andrew Ragali
WALLINGFORD — For the next several months, a veteran who served two tours of duty in Afghanistan will be working at WPAA-TV through a fellowship program offered by The Mission Continues, a nonprofit with the goal of empowering those who’ve served in the military
Bruce Haag, 37, of Meriden, began a six-month fellowship with WPAA-TV in early February. Haag will work with Susan Huizenga, the station’s executive director, in developing in-depth stories about local nonprofit organizations.
“Anyone in the area that has a story to tell, or an interesting story to share with the community, come down and we’d be happy to help,” said Haag, whose 15-year military career ended last summer.
The Mission Continues was founded in 2007 by Eric Greitens, a Navy SEAL who served in Iraq. According to the organization, Greitens noticed that upon his return home, veterans still had a desire to serve their country. So he started The Mission Continues to allow veterans to continue to serve in new ways that allow them to accomplish personal and professional goals.
For the past two years, Haag has worked at WPAA-TV producing “Center Ring,” a talk show concentrating on the local wrestling scene. After Haag’s enlistment in the Army Reserves ended last summer, Huizenga applied for the fellowship through The Mission Continues. You can’t take part in the fellowship if you are still enlisted, Haag said, and only veterans who were enlisted post-9/11 are eligible.
Out of 700 applications, Haag’s was among 76 approved, Huizenga said.
“They look for excellence and that’s what we got,” she said.
Through the fellowship, Haag will work 20 hours per week at the station. His experience will benefit the station, Huizenga said. “It’s really a significant program.”
The experience itself will ease the adjustment to civilian life, Haag said. Curriculum through the fellowship requires Haag to reflect on his experiences, goals and expectations in life. While the program is meant to provide professional experience, it’s about personal development, as well, Haag said.
Reintegration into civilian life isn’t always easy for veterans. Initially, the fellowship was only offered to veterans with physical ailments, “but they realized the problem was much more pervasive,” Haag said.
Haag couldn’t afford more than one year of college after he graduated from Platt High School in 1994. He dropped out and worked at McDonald’s until he decided to join the Army in 1998. After four years at a base in Alaska, Haag returned to Connecticut and joined the National Guard.
“That way I could go back to school,” Haag said.
Haag eventually earned an associate degree in broadcast communication from Middlesex Community College, in 2005. Right after graduation, Haag’s unit was sent to Afghanistan for a year. His unit was assigned as security for personnel working to rebuild the country’s infrastructure. Haag served as a combat leader for a vehicle command until another unit left the base. It was then, Haag said, that he became the non-commissioned officer in charge of housing and day-to-day activities.
When his unit returned from Afghanistan in 2007, Haag said he chose to leave the military. But his enlistment could not end yet because his duty was placed on “stop loss,” which placed him in the Army Reserves. For a year, Haag said, he wasn’t even aware he was still enlisted until a retention officer called him.
“So I said, ‘If I’m still in, I want to be in public affairs,’ ” Haag said.
His wish was granted, and Haag received intensive media training before he worked with a public affairs unit in Queens, N.Y., in 2008. Soon after, Haag was sent to Afghanistan again to assist in media relations. Haag said he coordinated with news organizations to integrate media and troops. After returning home in 2010, he was assigned to a National Guard station in West Hartford. Haag started doing his own live talk show called “Center Ring” for a local television station in Cheshire. The show concentrated on the local wrestling scene. Haag moved his show to Wallingford in 2011 after the Cheshire building collapsed due to storm damage. That’s when Huizenga met Haag and took an interest in his career path.
“You support veterans by supporting them when they get home,” she said.
Now the two hope to work together to promote WPAA-TV.
“Part of my mission is to bring awareness to the community that we are here for them, and that they can come and use our services,” Haag said.
“That’s the reason we exist,” Huizenga said. “To get your message out.”