Spotlight on students: from sergeant to screenwriter

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After two decades of service in the US Air Force, Bruce Bartlam is pursuing a career following his passion: storytelling.


Undergraduate Bruce Bartlam Jr. joined the US Air Force just three months before September 11, 2001. Twenty years later, the 38-year-old retired and decided to attend the University of Iowa to pursue his passion for storytelling.

Originally from Savannah, Georgia, Bartlam has always been interested in storytelling and has written poetry, fiction and short stories from a young age. After two decades in the Air Force, he is now preparing a diploma in screenwriting and cinema, hoping to make a career in film and television.

Twenty years ago, there was no war to serve in, the veteran noted. Bartlam didn’t first join the Army for no reason, but he heard occasional stories from his two grandfathers who served in the Vietnam War: one in the Marines, the other in the Army Ranger, which piqued his interest.

“It was just a topic that we talked about in a low voice,” Bartlam said. “There was this mystery box that I wanted to open for sure.”

Part of the reason Bartlam stayed in the Air Force for two decades – reaching the rank of Technical Sergeant – was the promise of traveling to places he might never have the chance to visit otherwise.

Bartlam lived in South Korea for two years, Australia for almost four years, and Japan for almost eight years. Bartlam said whenever the time came to decide to re-enlist, he would be given another amazing location.

Ultimately, the veteran cited the invaluable connections he made throughout his life as his greatest learning of his time on duty. He noted that while his service experience is not universal, it has allowed him to meet people from all walks of life and that he is proud of the diversity that the Air Force has always encouraged.

After passing the 20-year mark, Bartlam was ready to retire. He said that while he got used to the life of constant travel and deployments, it took a toll on the personal relationships of those who serve.

“Life is short, and you can’t get that time back. At some point you have to hang up the uniform and get back to some normalcy, ”Bartlam said. “I preferred to enter the job market as soon as possible and develop new skills.

Bartlam decided to go back to school to pursue a professional path towards his creative passions. Although he had no previous connection to Iowa, he was drawn to the UI because of his reputation as a storyteller. So far his experience has exceeded his expectations, Bartlam said, and he has been particularly impressed and inspired by his fellow students, even though they are mostly much younger than him.

Although passionate about storytelling in all media, Bartlam primarily focuses on the world of film and television due to his collaborative and multifaceted nature. He is also interested in dramatic writing and has even considered submitting a manuscript for the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

“I like working alone sometimes, but I like the immediate feedback loop that exists around the camera with other creatives,” Bartlam said. “I intend to collaborate in every sense of the word and look forward to this trip. “

Editor’s Note: Bruce Bartlam is a former DI reporter.

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