After eight years in the TV business, journalist Tom Sileo (Novak 10) decided that media coverage of the day-to-day lives of U.S. military members and their families was lacking. He started the blog, Unknown Soldiers, to spotlight fallen heroes from Iraq and Afghanistan. Shortly after, he received a fellowship through TFAS’ Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship Program and launched his writing career. Now the alumnus is waiting for the release of his first book, Brothers Forever, coming out in May 2014.
“After I had started the Unknown Soldiers blog, I learned of the Novak Fellowship Program and was very grateful to receive an award in 2010,” Sileo said. “I credit the program with launching my overall writing career.”
In 2011 Creators Syndicate asked Sileo to use his blog material for a syndicated newspaper column distributed across the country. He agreed and wrote his first column about two Naval Academy roommates who became best friends, deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, but never returned. Fallen U.S. Marine Travis Manion and Fallen U.S. Navy SEALBrendan Looney served honorably, and the story of their friendship intertwined their families and a greater community that Sileo hoped to illuminate.
These relationships provided the inspiration for Sileo and Travis’ father, U.S. Marine Col. Tom Manion (Ret.) to collaborate to write Brothers Forever, a book that Sileo says is not just a story about two heroes, but more about the generation of men and women who have served since Sept. 11.
The Novak Fellowship Program put me on a path to tell these stories. During the course of my fellowship is when I was fortunate enough to have my blog turn into a syndicated column. That gave a much bigger platform to these stories and provided me with a clear sense of direction and purpose of where my career was headed.”
Sileo said talking to families was emotional, and that the courage and strength of the Manion and Looney families awed him throughout the book writing process. The Manions amaze Sileo with their commitment to help others, especially through the Travis Manion Foundation.
“The motto of Brothers Forever is something Travis said before he left for his second and final deployment to Iraq: ‘If not me, then who?’ That’s the approach the Manion family takes to everything they do,” said Sileo.
Sileo said he developed a passion for telling these stories due to his family history and an early journalistic experience. Both of Sileo’s grandfathers served during World War II, one in the Pacific and one in Europe. His father was a reservist during Desert Storm. Sileo experienced the after math of Sept. 11 at his first TV job at the WTVM station in Columbus, Ga. When Sileo moved to Columbus one month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he saw first hand the effects for the military families at Fort Benning.
“Being at Fort Benning and seeing the post transition to a war-time environment as troops began deploying to Afghanistan impacted me. I saw men and women leaving their families and going off to fight, and it gave me even more respect for the sacrifices military members make to protect our freedom,” Sileo said.
Many years later those experiences have come full circle for Sileo after he has told hundreds of stories on behalf of those families.
In February, Sileo attended the Novak Fellows New York Retreat. He said he enjoyed listening to Paul Gigot, editor of the editorial pages and vice president of The Wall Street Journal, and got to speak with Ron Scherer, a veteran journalist who retired in July after 37 years with The Christian Science Monitor. Sileo keeps in touch with his fellow Novak Fellowship alumni through these events.
Four years ago it was hard to see where a writing career could take Sileo, but looking back he can see the Novak Program as a definitive turning point.
“The Novak Fellowship Program put me on a path to tell these stories. During the course of my fellowship is when I was fortunate enough to have my blog turn into a syndicated column,” Sileo said. “That gave a much bigger platform to these stories and provided me with a clear sense of direction and purpose of where my career was headed.”
On May 5, TFAS will announce its 2014 Novak Fellows during the 21st Annual Robert Novak Journalism Fellowships Dinner at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Journalist John Stossel of Fox News will deliver the evening’s keynote remarks as recipient of the 2014 Thomas L. Phillips Lifetime Achievement Award.
For more information on The Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship Program and upcoming dinner, visit www.NovakFellowships.org.