Student Spotlight: From sergeant to screenwriter

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



Parker Jones, Arts Reporter

Undergraduate student Bruce Bartlam Jr. joined the U.S. Air Force only three months before Sept. 11, 2001. Twenty years later, the 38-year-old has retired from service and decided to attend the University of Iowa to pursue his passion for storytelling.

Originally from Savannah, Georgia, Bartlam has always been interested in telling stories, and has written poetry, fiction, and short stories since a young age. After two decades in the Air Force, he is now working toward a degree in screenwriting and cinema, hoping to obtain a career in film and television.

Twenty years ago, there wasn’t any war to serve in, the veteran noted. Bartlam didn’t initially join the military for any one reason, but he heard occasional stories from both of his grandfathers who served in the Vietnam War: one in the Marines, the other an Army Ranger, which piqued his interest.

“It was just a topic we spoke around in hushed tones,” Bartlam said. “There was this mystery box 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 get the chance to visit otherwise.

Bartlam lived in South Korea for two years, Australia for nearly four, and Japan for nearly eight years. Bartlam said that whenever it came time to decide to reenlist, he would be handed another amazing location.

Ultimately, the veteran cited the priceless lifelong connections he’s made as his biggest takeaway from his time in service. He noted that, although his experience serving isn’t universal, it did allow him to meet people from all different backgrounds, and that he is proud of the diversity the Air Force always pushed.

After passing the 20-year mark, Bartlam was ready to retire. He said that, as much as he became used to the life of travel and constant deployments, it takes 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 need to hang up the uniform and assimilate back into some normalcy,” Bartlam said. “I preferred entering the work force as soon as I could and developing some new skills.”

Bartlam decided to go back to school to pursue a professional route to his creative passions. Though he has no prior connections to Iowa, he was drawn to the UI because of its reputation for storytelling. So far, his experience has surpassed his expectations, Bartlam said, and he has been particularly impressed and inspired by fellow students, even if they are mostly much younger than him.

Though he is passionate about storytelling in any medium, Bartlam is mainly focused on the world of film and television because of its collaborative and multi-faceted nature. He is also interested in playwriting, and has even considered submitting a manuscript for the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

“I do like working on my own sometimes, but I love the immediate feedback loop that exists around the camera with other creatives,” Bartlam said. “I plan on collaborating in every sense of the word, and I’m looking forward to taking that journey.”

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