"American Sniper" Actor: PA Grad and Former Navy SEAL

Kevin Lacz is a military veteran and physician assistant (PA) whose career path has come full circle. Before graduation from the PA program at Wake Forest School of Medicine in August 2014, he was a U.S. Navy SEAL serving as a platoon sniper, combat medic and breacher (getting himself and his team into closed spaces). 

While a PA student here, his career took a fascinating turn when he was approached to become an advisor and later an actor in the Clint Eastwood-directed movie “American Sniper” starring Bradley Cooper. 

PA Profession and Military Connections 

During his time in the Navy, Lacz served as a Special Operations Combat Medic, so the medical field seemed like a natural next step for him as he entered civilian life. Many military veterans are drawn to the PA field in particular and have been since the profession’s start in 1965.

“The PA profession was, in fact, modeled on the fast-track training of physicians during World War II, so the profession’s connection to the military is longstanding, said Reamer Bushardt, PharmD, PA-C, professor and chair, Department of PA Studies. 

“Military medics have a lot to offer due to the experiences they’ve had, the patients they’ve seen and the overall stress they have endured,” said Lacz. “I think that enriches any PA program and also helps the profession in general.” 

Lacz said the structure of our PA program capitalized on his military background. “There is a focus on hands-on, problem-based learning,” he said. “I knew I could excel in school and bring a lot of life experience, while also learning a lot from the people around me.”

Our PA program is committed to offering opportunities for veterans, said Bushardt. “With two veterans on the faculty, we can closely examine the applications of our military applicants—many of whom have taken a nontraditional route through college, prerequisites and patient care experiences. We often have multiple veterans from different branches of the military enrolled in our program.”  

In 2013, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and our School of Medicine developed a partnership with Appalachian State University to expand PA education and workforce development. The partnership targets students from the Appalachian region as well as U.S. military veterans with health-related field experiences. 

From Winston-Salem to Hollywood 

While enrolled in our PA program, Lacz became involved with “American Sniper.” Chris Kyle, one of his good friends while serving on SEAL Team Three, wrote the book on which the movie is based. 

“He was like a brother to me,” said Lacz. 

After hearing that Warner Brothers had purchased the rights to Kyle’s book, Lacz’ wife, Lindsey, contacted the script writer on Facebook and encouraged him to stay true to the story. The writer, Jason Hall, asked for her advice, and Lacz got involved. 

“I stayed in contact with Jason while I was going through school,” said Lacz. “I answered his technical questions, helped him paint the picture of what it was like in Iraq, and talked about Chris Kyle.” 

Lacz was eventually promoted to a technical advisor on the film and helped train Bradley Cooper, the film’s star, on how to accurately portray a sniper. It was Cooper who suggested that Lacz consider playing himself in the movie. His character, “Dauber,” was already written into the script because Lacz was mentioned in Kyle’s book. 

To audition, Lacz filmed a short video on his iPhone and sent it to the casting director. Clint Eastwood loved it, and Lacz got the job. He took a two-month leave of absence from school to participate in the movie on location in Morocco. 

American Sniper w_Credit

Life after “American Sniper” 

Since his graduation from Wake Forest in August 2014 with a Master’s of Medical Sciences, Lacz has been busy starting a new job as a PA at the Andrews Institute in Pensacola, Fla., while promoting “American Sniper.” The Andrews Institute focuses on physical medicine and rehabilitation, and it has many patients who are veterans. 

Lacz also works with veterans’ organizations—something that acting in a well-known movie has given him more opportunities to do. “I’m fortunate to help bring a focus on veterans and the issues they’re dealing with, including physical injuries, the stress of combat and transitioning into the workforce,” he said. 

In addition, Lacz has mentored other SEAL medics who are considering careers as PAs. “I help walk them through the process,” he said. “It also gives me a chance to tell them about Wake Forest. I can honestly tell them that Wake has a program that understands the unconventional career path they’ve taken and can use that to set them up for success in this field.” 

As for a future career in Hollywood, Lacz said it was a very positive experience. “I don’t want to shut that door—especially if I can be an advocate for honest portrayals of veterans in future films.” 

Bushardt also shared, “While our faculty and staff are excited about Kevin’s role in a Hollywood blockbuster, we are most proud of the man and PA he is—a true character-driven leader rich in courage, integrity, selflessness, empathy and a collaborative spirit.”

 

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