LOS ANGELES -- One Airman's journey from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., to cameo appearance on a primetime situation comedy Feb. 22 was an enviable experience by most struggling actors' standards.
Airman 1st Class Marcus McGinnis just couldn't resist taking a couple of photos as he waited in line with about 400 other service members outside "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" studio for the program's annual military Thanksgiving special.
McGinnis, a 30th Operations Group Command Staff knowledge operations manager at Vandenberg AFB, thought his shutterbug activity had landed him in hot water when a producer extracted him from the crowd.
"A gentleman told me to come with him, and I actually thought I was about to get yelled at for taking pictures," McGinnis recalled. "But then I saw some other service members join me and (the producers) explained what was going on."
A Moreno Valley, Calif., native with 18 months of Air Force service, McGinnis said the task was simple: each military member had to read a line from a movie that correlated to their respective service.
Movie buffs may recognize McGinnis' assigned line, originally uttered by General Northwood in the 1997 Harrison Ford film "Air Force One."
"Nobody does this to the United States. The president will get his baseball glove back and play catch with this guy's ..."
Readers can Google the remainder of sentence.
Service members who read their lines most entertainingly during the comedy bit earned more than bragging rights after the impromptu audition. Stand-up comic, producer and writer Whitney Cummings, star of the NBC situation comedy "Whitney" had a look at the auditions and made her decision.
"Whitney said she liked me the most, and I tried to stay composed and not show too much emotion; I think it worked," McGinnis said, adding that Leno even added his own drum roll upon informing him that he made the cut.
Soon after his audition, "Whitney" producers offered him a walk-on role for the primetime show.
"I remember my mom being ecstatic when I told her the news," McGinnis said. "She just kept saying, 'That's my baby, that's my baby!'"
With star treatment and unlimited access to a variety of decadent food at CBS Radford Studios in Studio City, McGinnis said he was delightfully surprised to find himself in such a down-to-earth atmosphere.
"I was actually expecting the normal perception of 'Hollywood,' but everyone's been really nice and appreciative," McGinnis said. "They told me I was getting my own (dressing) room, and I really didn't think I deserved that much, but I wasn't too nervous since I'd already auditioned for Jay. That helped calm my nerves."
"Whitney" producers said they were thrilled to join forces with Leno and give something back to the military community by inviting McGinnis to perform.
"It was an honor to have Airman 1st Class Marcus McGinnis come to the show," said Quan Phung, the show's executive producer. "He was a class act and fit nicely with the cast and crew."
Leno has shown long-standing support of the USO and the military, particularly with his ever-popular invitation to about 100 men and women from each service to attend a Thanksgiving taping of The Tonight Show followed by dinner.
This year marks the first that a service member has made a cameo sitcom appearance in conjunction with The Tonight Show, but according to the Los Angeles Air Force Entertainment Liaison Office, the military intersects with Hollywood more often than people may realize.
Develyn Watson, the AFELO deputy director, said many service members have participated in movies, television shows, videos, documentaries and webcasts.
"We have a good number of military people, especially being in LA, who actually have their Screen Actors Guild membership cards," Watson said.
She also emphasized being mindful of the Department of Defense rules and regulations that are designed to protect armed forces members involved in production endeavors outside of the military.
The guidelines vary, depending on the member's leave status, pay status, nature of the project and whether or not they're appearing in uniform, Watson explained.
Since McGinnis was on a pass status, not appearing in uniform and not being paid for his appearance, the coordination and approval process was, in this case, minimal, Watson said.
"But if he were getting paid for this or any similar type of employment, he'd need to complete Air Force Information Management Tool 3902 and coordinate that request through our office, his chain of command, the major command and the judge advocate group office," she added.
And for DoD-supported projects featuring uniformed military members, the coordination requires an additional level of approval by the Pentagon.
Still, Watson said, creative endeavors such as that of McGinnis' have their virtues and are even encouraged by the DoD when pursued through the proper channels.
It's fun; it's a morale builder for our service men and women," Watson said. "Just remember the rules in place aren't designed to keep you from doing a project, so much as to help military members understand what they may be signing or expected to do. We don't like saying 'no.'"
While McGinnis got a "yes" for this project, he says acting isn't something for which he'll necessarily quit the day job - yet.
"Acting is definitely something I look forward to testing out in the future, but right now I'm just living it one moment at a time."
To see what McGinnis will be up to in his episode slated to appear in late March, check local listings and tune into "Whitney" on NBC.
For more information about the Air Force Entertainment Liaison Office, visit www.airforcehollywood.af.mil.