For Love of Country… and Disney

Nick Brown-Bell

by , U.S. Army Training with Industry Communications Fellow, Disneyland Resort

We all have at least one cherished childhood memory related to The Walt Disney Company that transcends into our adult life. For many, becoming a cast member at Disneyland Resort is a dream come true. For military service members, it is possible to serve the country and pursue the dream of working at Disneyland Resort. 

If you are a member of the Reserve or National Guard forces, that is. Active duty service members are assigned to one military duty station with very slim chances of obtaining even part-time employment outside of the military. 

In honor of Veterans and Military Families Month, let’s look at five different Service members and how they came to be at the Disneyland Resort in very different roles, all while serving on active duty. 

4 adults standing in front of blue name tag backdrop
(L-R) Nick Filippone, Disneyland SALUTE BERG Co-Chair; Nick Nofziger and Dyllan Durham, Training with Industry Fellows; and Ariel Pena, Skillbridge Fellow.  

Dyllan Durham and Nick Nofziger are Fellows with the U.S. Army’s Training with Industry (TWI) program. The TWI program provides active duty Army soldiers a year-long fellowship at Disneyland Resort and the opportunity to learn best practices that can be taken back to the Army when complete.  

Dyllan’s story is unique in that he spent 11 years serving in the Vermont Army National Guard as a Supply Specialist and Music Support Technician. In the fall of 2023, he transitioned to active duty service at the Army School of Music in Virginia Beach, Va. Upon his arrival, his leadership informed him of a long-standing fellowship the Army School of Music has had with Disneyland, and he readily accepted the job. 

“My goal is to learn how Disneyland completes technical productions at such a level and how the Army can integrate those aspects into what we are currently doing,” he said.

While not a self-proclaimed superfan, Dyllan, who is a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army, further said he is incredibly excited to spend the next nine months here at Disneyland, where talent and production quality are top notch. There are many lessons to be learned and applied back in the Army. 

Army member with family
Nick Nofziger shortly after enlisting in the U.S. Army in 2014 (left) and with his family at his most recent reenlistment ceremony in July 2023 (right). 

Nick Nofziger is also a Staff Sergeant, serving as a Public Affairs Mass Communications supervisor in the U.S. Army. He is the first soldier chosen to complete a fellowship with the Disneyland Resort Communications department. Nick will have served 10 years of active duty time in the Army in March 2024, and says his love of all things Disney led him to apply for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

“To be the first to do anything is kind of scary: what if you mess it up for those coming after you? I am incredibly honored to be given this chance, though, and am already finding so many ways that Disney’s communications strategies and best business practices can be incorporated into the way the Army does its business,” Nick said.  

Nick is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, and had not visited Disneyland since a family trip to the park when he was four years old. Yet, he knew this was the only Fellowship he wanted. 

“To be the best, you have to learn from the best, plain and simple,” he continued. 

Dyllan and Nick will return to the active duty Army following the completion of their fellowship next summer: Dyllan back to Virginia Beach, and Nick to a new job at Fort George G. Meade, Md. 

The second opportunity for active duty service members at Disneyland Resort is through the Department of Defense’s Skillbridge program. Part of the Hiring our Heroes organization, Skillbridge provides service members who are within 12 weeks of separation from the military the chance to complete an internship at major Veteran-friendly companies.  

Three adults standing in front of platinum Mickey statue
(L-R) Ariel Pena, Jimmy Chen, and Nick Nofziger 

Ariel Pena and Jimmy Chen recently completed their Skillbridge Fellowship on Nov. 16, 2023. 

Jimmy Chen as a young Captain, shortly after beginning his career as an Army officer (left) and receiving his final military award at his official retirement ceremony from the U.S. Army (right). 

Jimmy is a 21-year Army officer, retiring this month in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Jimmy began his career as a Private First Class in the U.S. Army Reserve, working his way through college at several campuses of the University of California. After he and his mother immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan at age 3, he settled in Alameda, Calif.  

“I am a huge Super Heroes fan, so Disney was definitely at the top of my list,” he says, discussing the options available for his internship. 

Ariel is retiring from the U.S. Marine Corps as a Master Sergeant after serving as a Contracting Officer for over 20 years. He and his son enjoy Super Heroes, as well, and his wife and daughter love the Disney Princess characters. Stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and originally from Los Angeles, Ariel was able to visit the parks often before being offered the Skillbridge program. Once here, he said Disneyland has been more than welcoming. 

“I can say that the Veteran community at The Walt Disney Company is very welcoming and supportive of other veterans. It is very evident that everyone wants to support transitioning veterans,” he said. 

Person stands next to Disney Salute sign in red, white and blue
Desiree Morales at the Disneyland Resort SALUTE BERG Veterans Day reception Nov. 11, 2023. 

Desiree Morales is very familiar with the Skillbridge program, having completed her fellowship in August of this year after a six-year enlistment in the U.S. Air Force as a Fuel Systems Journeyman. A native of Chino Hills, Calif. , she says she grew up with an annual pass and a hunger for all things Disneyland. When she transitioned from the Air Force in August, she accepted a full-time cast member position as a Machinist in Tomorrowland in Disneyland park. 

“It was a dream of mine to work for The Walt Disney Company,” Desiree said. 

In preparation for her permanent position, she says her Disneyland leadership helped her every step of the way. From mock interviews to resume editing to connecting her to the people she would be working with, Disneyland Resort went above and beyond the call of duty to help fulfill Desiree’s dream. 

“It was truly a magical experience, and I can’t express enough gratitude to everyone I met who helped me out,” Desiree concluded.  

Group of people with patriotic Mickey

The Walt Disney Company’s dedication to Veterans and currently serving military members is based in the founders of the organization: Walt Disney and his brother Roy both served the United States during World War I. Disney Studios produced short instructional and propaganda films during World War II. Disney has supported the Marine Toys for Tots program since the beginning of the organization, over 75 years ago. 

As Walt himself said, “Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America – with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.” So, then, The Walt Disney Company has created a space where Veterans and currently serving military members can revel in joy and magic, whether permanently or for a short time. They may not be here forever, but they are here for love of country… and Disney. 

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