This article was originally published in the 2022 1st Quarter edition of Reserve & National Guard Magazine.
Lt. Cmdr. Ari Huber has blown kisses at Meryl Streep, has a credited role in “Top Gun: Maverick” and still serves in the Navy Reserve – mostly recently returning from a three-month deployment in the Caribbean.
Huber, who has been a reservist since 2017 following eight years on active duty, commanded the USNS Burlington from U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command, U.S. Fourth Fleet. He oversaw more than 60 sailors from three unit organizations — security detachment, operational intelligence fusion cell and an engineering crew – on a ship also crewed by Military Sealift Command and about 25 civilian mariners.
While deployed, the Burlington responded to the Aug. 14 earthquake in Haiti that resulted in more than 2,000 deaths and thousands more injuries.
“To get to go do that for once, this makes a lifetime of wearing the uniform worth it,” Huber said.
Commanding the Burlington
The Burlington crew aided hundreds of Haitians over the course of roughly 30 days. They also held subject matter expert exchanges and conducted training with the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago special operations forces.
“It was an incredible opportunity to see how the cultures of our two navies were disparate in terms of countries, but almost the same in terms of honors and past times,” Huber said.
Chief Petty Officer Taylor Hart led the unmanned aerial vehicle detachment and served as the operations and intelligence officer. He said the biggest takeaway was being able to respond to the Haiti earthquake as the “first U.S. asset on scene.”
But also over the course of four days in the Dominican Republic, the Burlington crew held classroom training, practical exercises on the beach – where they tired the SEALS by having them perform calisthenics then mat wrestle before a simulated casualty scenario – and fun runs aboard the ship.
“Here we got to get hands-on training in a safe environment, COVID friendly, and were able to teach them a lot about how we did things … [and] how we were able to learn from them as well,” said Hart, who assisted Huber in planning the training.
The deployment also included five counter-narcotics operations, which Huber said were “super interesting.” The Burlington is not a warship, but he said it was tasked with being the barrier between the land and drug runners.
“Later on we were able to finally vector a warship from the Dominican Republic and leveraged our relationship with Dominican Republic seals to interdict drug runners,” Huber said.
‘The gig that everyone kind of waits for’
Navigating deployments alongside his burgeoning acting career – to put it plainly, Huber said, “sucks.” However, anyone with a “gig-oriented” role outside of the military is their own boss.
“If you go through lulls or ruts in an entrepreneurial career, you’ll forget some of that professionalism … There’s nothing like a deployment to remind you of, ‘Here’s some of the small detail stuff I should be doing on a daily basis,’” Huber said.
Through his agent, Jean-Marc Carre, Huber secured his first acting gig – a commercial with Zinus Mattress – on his first audition. Carre told him not to expect that to happen all the time. And yet, it happened again on his second and third auditions.
“Granted, saying that – I’ve had a lot of rejections since then,” Huber said. “It was just sort of this beginner’s luck.”
He later had to turn down an offer he said “everyone kind of waits for” – a hosting opportunity for a History Channel show – because it coincided with the Caribbean deployment.
“It was a heartbreaker,” he said. “I was already in this position … [but it] ended up being a really good deployment. We helped out the Haitians tremendously.”
Carre said that while that opportunity “was actually a pretty good one,” he knew from the beginning that Huber would have blocks of time where he would be unavailable because of his reservist career.
“It was a disappointment on both sides, but there’s nothing we could do about it,” Carre said.
Steering the acting ship while in the Navy Reserve
Still, Huber’s roles have been on an upswing, landing roles in “Top Gun: Maverick” and the December 2020 Netflix film, “The Prom.”
Huber is credited as Island Bar Patron in the “Top Gun” reboot – a role he said was “all luck” due to his previous stint at Navy Office of Information West (NAVINFO). The film was shot on Naval Air Station North Island, the same location as NAVINFO. I Bar, the famous North Island aviator bar, was recreated and Huber was “heavily featured in the scene.”
He had a similar role on the set of “The Prom,” which stars Meryl Streep and James Corden. In a memorable filming moment, Streep was exiting the room, blowing kisses at the crowd as Huber was “sort of star struck.”
“Without thinking about it, I just raised my hand up and grabbed a kiss,” Huber said, noting that the scene was ultimately cut from the film.
Now that Huber is back stateside, Carre said he is being submitted for projects he could be a good fit for. Carre, who served as a corporal in the French army during the Cold War, said Huber has been “very proactive” in securing gigs independently since he returned from the Caribbean.
Upcoming roles include co-starring roles in Lifetime crime reenactment show and an Oxygen show.