Fame Without Fortune

Fame Without Fortune

Burke-area couple appear in MTV documentary about soldiers returning to civilian life.

When Tim Pillon returned from active duty in Iraq, he prepared himself to meet his 2-month-old son, Kyle, for the first time. What he didn’t prepare for was the introduction he would face while returning to civilian life.

“They [the Marine Corps] only really prepare you for deployments,” said Pillon, 22.

Becoming a civilian again was something that wouldn’t take long, but it would be challenging. Pillon, now serving inactive duty in the Marine Corps, had been on the defensive as a soldier for seven months. He remembers sleeping one minute to being on the move the next. Now he needs a regular job to provide for his family. Finding one turned into its own task.

“I’ve always wanted to do law enforcement,” said Pillon. “You’re basically doing everything [in the military] a police officer does, but in a more hostile area.”

Shannon Pillon, his wife, worked at George Mason University about six months ago and said she couldn’t believe he was turned down for a police job there when he returned to Fairfax. He had arrived for his interview about 12 hours after his trek back from Iraq, without his suitcases or any personal items. He wore what he had to the interview, a polo shirt and slacks, and was later told the position wasn’t offered because he didn’t dress appropriately for the interview.

The couple lives in the basement of Shannon Pillon’s parents’ home, in the Kings Park West community in Fairfax. They live in a cramped space, but comfortable furniture and family pictures that flood the walls and shelves make it feel like home. They are happy there, but their sights are set on purchasing a home of their own within the next three years.

“We can do it,” said Tim Pillon.

Inactive Marines don’t receive health benefits. For now, Tim Pillon is working a security job at the Home Depot. He isn’t eligible for health benefits there until next month, but he’s hoping a job with the Fairfax County Sheriff’s office will pan out by then.

“The Marine Corps doesn’t set you up for failure,” said Tim Pillon.

SHANNON PILLON WAS two months pregnant at the couple’s wedding in July 2005. Tim left for training in California three days later. He came back for about a week before going to Iraq, so Shannon spent the rest of her pregnancy without her husband.

“My worst fear was that my son would never get to meet his father,” said Shannon Pillon, 21.

But they did meet, and Tim Pillon loves being a father. The couple receives a little help when they need it from some loving grandparents who live upstairs. A nursery is located in the main part of the house, but it’s only used every once in a while when grandma and grandpa are watching 8-month-old Kyle. The rest of the time, Kyle is with mom and dad in the basement home set up like an apartment. It’s the same basement where an MTV camera crew recently filmed the couple for the network's eight-year-old True Life documentary series. The episode, “True Life: I’m returning to civilian life.” premiered Tuesday, Oct. 24, at 10 p.m.

Shannon Pillon heard about the show through an ad on the popular social networking Web site, MySpace.com. At first, she brushed it off because she thought it was unlikely that her story would be picked. She ended up writing a brief e-mail to the show, and within 12 hours she was on the phone with a producer setting it all up.

"We responded quickly to Tim and Shannon because we felt their story was unique, and [the show's production] was happening quickly," said Marshall Eisen, executive producer, in an e-mail statement his spokesperson sent to the Connection. "We have to work very fast in these situations because we don't want to miss any important story developments with potential participants."

The video crew was in Fairfax within a week recording Shannon Pillon while she was still pregnant. She said the producers were looking for a positive story to tell. They filmed the couple, off and on, over the course of about six months, said Eisen.

"It wasn't invasive at all," said Shannon Pillon.

THE CREW recorded about 180 hours of tape, and edited it down to a third of an hour episode, said Tina Morris, Shannon Pillon’s mother. The cameras were rolling for Tim Pillon’s homecoming in California, when he was seeing and touching his baby boy for the first time.

“I was more intent on meeting him [than concerned with the camera crew],” said Tim Pillon.

The cameras rolled, but Shannon Pillon said they were able to work their schedule out with the show’s producers. They worked around the couple’s privacy, even by agreeing to turn the cameras off when they needed some space.

"The cameras are not constantly rolling and we never film when our subjects don't want us to," Eisen said.

Morris said her son-in-law’s return to civilian life has been tough. He’s trying to adjust to becoming a father and a husband, all while looking for a long-term job. Shannon Pillon said she thought it was important to let people know about military life after being sent to war.

“There is an ending to the deployment,” she said. “Hopefully happy ones of course.”

Tim Pillon remains humble about his return.

“I’m not the first one to do it, and I certainly won’t be the last,” he said.