By Suzi Parker
NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark (Reuters) - Actor Michael Cuomo spotted the soldier while sitting in the Atlanta airport.
Cuomo had just left Little Rock after wrapping the short film "The Unknown Citizen" about a businessman who anonymously pays for a soldier's meal in an airport bar. Suddenly, he was confronted with the same scenario.
Life imitated art.
Cuomo paid the soldier's bill secretly. But as Cuomo headed out of the restaurant, the waiter told him that the soldier had ordered a second meal. Did Cuomo want to pay for both?
He did. "If you are going to do it, do it all the way," Cuomo told Reuters. "For me, it was an incredible feeling of generosity, and I hope the guy felt good that day, too."
"The Unknown Citizen," written and directed by Arkansan Neil Osam, 34, debuted Tuesday night in North Little Rock. The message of the four-minute film -- in which Cuomo played a bartender -- is simple: Show appreciation to troops, anytime, anywhere.
Osam's first film coincides with his online movement, FeedASoldier.com, which he hopes to spread around the country. He is talking with corporate sponsors and an in-flight media company to show the film in airports and on airplanes. The film is also on YouTube.
Airports are logical spots for people to show some generosity to soldiers who may be going to training, heading abroad or coming home, Osam said.
"It lets them know that we are thinking about them regardless of your politics," Osam said.
Osam's idea emerged from a missed opportunity two years ago at Chicago's O'Hare airport. He saw a soldier eating alone and decided to buy his meal. The waiter told him the man had already bought his own lunch. Osam was too late.
"It haunted me," Osam said. "I feel like this film makes it up to that one guy."
In the movie, Osam's cousin, Kenny Hendrix, portrays the soldier. Hendrix's tattoo of the Roman numeral 14 became a focal point in many scenes. The number symbolizes how many men were lost in one of Hendrix's units.
"That tattoo is just one on a soldier representing so many stories out there to be told," Osam said.
Hendrix, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, missed the film's debut because he is currently at a military training in El Paso, Texas.
Osam and Cuomo, 33, believe their generation is often politically split on support for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Osam hopes his project bridges the gap from older Americans, who historically support veterans' causes, and the Millennial Generation.
That's especially important, Osam said, as more than 36,000 troops return home from Iraq by the end of the year.
"This is the first time I've been a part of something like this, a movement for change in your country," he said. "I made my first anonymous donation in Atlanta. Others can, too."
(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Jerry Norton)