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Did Denzel Washington Serve in the Military?

As an Academy Award winner, Denzel Washington has been a dominant force in American cinema for the last 35 years. His uncompromising style and imposing on-screen presence have seen him gravitate towards various character roles.

With Washington’s hard-nosed and gritty on-screen demeanor, it’s no surprise that he has continually found character-roles within the military. His cinematic work is so authentic that it isn’t unnatural for fans to wonder whether Denzel Washington had actually served in the military before the bright lights of Hollywood came calling.

Was Denzel in the Military?  

So, did Denzel Washington – the world-famous and highly celebrated actor – serve in the military? After all, it wouldn’t be unprecedented.

Elvis Presley was perhaps the most famous man on earth when he served two years in a tank battalion in Germany. Arnold Schwarzenegger was another movie hard man with real military credentials discovered in the Austrian army. But what about Denzel Washington? 

The short answer is no, Denzel Washington did not serve in the military. If you have previously believed otherwise, then you may have been confusing him with George Washington, the man on the money, and the first American president. 

Nonetheless, there is a longer answer to this question, and it provides some key context regarding Washington’s on-screen authenticity. 

Military Academy 

While Denzel Washington may not have served in the military in the strictest sense, he did attend a military school. Washington’s mother sent him to Oakland Military Academy in New Windsor, New York when he was 14 years old.

He has often spoken of the life he was leading before attending the private preparatory school, claiming that his peers might have influenced him into a life of hardship had he continued. He once explained: 

I wouldn’t have survived in the direction I was going. These were good guys, and although my fate was different from theirs, it doesn’t make me a better person than them. The streets got them. I was doing what they were doing…

Washington credits his mother with making the decision that changed his life when he says: 

She got me off the streets, sending me to private school and in the summers sending me to camps. That decision changed my life.

At school, I developed an appreciation for reading. We had one teacher who used to have us read The New York Times, and it opened up a new world to me. I started caring about what was going on outside my own environment.

Washington’s Time at Oakland Military Academy 

By the time Denzel Washington attended Oakland Military Academy in 1968, the private school had recently suspended its military curriculum. Inevitably, the military influence on the educational establishment would have been enduring; however, there was no drill, no fieldcraft, nor any of the other lessons one would associate with military training.

The academic program was discontinued in the early 1970s, while the Oakland School of Horsemanship continued until 1980 when the school was officially closed. In the early 1970s, Washington moved on to a high school in Daytona Beach, Florida, before taking drama classes at 20. 


Denzel Washington has performed as a military man several times in his career as an actor; in many ways, he is the perfect man for the job. Both his Academy Award-winning credentials and his continuing influence on the modern blockbuster speak volumes for his acting skills.

However, when it comes to Washington’s real-life experience in the military, there is none. His time at military school was “military” in name only – a throwback to Oakland Academy’s military roots. Washington’s convincing portrayal of military figures on-screen is simply a testament to his extraordinary talent as a trailblazing actor. 

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  • Born and raised in Staffordshire, the United Kingdom, Joe Graduated in the summer of 2019 from Loughborough University with a degree in English literature and Sports science. Joe is a keen sportsman with a wide array of interests including anthropology and geo-politics. He also plays rugby semi-professionally.

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