Page 150

150

USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

HEALTH & HEALING Meanwhile, with only 7 percent of the country having military experience, many people go about their daily lives without ever speaking to a veteran. “There is this cultural, social and literal geographic disconnect between those who’ve served and those who haven’t,” said Sam Pressler, founder and executive director of the Armed Services Arts Partnership. Even if civilians want to understand, they might not know where to begin; attending a storytelling or theater performance opens the door and bridges the gap. Audiences have been eager to engage, said Jonathan Wei, a writer, director and producer who’s the founder and executive director of The Telling Project. From the first performance he organized at the University of Oregon in 2008, crowds have filled the house. “War is of vital importance on any number of levels, the least significant of which are economic and political, and the most significant are moral and spiritual, to everybody who is a part of this nation, part of this world,” he said. Bearing witness to veterans’ experiences offers civilians a STEPHANIE FAUCHER chance to shoulder part of the burden, to The Armed Services Arts Partnership works with Story District to offer free storytelling classes for veterans, service members, military close the loop on what happens after the families and caregivers. Storytellers work closely with coaches to be able to use public performances to share their experiences. representatives they’ve sent off to battle return home, he added. fiancé, also a veteran. The audience’s ences; her own parents didn’t know she’d Wei, Pressler and other organizers point reaction made her realize how others attempted suicide. Crafting and sharing her out that these endeavors don’t substitute perceived the weight of her words. Many story in different contexts — sometimes for therapy, and researcher Demers said laughed at the light moments; one man with humor, other times with brutal not every veteran needs to put his or her sat in the front row, weeping. “But nobody honesty — allows her to view it differently past into words. “There’s an attitude out walked away disgusted in me when I got and often more positively, she said. there that if they just talk it out, they can off the stage,” she said. “There are certainly things I cannot move forward — and for some people, The next time the topic came up among change about my military experience — that’s not good,” she said. The memories friends, she still cracked a joke at first — but people I’ve killed, lives I’ve saved,” she may be too painful, the retelling too then made a point of slowing down, said. “But one of the traumatic. Or, veterans explaining more and letting other people things I’ve learned is the may simply prefer to absorb what she was telling them. It’s still more flexible my mind move on. not easy to share such intense moments, is, the more flexible But for others, verbal“Maybe this was but giving them more space means the reality is, and that to me izing their experiences the reason why connections that result run deeper, she said. is a great thing.” As she connects the threads of In addition to easing interpersonal prepares to return to the who they were before Anne Barlieb I was spared, communication, she and Barlieb hope civilian world, she knows deployment and their to talk about the openness and authenticity of sharing this more open mindset time in the service with narratives reminds civilians that veterans will ease her transition. the person they hope the people are just people, too. “ Her classmate in the to become, Demers’ Yeah, we’re service members, but we’re a storytelling program, research has shown. That who weren’t as lot more than that, and we have stories just Marine Corps veteran was the case for Army fortunate as me to like everybody else,” Barlieb said. What’s Jennie Haskamp, has Maj. Anne Barlieb, who more, she finds expressing herself artistialways processed the participated in an Armed make it back.” cally just plain fun — which, along with world through writing Services Arts Partnership — George Haught justice, freedom and democracy, is one of — she has her own blog, storytelling class earlier the values she said she fought to defend. has published articles in this year. She served in For Haught, finally telling his story outlets like The Washingthe military for 13 years, after all this time has opened the door to ton Post, and worked in including assignments revising the manuscript. “I’m to the point communications for the military as well as in Iraq and Qatar and is in the process of now with it that I’m actually going back to the disaster-relief nonprofit Team Rubicon. transitioning out of the military, currently a Vietnam for the 50th anniversary of the But in personal conversation, she’d often member of the Warrior Transition Brigade battle,” he said. “A year ago, I wouldn’t feel compelled to apologize for things that for ill and injured service members at have even thought about undertaking that, had happened to her or to deflect difficult Walter Reed National Military Medical Jennie Haskamp to revisit that period in my life. Now I look moments with humor. Center in Bethesda, Md. upon it as a way of closing out that chapter In her final storytelling performance, Like Haught, she’d never told those closin my life and moving on.” Haskamp talked about the suicide of her est to her about her most difficult experiMAHNAZ REZA

Profile for STUDIO Gannett

VETERANS AFFAIRS 2017  

VETERANS AFFAIRS 2017