Service Members and Veterans Come Together to Demonstrate the Healing Power of Creative Expression

 

A visitor looks at photography and paintings on display at “A Day of Healing Arts: From Clinic to Community,” an event honoring the importance of healing arts, during Warrior Care Month at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland on November 16, 2017. (DoD Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg)

 

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md, Nov. 16, 2017– At the Sunset Room, overlooking the National Harbor pier and famous Capital Wheel Ferris wheel, the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, along with the Office of Warrior Care Policy and the National Endowment for the Arts hosted a room filled with distinguished guests, wounded, ill and injured service members, veterans and caregivers to shine a light on healing arts during a Warrior Care Month event: “A Day of Healing Arts: From Clinic of Community.”

The day of healing event allowed wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans to perform and speak about their personal experiences with healing arts. From singing, blacksmithing, painting, photography, jewelry-making, playing musical instruments, spoken word and other art work, the room was filled with service members and veterans expressing how various modes and mediums have affected a positive change in their lives—helping them heal from physical injury, traumatic brain injury (TBI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and suicidal ideation.

“Today’s a day that helps each and every one of us remember that service members and families go through so much, and we need to help them through their recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration from clinic to recovery,” said Sandra Mason, director of the Recovery Coordination Program with the Office of Warrior Care Policy.

Art is Life

“Art has the ability to tell a story and bring on a life of its own,” expressed retired Army Sergeant First Class and Special Forces soldier Michael Rodriguez, who spoke about the power of healing arts.

Rodriguez was referred to the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Md where he was diagnosed with multiple TBIs and post-traumatic stress. Through participating in healing arts therapy, Rodriguez became interested in blacksmithing and creating steel daggers. It was through blacksmithing and art that Rodriguez was able to reconnect to who he really was by using his hands and putting in more than 250 hours of work into his artistic creations. The first of his many daggers was gifted to former president George W. Bush. All of Rodriguez work is donated to auctions and charities. Rodriguez currently sits on former president Bush’s advisory council board for his Military Service Initiative.

 

Michael Rodriguez tells his story on stage

Army veteran and former Green Beret Michael Rodriguez discusses his artwork at “A Day of Healing Arts: From Clinic to Community,” an event honoring the importance of healing arts, during Warrior Care Month at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland on November 16, 2017. (DoD Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg)

 

Laughter beyond Comedy

Air National Guard Tech Sergeant Cedric Beamon’s road to recovery is an on-going battle, but with the help of his wife, and primary caregiver Estelline, the hurdles have been easier to handle. Diagnosed with manic depression, PTSD and a recipient of a double prosthetic hip, Beamon turned to telling jokes to help with his physical, psychological and mental healing. During his fifth deployment to Kuwait, Beamon found himself holding his close friend, who nearly died, in his arms. Paired with feelings of abandonment, Beamon says the experience with his close friend triggered his long list of injuries. Estelline noticed the change in her husband and suggested he speak to someone.

“The Air Force Wounded Warrior Program saved my life and since then has sustained my life,” explains Beamon. Beamon is able to express himself through his life experiences with a comedic twist. Beamon performed 15 minutes of stand-up comedy for the crowd, bringing the audience to their feet in recognition of his performance at its conclusion. Beamon credits his Recovery Care Coordinator for helping him identify unique recovery opportunities and guiding him through the Medical Evaluation Board process, social security benefits and other processes with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

As her husband’s caregiver, and after being married nearly 30 years, Estelline made it her mission to be by his side. Estelline was able to keep balanced through caregiver support; “being with people who have the same understanding helped me tremendously,” Estelline said. “I haven’t gotten over the hump yet, but we’re getting there.”

Comedian on stage telling jokes to crowd

Air Force veteran Cedric Beamon performs a comedy routine at “A Day of Healing Arts: From Clinic to Community,” an event honoring the importance of healing arts, during Warrior Care Month at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland on November 16, 2017 (DoD Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg)

 

Movement through Music

To close the day, nonprofit music group Rock to Recovery rocked the crowd. Attendees rose to their feet, clapped their hands and sang along to live renditions of songs written and performed by service members and caregivers during the rousing 30-minute set. Rock to Recovery founder Wes Geer credits visits he made to wounded service members and veterans as a member of the popular rock band Korn for inspiring the concept of Rock to Recovery. Since 2012, Geer said Rock to Recovery has helped wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans who consider themselves non-musicians become musical by teaching them how to play, sing and construct songs to help them to heal and recover. “It’s a transformative body, mental and spiritual process that allows these service members and veterans to connect, find hope and joy again,” said Geer.

Caregivers on stage singing and playing instruments

Air Force caregivers and staff perform a song they wrote during “Rock to Recovery” workshops at “A Day of Healing Arts: From Clinic to Community” takes place during Warrior Care Month at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland on November 16, 2017. (DoD Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg)

 

The Meaning of the Day

“A Day of Healing Arts: From Clinic to Community” celebrated the strength and resilience of wounded, ill and injured service members, and showcased how they use art, music, performance art, and other non-traditional therapies and techniques throughout their recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration back to duty or transition into the civilian community.

“We are also highlighting innovative collaborations and community-based partnerships that empower more service members and veterans to engage in meaningful recovery and rehabilitation opportunities, including those opportunities within the Department of Defense and National Endowment for the Arts “Creative Forces” partnership,” said Barbara Wilson, director of Outreach and Training at the Office of Warrior Care Policy and one of the event’s three hosts. “Today was a fantastic demonstration of the important collaboration that benefits service members and their families—I’m thrilled that Marsha Gonzales, chief of the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, Warrior Care Support Branch and Bill O’Brien, senior innovation advisor to the chairman at the National Endowment for the Arts were able to help host this event and showcase all the great support being offered to service members and their families through these unique programs and opportunities.”