Wounded warriors learn to blow glass in pilot program
Staff Sgt. Bruce Kandle shapes glass with the help of classmates Staff Sgt. Jennifer Cox and Sgt. 1st Class Angelique Stephens (right) and instructor Connor McClelland at the Museum of Glass, Hot Shop Heroes: Healing with Fire program, Nov. 5, 2013, in Tacoma, Wash.

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCORD, Wash. (Nov. 27, 2013) -- At the Hot Shop, everything is hands-on. Gathering molten glass, blowing and shaping it, even applauding when each piece of art is completed -- the Soldiers who are students there take part in it all.

For the past few weeks on Tuesday evenings, 11 Soldiers from the Warrior Transition Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord have driven to the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Wash., to learn the basics of glass blowing from experts in the field.

"It definitely builds your confidence a lot by glass blowing, especially if you just go in the Hot Shop and you watch the glass blowers. You watch all these famous artists create something, and then you get down there and you're doing it; you're like, 'Oh my gosh, I'm doing this too,'" said Staff Sgt. Jennifer Cox, a platoon sergeant.

"You get to do stuff you didn't know you could do," said Sgt. Ronnie Bernardo, a Soldier in Transition. "If I'm able to make something like this, what else can I make?"

The confidence gained in learning this complex skill is just one of the benefits of the Hot Shop Heroes: Healing with Fire program. The Museum of Glass and the WTB launched the six-class pilot program in October to teach Soldiers how to build technical glass and allow them to reap physical and emotional benefits as they learn a new skill.

"The kind of freedom and creativity I can already see is an incredible success," said Patricia Davidson, the lead instructor for the program; she's worked with glass for 25 years and also teaches a glass-blowing class locally. She's teaching Soldiers fundamental glass-making skills such as creating basic shapes like cones, spheres and cylinders, which are foundation elements for all glass objects.

So far, the Soldiers have made glass paperweights and beads; they will all make a drinking glass by the end of the program.

Both Bernardo and Cox called the class exciting, and for Bernardo it offers a valued creative outlet, which fits in with the intended recreation therapy aspect of the program.

"I thought the healing just involves the hospital, some sterile environment, but with this, being around people, being around art, that helps a lot," said Bernardo, who is recovering from back and lower extremity injuries.

According to Recreation Therapist Erin Carpenter, activities like glass blowing can contribute to two tiers of recreation therapy: using recreation as a tool to achieve therapeutic outcomes and helping achieve fulfillment despite any physical limitations a person may experience.

"Engaging in programs such as glass blowing provides a holistic approach to the healing process," she said.

Soldiers in the program could experience physical benefits such as improved dexterity, balance, posture control, core strength, standing tolerance and more. They could also reap emotional benefits like social reintegration with their fellow classmates and the larger civilian community, and an opportunity to practice mindfulness, which can help decrease anxiety and stress, lower heart rates, and gain focus and control -- all of which are beneficial to recovering patients.

The thrill of working in an adrenaline-filled environment also appealed to some members of the course.

"I've been in environments that are very dangerous and then going into an environment like this where there is some risk involved, but yet it's controlled… it's so exciting," said Cox.

Page last updated Wed November 27th, 2013 at 00:00