New start for wounded vets and military complex
September 14, 2011
Heather Miller of Saint Charles, Mo remembers a horrific day - October 20, 2009.
"My husband Greg sent me a text message telling me he was going to take his life and that he will send me a message with the location of his body."
Luckily, she found him hours later safely in a hospital bed. Greg Miller suffers from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and this was one of several suicide attempts he's made after his last deployment to Kirkuk, Iraq in 2008.
Today, Greg is a retired Staff Sgt. with the U.S. Air Force and is on the road to recovery. He and his wife attribute this in large part to his love of art.
"His talents and ability to complete art projects have literally saved his life," said Heather. "It also makes Greg feel good to finally have his passion of artwork get noticed."
One of Greg's works of art will be displayed in the new Department of Defense (DoD) administrative office complex in Alexandria, Va. as part of the Spirit of Wounded Warriors and Veterans: Healing the Soul through Artistic Expression program.
"This program is a way for us to thank our wounded veterans for their service and provide them a venue to display their artwork. The residents of the complex will also benefit by being able to view the works of art," said Joanne Hensley, chief, project development, BRAC 133. Hensley created this program in cooperation with personnel from other federal agencies.
Hensley and her team announced the program by creating a flyer and distributing it to various veterans groups and hospitals. They received many art submissions from around the United States, including Hawaii, New Mexico, Massachusetts and Illinois. Submissions came from veteran's that served in different wars, such as the Vietnam Era. Artwork they received included paintings, photography, sculptures and quilts. Two dozen of these were selected to be displayed.
Miller's artwork was one of them. Miller spray painted a mountain landscape with a lake at the bottom of the mountains and a moon in the sky with the American flag as a back drop. "I'm still very patriotic. I love my country and that we are free and this is what I wanted to portray in this work of art. We live in a beautiful part of the world."
Andrew Bourne's artwork was also selected. He, like Miller, also suffers from PTSD and brain injuries after serving in the Gulf War in the 1990's and more recently in Husaybah, Iraq for the Marine Corps.
Bourne, a retired Staff Sgt. who is in the process of moving to New York with his family, submitted a Giclée, fine art digital print made on an ink-jet printer, named 'The American Rocker.'
The image shows a guitar player in the throes of his music. "You look at this picture and it says America. It takes you back. I'm in my mid- forties and I look at it and it means Jimmy Paige, Led Zeppelin, the heyday of early Rock n Roll. It says different things to different people." Both men heard about the program through their recovery care coordinators who also encouraged them to use art as a form of therapy.
Both men feel that artwork is a good outlet for wounded veterans. Miller said, "When I'm doing my artwork I go into a different zone. I can tune everything out and focus on my art. It's kind of a getaway."
Bourne said, "Creating art has been a family-saver. It keeps my wife and I close. It's a way for me to get my brain to relax more, get it to refocus and learn how to think."
For both men, their confidence in their art has even grown into fulltime careers. Miller has always enjoyed artwork and after getting out of the service he and his wife started their own interactive art studio named My Handy Works that provides art classes and art camps for children.
Bourne said, "This whole thing went from my therapy just to get my brain going and sort of as a distraction - all the way to its own career."
He and his wife are starting their own company named Epic Artwork & Photos. This fall, the agencies involved with the construction of the complex in collaboration with the Fisher House Foundation, an international non-profit organization that provides assistance to families of critically injured service men and women, are holding a ceremony to showcase the artwork and introduce the artists.
Both plan to attend and are honored that their artwork was selected and feel this program is very good for disabled veterans. Bourne said, "It gives somebody that may not necessarily have all of their confidence levels rebuilt. This is one of those things that can help."
All of the Soldier's artwork from the wounded warrior program will be displayed on the first two floors of the BRAC 133 office complex which sits on a 16-acre campus at the Mark Center in Alexandria Va. The building was built as part of the 2005 Base Closure and Realignment Act and was constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District. The complex opened in August 2011.
Dr. JoAnne Castagna is a Technical Writer-Editor for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/writer4usacenyc