By by Lori Brenae Perkins, Courier staffMay 31, 2013
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- To many Soldiers, the acronym SOAR represents Special Operations Aviation Regiment. For Soldiers in the Wounded Transition Battalion it is the Sounds of Acoustic Recovery music program.
In an eight-week program, Wounded Warriors learn the basic music theory of voice lessons, guitar and piano, with an option of taking a beginner or intermediate course.
"We aren't a type of program that pushes a lot of big numbers through," said 101st Airborne Division band member and SOAR instructor Sgt. Lee Lamb. "We're about finding those Soldiers that really connects with what we're doing and really benefits from it."
Lamb said that learning to play an instrument helps Soldiers' mental and physical health and especially helps Soldiers with Traumatic Brain Injuries or hand injuries.
"SOAR gives Soldiers an outlet for expression, allowing them to serve strong," he said. "If a Soldier has access to a guitar or piano while they are serving, whether in garrison or deployed, they have an outlet."
"This outlet can remain constant and allow the Soldier to reintegrate strong from a deployed environment to a garrison environment or from the Army to the civilian sector," he added. "When a Soldier is able to carry that outlet with them during periods of reintegration, they are able to remain strong, which will enable them to start strong in the next phase of their life."
First Sgt. Michael Byer created SOAR in March 2011 after he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. His symptoms subsided once he began playing the guitar; music therapy improved his motor skills, boosted his morale and minimized depression.
Blanchfield Army Community Hospital occupational therapy assistant Katie Cullen said in an email that "SOAR is great for depression and/or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because it gets [Soldiers] in a small group setting and allow them to slowly begin to socialize with others. It makes them feel very accomplished at the end of their class cycle to be able to say 'hey I can do this that I couldn't do before.'"
Since the program's evolvement, several non-profit organizations have contacted the instructors to help assist with equipment needs.
"I've sent them an equipment list of things we need," said Lamb. "They're helping."
The 10-member music program is currently working with Warrior Cry Project, a music project dedicated to help combat veterans cope with life-changing injuries.
The Center for American Military Music Opportunities, a neurologic music therapy program that helps service members advance their artistic and technical abilities and the National Association for Music Education, the world's largest resource for art education, will also accommodate Soldiers' needs in the music program.
The Center for American Military Music Opportunities is partnering with SOAR and provide musical therapist to Soldiers.
The instructors intend to implement workshops, with the help of National Association for Music Education that will send Soldiers on musical performance assignments.
"Definitely things are in the works," said Lamb. "But it can be difficult to coordinate all the different aspects to get it to work together."
On May 16, SOAR instructors Sgt. Michael Kiese and Lamb presented one of the two electric guitars that Warrior Cry Project supplied to the program to Staff Sgt. Clint Norwood, WTB.
Norwood started playing the guitar at beginner's level six months ago, since then, he is at the intermediate level and has learned how to play "Simple Man" by Lynyrd Skynyrd along with other songs. Norwood said he practices three hours every day.
"It's really helped with the brain injury that I got," said Norwood. "I've always wanted to learn how to play because my daddy has been playing for a while, now me and him can play together."
Norwood, who came to the program feeling like a failure because of his injuries, said that both levels of the program not only helped improve his self-esteem, but his short and long-term memory as well.
"It's awesome," he said. "It gave me another purpose to achieve a goal." Norwood said. "It's a lot of people who are shy and embarrassed," he added. "I'm just proud to be here, I could be somewhere else, it's a great program."
The beginner's course is on Thursdays from 1 until 2 p.m., intermediate and vocal course is on Thursdays from 2 until 3 p.m. at the Dale Wayrynen Recreation Center.
Wounded Soldiers interested in the program should contact their nurse case manager or visit the Occupational Therapy clinic.
"Just to be able to sustain a program like this for this long is really unheard of," said Lamb. "The most important thing is to really feel like we're making a difference for these Soldiers, maybe not everyone, but enough."