By Chelsea Bissell, U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria Public Affairs November 19, 2013
VILSECK, Germany -- Spc. Kevin Boelter shifted nervously as he walked into the room at the Soldier and Family Assistance Center, here, Oct. 15. Glancing at the table lined with origami paper, paints, boxes and masks, he fidgeted, unsure of what to do.
"I'm not really an artist," announced Boelter of Bravo Company, Warrior Transition Battalion.
He relaxed once Tammie Pech, assistant station manager of the Grafenwoehr American Red Cross, suggested he channel his favorite sports team. Boelter grabbed a mask, some yellow and blue paint, sat down and intently painted a San Diego Chargers-inspired mask.
Boelter and a handful of fellow Bravo Company Soldiers spent the afternoon creating art as part of the American Red Cross Healing Arts program, which serves primarily as a stress reliever.
"Healing Arts is not therapy, but it can be very therapeutic," said Pech. "It creates an attitude of 'this is something I can do outside of what I normally do.'"
The Red Cross program focuses on wounded warriors, Soldiers returning from deployment and those about to deploy. There are no rules during the session and the Soldiers only receive help or instruction if they ask for it.
The intent, explained Pech, is to let the Soldiers create freely.
The local Healing Arts series is modeled after a similar program at Army medical centers like Walter Reed. There, Soldiers recovering from injuries or PTSD use creative arts, such as music, visual art and writing, as part of their therapy.
Trained counselors work closely with patients, using art to help them express themselves.
For one exercise, Soldiers paint masks depicting dual personalities. On the inside they paint how they see themselves; the outside shows the face they portray to the world.
The program in U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria however, lets Soldiers create what they want in a comfortable environment.
"Here, it's more of a relaxation session," said Pech. "We didn't want to make it into a therapy session. We wanted to make it fun."
Even Soldiers who come into Healing Arts with doubts loosen up once they have a paintbrush or pencil in hand. They unwind as they quietly create and chat.
Some are crafty art enthusiasts with their own oeuvre growing at home, while others are mixing paint and folding paper cranes for the first time.
The newness of the experience and the uncertainty is a large part of the fun for the Soldiers.
"It's either going to be a disaster, or it might end up being really cool looking," explained Staff Sgt. Michael Czarnecki, cadre, WTB, as he brushed silver paint on a mask modeled after "The Terminator."
As he finished his mask, Czarnecki picked it up, laughed, and put it into the "disaster" category.
His piece from a previous Healing Arts session, a "Happy Anniversary" painting that went over well with his wife, was in the "really cool" category.
Though the outcome isn't always museum-worthy, the Soldiers all agreed that the crux of Healing Arts is the artistic intermission from daily routines.
"It's naturally relaxing," said Czarnecki. "You get to take your top off, it's during the day, there's no emails. It's natural stress relief."
Boelter, who was initially doubtful that he could make anything, walked out of Healing Arts intending to hang his Chargers mask on his wall.
"It was actually relaxing," he said. "It kind of reminds me of listening to music. It's a different type of coping skill to relax. You forget about everything. You focus on the song or that painting. It's concentration."
The next Healing Arts class will be Nov. 19, 1:30-3:30 p.m. at the Rose Barracks Soldier and Family Assistance Center, Bldg. 165. The class is held the third Thursday of every month. Contact the Red Cross at DSN 475-1760, CIV 09641-83-1760 for more information.