FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Karen Pence, the Second Lady of the United States, recognized several Soldiers and the art therapist from Womack Army Medical Center's Intrepid Spirit Center during her Fort Bragg tour, Nov. 2.
During her tenure as Second Lady, Pence is focusing on shining a "spotlight on the mental health profession of art therapy," according to the White House website. Art therapy is a non-traditional, non-verbal form of therapy that uses the process of creating art with the intent of the art speaking for itself.
In October 2017, Pence launched her new therapy initiative, Healing with the HeArt. She is advocating the benefits of art therapy within the military community.
Alice Stewart, the Fort Bragg art therapist, is excited about Pence's initiative, as this has been Stewart's lifelong calling.
"Art itself and helping others has always been therapeutic for me," said Stewart. "So bringing those two components together and going through the program helped me recognize what to do with my passion."
Stewart became an art therapist seven years ago after her schooling in Pennsylvania. In January, she was hired as Fort Bragg's only art therapist.
Sgt. 1st Class Jason Harris, a Soldier in U.S. Special Operations Command, was one of two Soldiers whose art was highlighted during Pence's visit. Harris' preferred form of art therapy was crocheting.
"It was nice to find something that was really calming; to finally sit down and have my mind focus on one thing," said Harris.
Pence asked Harris about the technique he uses and boasts he was far more ahead of her in his crocheting skills.
"It's funny, you know, to have a big Soldier in Hobby Lobby in the crochet isle asking the senior ladies what crochet technique worked best for them," Harris said jokingly.
USASOC Soldiers like Harris and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Dominique Lewis use various forms of art therapy to help with the healing process within their programs.
Lewis showcased his art using shadow boxes that contained objects that had emotional significance for him.
He explained to Pence, "I call this piece See Me, Save Me." He showed how the shadow box with military bullets and sand is the image he portrays as a Soldier and a family man. The next shadow box had a box of cigarettes, a liquor brand sign, beer bottle caps and pills, simulating the struggles he battles everyday trying not to remember some of the things he's been through.
Stewart states that two of the biggest injuries within the Fort Bragg military community are traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorders.
These two injuries damage the area of the brain responsible for speech and language. Art therapy offers another outlet for Soldiers to express themselves and build on establishing healthy coping skills, Stewart said.
The Soldiers who came in cautious are now big believers in the program.
"I'm here because this program helped save my marriage. I have taken this home and even do it outside of the session," said Lewis.
"I just want you to know it takes just as much courage for you to do what you do in uniform as it does to for you to reach out and participate in this program," Pence told the Soldiers in her closing remarks. "Thank you for what you do."