LANDSTUHL, Germany -- From culture shock to language barrier, there’s a lot to take in when stationed overseas, particularly for junior service members who may find themselves away from home for the first time.
Through a pencil and paper, U.S. Army Spc. Chrisiellefaye Pagarigan, an occupational therapy specialist at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, finds strength through the visual arts. Recently, an illustration by Pagarigan gained her recognition and the opportunity to don the illustration on Independence Day T-shirts for Single Soldiers across the Kaiserslautern Military Community.
“Being a single soldier (overseas) sometimes becomes lonely, being away from your family and your friends can be difficult,” said Pagarigan. “Resilience is one of the one of the things that I've learned from the military. No matter how many things you go through, no matter how many nights you're away from family, or how many hours you're working, it builds you up to this person, who can keep going.”
A collage of family photos line the workspace wall, a reflection of the significant role family plays in Pagarigan’s life.
Pagarigan, a 26-year-old native of Baltimore, started sketching at a young age but soon found herself absorbed by the hobby, entering art competitions throughout middle and high school, even attending a magnet program for visual arts.
“Drawing takes you away, helps you forget about being separated from your family or your loved ones in the (United) States,” said Pagarigan. “I feel like drawing just grounds me to here and now, to this very second that I'm experiencing right now. It takes me away from thinking about, the past or my anxiety about the future. It just grounds me to the present moment.”
Although it’s only a hobby to Pagarigan, drawing continues to remind her of her capabilities and imagination.
Stationed at LRMC for over a year and half, Pagarigan’s experience in the military has allowed her to travel the world, attend college courses and her position as an occupational therapy specialist has influenced her future endeavors. With a degree in psychology, Pagarigan hopes to continue her career in the military and commission as an occupational therapist.
“It's not just about orthopedics, and not just about range of motion,” explains Pagarigan. “A bigger purpose in occupational therapy is to assess people who have experienced trauma. (Occupational therapists) provide life skills, classes, things service members can do to get them back to their best abilities.”
According to the U.S. Army’s recruiting website, occupational therapists conduct functional evaluations of and provide individualized treatment to Soldiers suffering the effects of acute and chronic combat and operational stress and conduct battlefield unit needs assessments to determine unit mental health status. By understanding principles and implementing therapies which have an effect similar to what drawing does for Pagarigan, occupational therapists help individuals find a means to accomplish what they wish to accomplish in life.
For Pagarigan, art is a way to improve herself as an individual, contributing to social discussions through her illustrations, as demonstrated with her Independence Day-themed design, a charcoal sketch portraying diverse service members, the U.S. Constitution in the background with the words “We the People” emphasized, shadowed by the American flag.
“I thought about diversity, I thought about the (social movements) going on, I thought about equality,” said Pagarigan. “We've acquired independence because of everybody's contribution and so I (made the design) with a diverse group of people depicting everyone’s contributions to our independence.”