ARLINGTON, Va. – The Fort Bragg Soldier Recovery Unit’s Music Wellness class had modest beginnings as guitar lessons for recovering Soldiers. But it didn’t stay small for long.
It grew into a full-fledged class complete with vocals, electric guitars, keyboards, basses and cajons. Each session culminates in a performance by the participating Soldiers and the 82nd Airborne Division Band and Chorus.
“Music is about coming together and being a part of something bigger than yourself, so in a lot of ways it’s like the Army,” said Spc. Matthew Southern, who participated in the class while assigned to the SRU in Fort Bragg, N.C.
The class is offered to wounded, ill and injured Soldiers as part of their adaptive reconditioning. Whether participants are skilled musicians or picking up an instrument for the first time, we are prepared to accommodate Soldiers, said Andy Masullo, Music Wellness class instructor, and master resilience trainer and performance expert.
“There’s always something for everyone from beginner to more advanced players,” Southern said.
Southern started last summer and plays the guitar, bass and cajon. For him, the best part is the connection, but there was also something about the class that he wasn’t expecting.
“I was surprised by the positivity that everyone brings,” Southern said. “To be in a situation where so many people are coming in at tough and rapidly changing periods in their lives and yet find community and strength through music was encouraging.”
The class is all about the basics at first, but over time Soldiers learn to interact with others as they play a song, said Dean Bissey, adaptive reconditioning support specialist at the Fort Bragg SRU. For some, one class leads to the next and they end up participating in a few of them.
As they advance, they mentor others. Soldiers have become so engaged that they stay involved after they transition, he said.
“What the Soldiers learn will remain with them the rest of their lives,” Bissey said. “Most while involved with the band will purchase their own guitar so they may continue playing after they have left the SRU.”
During each class, they learn six to eight songs. The current class is practicing a song by Bob Dylan and a medley of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts.”
“We take the eight weeks and we really learn these songs,” Masullo said.
When it comes to the Music Wellness class, Masullo said the biggest hurdle Soldiers face is taking that initial step. Once they move past that, they are very engaged, he said.
In class, the Soldiers use imagery skills and a growth mindset, Masullo said. Nerves are quite common when learning to play an instrument, especially in front of others, but this is part of the experience too. It’s not just about becoming proficient with a musical instrument; it’s also about getting out there and doing it, he said.
“The way music helps you to connect, not only with yourself but the others around you, is so enlivening and encouraging,” Southern said. “It brings a spirit of camaraderie as well as a confidence in watching yourself improve.”
The Army Warrior Care and Transition Program is now the Army Recovery Care Program. Although the name has changed, the mission remains the same: to provide quality complex case management to the Army's wounded, ill and injured Soldiers.