French Impressionist, Edgar Degas said, “Art is not what you see but what you make others see.” Soldiers at the Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM) Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU) are making others see how resilient they are through many mediums. The JBLM Resilience Art Show gave them that opportunity and it happened by chance.
It was a chance encounter with a squad leader who was looking for something else on a barracks inspection. “I was doing a barracks inspection and I noticed different artwork in different rooms, and I thought, we should showcase this! Normally I’m looking for cleanliness and making sure medication is locked up, so this was a nice surprise,” said Staff Sgt. Happy Harris who co-created the Resilience Show during the pandemic with the help of Debbie DeSpain who is the interim Lead Arts and Crafts Manager at JBLM. “These events are extremely important. I’ve found when people are engaged in activity when they are using their hands, they tend to speak about it and open up more and have a dialogue.”
A dialogue for one Soldier started last March after the death of her father while she was at the JBLM SRU for a leg injury. “When I first got here it was difficult and overwhelming, because when I got here, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind,” said SPC Mo Tran. She knew she needed physical and emotional help and the SRU was the answer.
“It was a lot more than what I expected. My expectations have been exceeded. I didn’t anticipate all this help and all these programs to help me recover and overcome.”
Not much of an art participant, Tran started knitting to help take her mind off the overwhelming journey to get better. Little did she know, it played a huge role in her resiliency from a hectic place in her life. “I started knitting a blanket when my dad passed away in March, it was rainbow colors because it was Pride Month and I wanted to represent myself into the blanket as well as remember my dad.” That blanket became a quest for Tran.
“I knew with my life like that I had to do something…. I also knew I had to finish that blanket.” The blanket was a beacon of hope for the Army medic who now discovered she does have an art form after all.
“I made friends with one of the squad leaders and she asked if I would help with the art show. I never considered my knitting as “art” because it was just something personal, I did. I ended up submitting it.”
Working with her fellow Soldiers at the art show, Tran saw a whole new world of ways to express herself and move forward with the confidence to show her resiliency and determination. Art pieces from helmets to woodwork, knitting to paintings, there was plenty for onlookers to see.
Staff Sgt. Harris said having the Resilience Art Show was a true success. “The Soldiers were surprised that anyone would want to see what their abilities were, and it helped them cope with their setbacks and boosted a lot of confidence.”
Tran is finding more opportunities to express herself through the variety of programs at the SRU she would have never participated in had they not been available to her.
“I am now participating in art classes at JBLM SRU…I want to try the glass blowing and the pottery classes to see if I can do it,” said Tran.
DeSpain says getting the Soldiers at least interested is half the battle and it is a battle she is happy to wage when she knows the end result is a win.
“The process is the art making but Soldiers want to have something they feel good about that they made so it’s a great way to help them recover and overcome…it’s something positive.”
And that is the art of resiliency!