Like many recently separated veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan era of wars, I enrolled into community college as soon as I left active duty. The war I had been a part of was just two years old and I remained uncertain about identifying as having been in the military. I was a diligent student and kept to myself but enjoyed the classroom dialogue. Occasionally related material about the wars would surface and I would share my perspective with the class. There was always a sudden quiet when I chose to speak about the war as a veteran, as if I had a just trumped the other’s ability to have a contribution any further in fear of offending or denigrating mine. “I can’t imagine what it was like over there,” was the collective sentiment much to my dismay.
Fast-forward a few more years of deployments, a growing population of young veterans filtering back into towns across America, the demanding fervor of war fighting and the inevitable growth of arts groups, workshops and collections of activists seeking to illuminate the complexity of it all. Yet still, our common greeting of the day for those who have returned from war is, “Thank you, welcome home, I don’t know if I have the framework to understand your experience.” There it is, but if you honestly asked yourself, don’t you want to know?
Since beginning to facilitate workshops with veteran and civilian communities in 2006 with the group Warrior Writers and then Combat Paper Project, I have noticed a growing trend in others seeking to do the same thing. Historically there is a strong tradition of individuals, groups, and organizations turning to the arts to investigate and connect affected communities in warfare. Today, whether it intuition or mandate, I am encouraged at how the arts are once again connecting not only the veteran population but civilians as well through a massive growth in workshop based practice.