What’s Inside a Veteran’s Head, Heart and Soul?

If you could crawl inside the head, heart and soul of a military veteran, what you would see would be what is on The American Veteran’s Art Wall (The AVAW). Visceral and vivid visions of pain, humor and self-reflection.

Veterans helping veterans tell the one in pain to “get out of your head.” That’s therapy talk for “Stop thinking and DO something!”

What The AVAW does is help you get “IT” out of your head. “It” could be a good “it,” or a bad “it,” or just an “it” that doesn’t belong there. While DOING that, YOU thus get OUT of your head.

That’s a really good thing!

Veteran Jarrod L. Taylor explained his visit to The AVAW this way:

“The idea that sharing a photograph, a drawing, a memory would make anyone feel differently at the end of the day…was too simple. Veterans already post and share on Facebook, so I wondered how this ‘wall’ could be any different. I looked at The American Veterans Art Wall, and as my buddy instructed, I read the descriptions that went along with each veteran’s post. Only a few images in, I understood the difference. This was individual veterans who were sharing parts of themselves with the world. It was raw and sometimes hard to look at, but it was very powerful. The American Veterans Art Wall, is a space where the men and women who have served our country, have a voice. I love that it is by veterans for veterans, and that is why I decided to make a post. Posting made me proud to have served and reminded me why I joined.”

The wall was the brain child of friends and colleagues, David W. Hahn (President) and Ricky Schultz (Executive Vice President). Their resume’s look like they belong in a Who’s Who of Hollywood and music industry hall of fame, but to talk with these men, you’d never know it. Humble, engaged and philanthropic, these two men share a passion for giving back to veterans that is unsurpassed.

The inspiration for the art wall came from Ricky’s dad, who was a decorated war hero. The wall project is dedicated to Col. Harvey L. Schultz, best remembered for his service to country, to community, to family and to God. Col. Schultz saw action in WWII, served in Korea, continued his military career in the Reserves until 1979, and earned the Legion of Merit. Col. Schultz died in 2010 but left a glowing example of how a man should live his life, with joy, honor and dedication.

In Col. Schultz’s honor, they discussed what would be fitting, and Mr. Hahn told me, “America’s common ground is found in its diversity, and what makes that diversity accessible to all?  American art and crafts.  Once held in esteem they have, like so much else, become a political football.  So we decided it was time to reintroduce the country to its common ground, the source of its uniqueness.  Art.  American Art.”

And who better to provide this unique expression of self than veterans?

After visiting and then contributing to The AVAW, Jarrod Taylor had this to say, “Not only is The American Veterans Art Wall a way to help our nation’s veterans feel connected, but it is a way to preserve the history of my generation’s wars for future Americans and to better understand other generations who served. You have created a continuum for this nation’s military.”

A connection. A continuum. Things hauntingly absent from a veteran who feels alone, un-cared for and forgotten.

Messer’s Hahn and Schultz emphatically say that once a veteran contributes his head, heart and soul to the wall through art, photography or creation, he or she can say, “I AM. I HAVE WORTH. I AM NOT ALONE.”

They say “art is the answer.” And I say, how could it not be?

The feeling of joy and completeness was unexpected, when on a whim I asked Mr. Hahn if I could contribute photographs of ceramic iguanas I made while serving with the Joint Detainee Operations Group, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from February to June 2002. I took care of bad guys. A job I describe as “hatred and empathy colliding in an emotional train wreck.”

I would later serve in Iraq, but emotions I experienced on my Gitmo deployment, my first after September 11, 2001, took me by surprise. I was wracked with guilt over leaving my wife and three sons, the youngest of which was born two days before I left for Gitmo.

When The AVAW accepted my art I was surprised, and then elated.

We all have our stories. We all have our baggage and our pain. But sharing those simple items I had made out of grief, solitude and anguish helped me move forward, and out of my head.

My Brother and Sister Veterans, it will for you, too.

I am a three times mobilized retired U.S. Army Reserve major, and author of “Saving Grace at Guantanamo bay: A Memoir of a Citizen Warrior,” dedicated husband, father, educator, veteran and Branded Contributor for TheBlaze.com.

One response to “What’s Inside a Veteran’s Head, Heart and Soul?

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