20 May 2015

Notes from a Veterans-in-the-Arts Symposium

MEA2 event organizer Jason Poudrier, MEA founding president Travis L. Martin, and
current MEA president David. P. Ervin celebrate a successful veterans-in-the-arts
symposium  conducted May 14-17, 2015 at Cameron University, Lawton, Okla.
PHOTO: Military Experience & the Arts
More than 100 military veterans, writers, artists, scholars, therapists, and others assembled in the second Military Experience & the Arts Symposium (M.E.A.2.) May 14-17, 2015. The event was held at Cameron University, Lawton, Okla., near the Fort Sill military installation. Participants attended nearly 75 workshops, performances, meet-ups, and seminars on the communication of military experiences through expressive arts, including music, writing, dance, painting, and more.

The first such event was held 2012 in Richmond, Ky. Each symposium has been under the banner of Military Experience & the Arts, a Kentucky-based non-profit organization.

News reports about the event included this broadcast from ABC affiliate KSWO-TV Channel 7: "Veterans Create, Display Art." (See text, video at link.)

The Cameron campus was lush and green, the dirt red, and the weather relatively cool and blustery. (Wind conditions kept me off the on-campus disc golf course.) The region has gotten plenty of rain this year, and flash flood concerns were often as high as local waterways. Some friends from Wisconsin had to find hotel rooms at the last minute, after the cabin they'd reserved on Fort Sill turned about to be high and dry, but surrounded by a moat impassible to anything but tactical vehicles.

Still, to update that old Army saying about the weather and training: "If it's raining, we're still painting!"

While it was impossible to participate in every workshop or experience, I hope the following notes provide some sense of the talents and topics available at MEA2.

DAY 1:
Saw lots of friends from MEA1. Met friends I didn't know I knew already. ("Who I am depends on who you are and where we are ...") Met entirely new friends. Even friends who'd said they'd gotten published via venues identified at the Red Bull Rising blog. Oklahoma, in short, is a very friendly place. 
In the evening, former Marine and poet Suzanne Rancourt read from her work in a theater setting, and made me cry. And then, former Marine Roman Baca's Exit 12 Dance Company took the stage, and performed a ballet about motherhood and separation and deployment. They also made me cry. 
When the lights went up, the mother who commissioned/choreographed the piece was suddenly in the audience, as well as one of her two sons, who is stationed at nearby Fort Sill. And later, the troupe re-purposed a dance to an impromptu Native American flute performance by Albert Gray Eagle
"Magic" does not adequately describe all this.
DAY 2:
Made DIY comic books with Steve Gooch and Marc DiPaolo of Oklahoma City University, then learned about contemplative photography from Buddhist and Army veteran Tif Holmes from the non-profit Engage the Light of Lubbock, Texas. 
Wrote about the homefront through prompts suggested by Amber Jensen of South Dakota State University, a writer and Army National Guard family member, whom I first met back at Great Plains Writers' Conference 2014
Then, dinner with the jazz musicians of 77th Army Band ("The Pride of Fort Sill!"), followed by provoking insights about Military Sexual Trauma issues from Miette Wells, Phd., an Air Force veteran. 
Finally, video presentation from Ben Patton, grandson of WWII Gen. George S. Patton, and founder of "I Was There" Film Workshops. The latter uses digital film-making as a collaborative therapeutic intervention for people diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
So much energy here! So many sparks!
DAY 3:
Got the gouge on self-publishing from MEA president David P. Ervin (author of "Leaving the Wire: An Infantryman's Iraq"), then learned about flash non-fiction techniques from Rob Roensch of Red Earth MFA in Creative Writing at OCU. 
After lunch, Tara Leigh Tappert of The Arts and the Military blew my mind by academically connecting the Arts & Crafts movement with the origins of occupational therapy as a profession, and the establishment of craft shops U.S. military installations in the '50s, '60s, and '70s. Scholarship like that puts veterans and arts organizations such as MEA into historical context. "All this has happened before, and all this will happen again." 
Evening performances included readings of flash fiction by Veterans Writing Project Managing Editor Jerri Bell (from whom I learned lots of new sailor slang. Household-6 will be very pleased), and physical comedy (Masks! Mime! Puppets! Juggling!) from Hoosier Doug Berky. Berky's re-telling of the Korean fable, "The Tiger's Whisker," is a family-friendly tale of one family's journey of healing from PTSD. I hope to invite him to Iowa someday.
Bottom line: The Military Experience & the Arts Symposium 2 provided a unique opportunity to exchange insights on expressive arts techniques, tools, scholarship, advocacy, and healing on veterans issues—and encouraged veterans, students, educators, and arts practitioners to try new things.

Godspeed, and God bless! I can't wait to see what happens next!

13 May 2015

Tenth Dan Sesker Memorial Poker Run is May 24, 2015

Photos: Dan Sesker Memorial Poker Run
Organizers of the 10th Annual Dan Sesker Memorial Poker Run are taking on-line registrations for the Sun., May 24 event, which takes place during Memorial Day weekend.

The event commemorates Iowa Army National Guard Sgt. Dan Sesker, killed by an Improvised Explosive Device (I.E.D.) on April 6, 2006 in the vicinity of Tikrit, Iraq. He was nine days short of his twenty-third birthday.

The event will start and finish in Ogden, Iowa. Day-of-ride registration and sign-in will be 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. in the Ogden city park. Pre-registration is available on-line here. Cost is $20 for one hand and one shirt. Additional hands are $5. Extra T-shirts are $12.

In a poker run, registered participants are dealt random cards and each stop along a designated route. At the final stop of the day, the participant with the highest poker hand wins a pot of cash. Raffles, T-shirt sales, and other fund-raising efforts may also take place during the event.

There will be food, drinks, and entertainment at the end of the ride, according to organizers, and the event will be held rain or shine.

James "Juice" Justice and Dan Seske
Sesker was a member of Troop C, 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment (1-113th Cav.), both then and now part of the Iowa's 2nd Brigade, 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division. In his role as a citizen, he was a youth counselor and part-time police officer. He learned his fiancée was pregnant with their first child while he was deployed, and looked forward to his future role as a father.

Sesker was friends with many citizen-soldiers, including Staff Sgt. James "Juice" Justice, who was himself killed in action during a later brigade deployment to Afghanistan.

Proceeds for 2015 poker run event will go to:
A Facebook page for the event is here.

A website is here.

The 2015 route map is here.

06 May 2015

'As You Were' Posthumously Publishes 'Red Bull' Poem

Just a week before the second-ever Military Experience & the Arts Symposium—this one, to be held May 14-17 at Cameron University, Lawton, Okla.—the Kentucky-based non-profit has released a second volume of the rebranded literary journal "As You Were." The 156-page publication is now available FREE as a downloadable PDF here.

The publication notably includes a "Once Again to Be a Little Boy," a poem written by Dillion Naslund, 25, and posthumously published at the request of his parents, Lisa and Jeff Naslund of Galva, Iowa.

Dillion Naslund died of a self-inflicted gunshot Dec. 10, 2012. He had deployed as an infantry soldier to Iraq in 2007-2008. He had also returned from a 9-month deployment to Eastern Afghanistan's Laghman Province in July 2011. Back home, in addition to being the member of a close family, he was active in the local fire department, and worked a concrete construction job.

The poem reads, in part:
[...] For we all are proud to have suffered this burden together, alone
It’s a priceless honor you can’t get without being selfless
It will never be found priced together amongst low budget electronics or twenty-one flavors of ice cream [...]
Dillion was a former member of the Iowa National Guard's 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment (1-168th Inf.) and 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment (1-133rd Inf.). Both are units of Iowa's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division.

"Dillion had felt he was alone," his mother Lisa told the Red Bull Rising blog in 2013, "but we quickly found out that he wasn't." In the days and weeks following his December 2012 funeral, she said, more than a handful of other soldiers have independently contacted her family. They told her that Dillion's example had inspired each to seek help in their own struggles. "Dillion's legacy can be to save lives," she says. "He's already saved lives."

Through efforts such as Operation Engage America, and the 2013 television documentary "Dillion," the Naslunds have been active in promoting awareness and education regarding veteran suicides.

In February 2015, the Naslunds were interviewed by Military Experience & the Arts president David P. Ervin. Read the article here.

A webpage for Operation Engage America is here.

A Facebook page is here.

On June 20, 2015, the group plans activities in Des Moines, Iowa and San Diego, Calif. A Facebook page for the Des Moines event is here.

*****

The Veterans Crisis Line is a toll-free and on-line resource staffed by trained Department of Veterans Affairs personnel, who can confidentially assist soldiers, veterans, families and friends toward local help and resources.

According to the Veterans Crisis Line website:
1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Support for deaf and hard of hearing individuals is available.