Theatre Plays Role in Soldiers Recovery



By Nancy McGrory

Army veteran and performance poet Kenny Carnes opens his one-person show with, "Every soldier that tells a war story tells a lie, and the soldier who says absolutely nothing tells us the absolute truth." The paradox resonates with combat soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan scattered throughout the audience as they know that no words can be captured to relay an understanding of the experiences endured. As Carnes's Friday night's performance of "Pieces of War" concludes senior program director, Martin Richardson, of The Return to Honor Workshop based in Valley Forge, PA facilitates the soldiers' reintegration process.


kennycarnesThis combination of theatre and reintegration to offer post-war readjustment to veterans is not unlike what the ancient Roman warriors experienced at home coming in Greece around 500 B.C. As soldiers returned from the battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. the civilian community did not welcome them inside the city walls until each combatant reconciled his war experience and made his personal peace with the past in order to reunite with his role outside the theater of war. This often took place at the arts festival in Athens where soldiers stepped upon a performance stage to reenact their battles for the civilian population in order to gain deeper insight, make cognitive connections and foster emotional perspectives on the traumatic experience. Athenians intently watched, listened and through empathy began to recognize the human condition of their brothers at war. These soldier/actors were ritualistically splattered with blood as the chorus behind them sang. When the players exited off the stage their bloody bodies were cleansed and they were welcomed back into the city for a celebration feast that honored the returning soldiers' service as well as remembered who died in battle.

Veterans often deny themselves the service of personal health and well-being after their own dedicated service to protect and defend the ideals of our nation. And because the performance, "Pieces of War" raises the emotional discontinuance in the soldier-spectators who they, themselves, cannot articulate the post-show workshop lead by Richardson and co-facilitated by Carnes provides a unique group setting helping combat-stressed veterans gain understanding, coping skills, and re-alignment as well as a renewed sense of purpose and mission. "Most soldiers are fragmented with a vague sense of loss and conflicted emotions of guilt and anger," says Mr. Richardson. "Without the emotional and cognitive training that reeducation provides a soldier can become isolated, depressed, abuse substances and ineffective at home or work." Return to Honor's unique, confidential program offers conclusive benefits. A recent weekend workshop participant who just returned from Iraq says, "I benefited greatly from connecting to what was going on inside me. Return to Honor provides a safe place to face demons buried beneath the surface that I failed to fully recognize prior to the weekend." The program includes Vietnam Veterans as well as those returning from Afghanistan. Commenting on his experience a 67-year old Vietnam War Veteran says, "The retreat was very effective and deals with the true nature of the problem. In my 42-years of post-war experiences nothing has helped as much as the Return to Honor weekend."

Reintegration is about military personnel learning to assimilate back into society or active duty in a healthy way.  Since the political climate is divided; returning troops hear mixed messages about their service, this creates a split mind about who I am and is there a place for me.  On top of that families and society have changed since they were last home and our fast pace of life creates more division.  The icing on the cake is compartmentalization, where 'I do not wish to share the things I've witnessed and been a part of with other members of my family'.

We do not live in the days of WWII when there was two weeks to decompress on a returning ship and troops were welcomed home by a ticker tape parade down town.  Troops can be out of theater within 18 hours walking down town and seeing the blank faces of individuals who are to busy living their lives dealing with day to day issues that to a veteran seem meaningless after what they have experienced. Return to Honor helps address what veterans face in a safe non-judgmental environment.  It honors the service that brave men and women have given to there country, gives them a space to leave things behind and prepares them for what the future will bring them.  Most veterans do readjust and go on to live happy productive lives, you have to be willing to have the courage to face your demons and then let them go. And, we must provide them that opportunity.

For more information:

"PIECES OF WAR" by Kenny Carnes
(718) 841-7037

Martin Richardson
(610) 933-8825 x241



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