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Those Who Serve: Arts program helping vets reconnect

There are so many easy ways to communicate with people these days, but for some veterans it can be anything but simple. And that was the case for two former service members who actually served as communication experts.

MESA, Ariz - Two Phoenix-area veterans, John Johnson, U.S. Navy Radioman, and Caryn Walsh, U.S. Air Force network communications specialist. Both served during the ends of two major American conflicts.

Johnson was onboard the USS New Orleans towards the end of the Vietnam War; and remembers vividly, "throwing helicopters off the main deck, because we were taking refugees from Vietnam at that time," he said.

Walsh was serving in West Germany when the Cold War ended.

"I was there during the fall of the wall, so I have my souvenir piece of the wall at home," she said.

Within in a couple years of those events, both were on their way out of the military, which can be difficult for some vets.

"PTSD is like living in a bad dream," Johnson admits. And Walsh said veterans don't just flip a switch when they try to transition out of the military.

For years, both say, they drifted, unable to find that thing that would ground them, and help them reconnect with the pace of the world around them. Then, just after New Year's 2018, the spark of new found creativity through an art program called "Arts in Service" at the Mesa Art Center.

A program for veterans to reconnect with fellow vets, and perhaps find their creative voice with a healthy dose of confidence with each brush stroke, clay figure or metal masterpiece.

"You get it all out!" Johnson exclaimed. "You feel better, and the weight of life seems to have been lifted after going through the classes," he added.

For Walsh, the artwork she produced for an adapted photo of her old government-issued boots was in her words, "life changing."

"When I saw those boots on that piece of paper, I felt worthy, I felt like I had something to offer," she said fighting back tears of pride. "I felt like I was a peer among that group of students."

For more information: Arts In Service

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