The Welcome is a film about veterans coming home and asking “now what?” It’s a film about the healing that needs to take place. I lived it, and watched it. I’ve been living it for the past four years, but I watched it, quite appropriately I might add, on Veteran’s Day 2013 at the College of DuPage. The event was sponsored by Operation Support Our Troops America who with thanks to Deb Rickert and others will be hosting events there quarterly. She gets it. She has two sons in the military, both deployed. The large conference room was sparsely populated by the “less than one percent club”- those of us who serve or who have served in the military, our loved ones, people who get it- people who really do care. That’s OK, because when you reach out to others, you can only help one person at a time. That’s all it takes. It’s the part of the “Welcome Home” that’s been missing.
The story is about a group of 24 combat veterans who attended a healing retreat in Ashland, Oregon over Memorial Day weekend in 2008. It is a story as old as our native land, of warriors returning home from conflict, broken, to their tribe. A story of the elders coming together, with medicine men, old warriors, family, people who care, and taking them on a journey to cool their burning embers, to listen, to love them, to care for their bodies, minds, and spirits. They come to treat them with respect and listen to their collective wisdom; to help them to decompress and tell their stories. These stories tell the true cost of war, and deserve to be heard.
Their voices are many, and not necessarily who you would expect them to be, but they are all warriors the same. They come together as strangers at first, many of them angry, broken, and hurt- wanting, even demanding to be heard, to be listened to. They begin with a cleansing ceremony, the sound of Native American drums beating steadily, with smoke, ash, and song. They are bitter at first, coming from different backgrounds, opposing viewpoints, not sure if they should open up, but wanting to let their pain pour out, and not to be interrupted or disrespected. Politics must be laid aside. Soldiers don’t make policy; they simply fight, and maybe die, for each other. They try to survive. “We are our own tribe.”
The veterans in the movie are both men and women. They are veterans of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam. They are Native Americans, women, Dutch, blue collar, enlisted, officers, and non-commissioned officers from all branches. Where are the African American warriors? They were not represented on this trip. They should be. Some are out of the military, some are still serving, and some are even going back again. Some are wives, mothers, and caregivers of the warriors. “When people drive by and see that star on my car window, they think it’s my husband!” Mandy Martin is the warrior, not the wife. Rory Dunn had his eyes blown out of their sockets by an IED, but he is alive, and his mother and father are there on this journey with him, and will be for a long time. Bob Eaton fought in Vietnam, and shares a story even his wife didn’t know after forty years. Eli Painted Crow lives the irony of facing racism, sexism, and going into “Indian Country.” She even has to rebuke her own fellow veterans and demand to be respected. Ken, Mike, Mandy, Laura, Rory, and Moe all grow closer together as they slowly open up and tell their stories, share their pain, cry, hug, scream, break bread together, sing, write poetry and prose, share nightmares, support each other, listen, find their gifts, take their medicine, meditate with nature, experience massage and acupuncture, start to help themselves, and start to help others. On the third day, they find the strength to come together and travel into the town of Ashland, Oregon. Here they are greeted not only by a “Welcome Home” sign, but also to a sold out crowd at the town theater. Here they must once again gather the courage to share their stories, poems, songs, and nightmares- to put themselves out there on stage in front of God and everybody. The crowd connects with them and showers them with love and respect, and comes to know the true cost of war. Their hearts pour out as they support each other, and they are welcomed back into the fold, back into their tribe, where they can share their wisdom, pain, sacrifice, and love.
You can hear the emotion in their voices as they speak: “On the death of a suicide bomber” “…I see my son, his eyes are gone- but he has a twin who speaks without moving his lips.” “Be my mom, bring me home too.” Then standing behind them are two more, then four more, then eight, sixteen, thirty-two…marching…” “…How do you say goodbye to a five year old? I kiss her goodbye while she sleeps, for the last time- Maybe. I don’t know” “…Deserter is the lowest of the low. It was our last conversation. Unforgiveness.” “…You’re not a soldier, you’re a girl!” “…The mortars steal their children…How copy, over? Your silence thunders in my soul- so definitely clear!”…
They are the voices of our 23 million veterans. Our warriors. To see this film for yourself, go to http://www.thewelcomehomeproject.org/ there you can see clips, check out screenings, or host one of your own. But most importantly, click on resources. If you are a warrior looking for help, a family member, loved one, friend, or just want to help, click on resources. You are just one click away…
In the Chicagoland area, you can contact Augie Cisco at firstname.lastname@example.org, he is a Vietnam Veteran and Marine who arranges retreats with Mayslake Ministries. You can contact Jim Dolan at email@example.com, he is a veteran with “Healer Warrior” at www.healerwarrior.us
Jack Erwin has retired as a Major from the Army National Guard after 21 years and three deployments. He commanded a battery of artillerymen who served as Military Police from 2003 to 2005, deployed for Hurricane Katrina, and served in Afghanistan from 2008-2009 with the 1-178 IN. He works as a special education teacher and has coached football in Illinois for 18 years. He is currently working towards a PhD.
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