January 14, 2019

“But What If the Terrorist Is You?”

Warrior Songs vol 2 cover art“They say that you’re my battle buddy, they say that you’re my friend, that I’ll never have to make you answer to business end, of this weapon I was issued, to give terrorists their due – but what if the terrorist is you?”

That’s Emily Yates singing a song of her own composition on a new album released in November. The album, Women at War: Warrior Songs Vol. 2, is a full-length CD devoted solely to the experiences of women in the military, and created by women. It is a work, as the promotional material says, “by women, about women, for women.” The 15 tracks tell the stories of 18 women veterans and two Gold Star family members.

Women make up more than 15% of the US military, but their presence and their contributions can be all but invisible in the public mind. And although they are subject to the same hardships, risks, and physical and mental traumas as their male comrades, those scars and harms are not on the radar of most people when they picture what a soldier has to face. This album makes it concrete for us.

As a review in Isthmus, a Madison, Wisconsin, alternative weekly, puts it, the songs “share stories of loss, marginalization and struggle. They speak of leaving their souls on the battlefield, in the field hospitals, or in the room where they were raped by their soldier ‘brothers.’ ”

Fittingly, the first track by Kelsey Miles gets right to that point. It tells how a middle-aged man in a grocery store parking lot pointed to a bumper sticker on a woman veteran’s car and said he “wanted to thank her husband for his service and his time.” So, “was my sacrifice ignored?” she sings. The song, based on five female veterans’ testimonials, the theme of all was they felt like after their service some people did not give them the respect and accolades that were due. After telling the man it was her, “the man’s smile began to fade and he looked away.”

Miles, a Madison-area singer-songwriter, is not a veteran herself. She was one of the musicians approached by Warrior Songs founder, Jason Moon. Like the other musical participants, she was paired with a veteran – or in her case, five veterans – to convey an experience that a song might capture in a way words alone could not.

Warrior Songs is a nonprofit organization which brings hope and healing to veterans through music and the creative arts. It was founded by Jason Moon, singer/songwriter who served in a combat engineer battalion in the Iraq War as a member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard. A turning point in his subsequent struggle with depression and PTSD, which included a suicide attempt, grew out of being interviewed for the film documentary “On the Bridge,” for which he was asked to write the theme for the final credits. His desire to share the healing catharsis of creating music led him to start the nonprofit.

The organization’s first release, the 2016 album “If You Have to Ask: Warrior Songs Vol. 1,” comprised 14 tracks that told “veterans’ true stories of war, struggle, and redemption.” Assembled similarly to volume 2, it paired testimonials of those who had served – in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan – with musicians who could bring their stories to life. The common themes, Moon said, were “the same hope and pain and PTSD.” And while the album features some female performers, the stories it tells are mostly about men. One, titled “Ying and the Yang,” is the story of Henry G., a marine who was raped by his drill sergeant. Following that release, the organization felt a need to make something that spoke to the experience of women service members.

The idea of using the creative arts as therapy for depression, despair, PTSD, and psychic trauma is not new. Warrior Songs’ brochure talks about “the science behind what we do,” noting that the American Music Therapy Association reports anxiety/stress reduction and other positive effects of music used as post-trauma therapy. Smart Policy works has partnered with the Institute for Therapy through the Arts to offer art therapy sessions, and includes creative crafts and music in its Illiniois Connections for Families of the Fallen initiative. An exciting new project that we are working on now uses visual storytelling to advance healing after MST; stay tuned for more about it. And we have reported on projects like Amy Shumer’s military rape sketch and This Is Your Brain on War that use creative arts to convey more than words and statistics can alone.

It is therefore extremely gratifying to see this album. The music is available on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify, and wherever digital tunes are found. All tracks and physical CDs are free to veterans, a program that is supported by purchases and paid downloads.

The striking album cover, reproduced here, is by Marine Corps veteran Regina Vasquez.

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