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NEWS | Oct. 1, 2014

Soldiers strum along through their healing process

By Airman 1st Class Kimberly Nagle 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

U.S. Army Soldiers attending the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Eustis, Virginia, have the ability to add new experiences to their healing process by learning how to play guitar. 

The therapy program started in 2013 when a site coordinator wanted to share his love of playing the guitar with Soldiers. Currently, a volunteer from the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command band goes to the WTU to teach approximately six Soldiers at a time how to play guitar every Tuesday and Thursday from 4 to 5 p.m.

"The training is an emotional escape, and it provides a sense of comfort," said Sammy Nates, WTU adaptive site sports coordinator. "It is an opportunity for Soldiers who may need a new outlet in their life."

The WTU is designed for wounded Soldiers to work on healing while deciding whether to return to their unit if they can, or medically retire.

"For Soldiers just here for appointments, this program gives them the opportunity to meet with others," said Nates. "It shows them there is someone else on their journey with them."

The Soldiers use the program as a way to be social and meet new people since they come from different units and for different medical reasons.

"Everyone is here to heal," said Nates. "This program brings common ground for those who want to learn, help and get involved."

According to Nates, some Soldiers joined the program for something to do that may be less strenuous on their injuries. It also gives the Soldiers something to focus on as they try to take their mind off of their healing.

The instructor, U.S. Army Sgt. Jonathon Bennett, TRADOC instrumentalist, spends two days out of each week teaching the Soldiers.

"I get to pass on the knowledge and skills that I have gained to students who are not only willing to learn, but want to have a deep understanding and appreciation for the instrument," said Bennett. "Whether it is teaching some helpful technique, or playing some recording for the class. It is rewarding to be able to teach to an attentive and appreciative group."

During the class, Bennett works with the Soldiers from the basics all the way to advanced training. More than 30 Soldiers have completed the class since the program began.

U.S. Army Lt. Col Annette Morris, WTU patient a student of the class, who had a background of playing instruments, but never the guitar, joined the program and use it as a way to relax.

"Music for me is therapeutic," said Morris. "I am a music person, all my life I have realized music has calmed me. I have never played guitar before, but it is a way to express myself and relax."

"I like to start off by telling the class that the guitar is probably the most physically demanding instrument to play, but once you start building up the hand strength and proper technique you need, and then it is most rewarding," said Bennett. "Everyone gains a sense of accomplishment after the first few classes when they have learned some basic chords.  The hands get used to playing chords and the fingertips start to become calloused then they begin to start making some music and having fun."

Any Soldier assigned to the WTU has the ability to be a part of the guitar therapy program in order to help them with their healing.

"Music has an individual and personal effect on all of us, and it is an experience that varies from person to person," said Bennett. "The guitar therapy program is an important outlet because the Soldiers are able to gain a deeper appreciation of music and can start to create some of their own."

For more information contact Nates at 314-7500 extension 45056.