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NEWS | Nov. 15, 2015

Heat helps soldiers heal

By Pfc. Sarah Anwar 304th Public Affairs Detachment

TACOMA, Wash. - “The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” These words of Douglas MacArthur embody the battle service members face in physical and emotional recovery, even after the conflict is forgotten by all others.

The quote can also be found in the Healing in Flames exhibition currently on display at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington. An opening ceremony on November, 8, 2015, recognized the exhibit as a two year culmination of the Hot Shop Heroes program, designed to teach veterans to use art — specifically glass blowing —as a therapeutic tool.

The collaboration between the Museum of Glass and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, started in 2013 when Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, then-commanding officer of JBLM, and Museum of Glass executive director, Susan Warner spoke about the possibility of Hot Shop Heroes. They had hoped to promote healing from the devastating and traumatic events service members experience during deployment.

On Presidents Day in 2013 the Museum of Glass offered service members, veterans and their families free admission and an opportunity to work hands-on with hot glass. After seeing the success of that day, Brown then suggested that soldiers could positively grow from the art of glass blowing.

Since 2013 Hot Shop Heroes has shown to be particularly effective in helping participants who have traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. The program has helped participants emotionally, physically and spiritually. 

Hot Shop Heroes had their first class in October of 2013, with just 12 students. Proceeding the end of the two five-week pilot classes, the Museum of Glass and JBLM officials reviewed the courses and the decision was made to launch a long-term Hot Shop Heroes program. Since then, around 150 veterans have participated.

Most of the veterans and service members in the program have been deployed, some on multiple tours. With deployment comes different forms of mental and physical injuries. Hot Shop Heroes is an opportunity for the process of healing. 

Lt. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, commanding General of I Corps at JBLM added that the soldiers take part in Hot Shop Heroes to heal spiritually and express themselves. 
          
“They [the participants] feel part of something that is extremely important to them ... this is about the spiritual being of these soldiers. This is something about them, something very personal to them that has come forward that they are showing you about them and it is allowing them to heal.” said Lanza. “It’s about our heroes healing.”
          
Lt. Col. Terrell G. Morrow, commander of the Warrior Transition Battalion at JBLM couldn’t help but agree when he explained the soldiers participating in Hot Shop Heroes have been positively affected by the therapeutic nature of expressing themselves through the meeting of glass art. He went on to say that the relationship between the Museum of Glass and JBLM is a testament to the commitment of both entities and the goal they share to provide care and compassion for recovery of soldiers. 

“[The] Hot Shop Heroes program is unique in our warrior transition command and a blueprint for current and future programs that leverage expertise outside the military medicine, it’s a positive avenue towards recovery,” said Morrow.

Sgt. 1st Class Peter Bazo is a Hot Shop Heroes participant and a cadre member at the Warrior Transition Battalion. After four deployments and 11 years of service, Bazo wanted to use his experiences to help other wounded warriors. In the process of giving back, he found a way to help himself heal as well.

“I learned how to destroy but now I know I can create,” said Bazo. “It allows me to focus my energies. It gives me an outlet that I haven’t had before, it allows me to be able to create something.” 

Among all the pieces on display, the most meaningful to Bazo is “The Taste of Blood and Tears”. The idea was inspired from the Al-Shaheed monument in downtown Baghdad, which Bazo saw every day while deployed.
The artistic rendition is a tear drop surrounding a drop of blood and resting on a bed of sand, salt, and iron. 

“I wanted to display something that showed that even though blood has dried, there are still thousands of tears over top of that and those tears of blood have a very distinct taste,” said Bazo. “Taste of salt and also iron from bitterness in the back of your throat, that’s what I hope to try and convey in this piece.” 

Bazo said he feels he has become a more resilient soldier from taking part in Hot Shop Heroes and said he would recommend any soldier to try glass blowing, even if they think they don’t have any artistic skill. 

“It can help you,” he said. “It can help you escape the bonds of this earth and transcend above what is happening right in front of you.”

Patricia Davidson, lead instructor for the Hot Shop Heroes program, said she hopes to expand and be able to continue this program. She added it is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding programs she’s been with in her 20-plus years of teaching art. 

“By far, working with the soldiers and the veterans has challenged me more than any other group of people in that they are incredibly inquisitive, incredibly creative, and very eager,” Davidson said. “If this was the very last teaching career of my life I would be so completely fulfilled. I’ve pulled teaching tricks out of my hat I didn’t even know I had, so it’s challenged me a lot as an instructor. It’s such a gift to work for this program.” 

As much as she’s learned from teaching Hot Shop Heroes, the service members she’s taught have been able to quickly adapt to the challenge.

“For most people there's nothing normal, comfortable or easy about standing in front of 2000 plus degrees of heat, but for the men and woman in Hot Shop Heroes the concentration, discipline and teamwork required to work with glass comes naturally,” said Davidson. “These folks know what it means to be cool under pressure.”

Healing in Flames will be on display at the Museum of Glass through March of 2016. More information on the Hot Shop Heroes program can be found at https://museumofglass.org/hotshopheroes.

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