If, as mine does, your family includes a father, mother, brother, or sister who has been to and come back from war, you know each has a story that loops, one day to the next, often in silence and more than occasionally in unexpected or misunderstood violence that leaves loved ones casualties, too. If you yourself have sweated through a draft and come up with a losing number, walked point in a booby-trapped jungle, or, years later, watched a too-fast car approach as you stood watch on a dust-driven road, a dog by your side to sniff out improvised explosive devices hidden in the folds of an impenetrable burqua tugged at checkpoint, you have a story that can hold you in place forever or empty itself into words that can save you.
The welcome is here in the room somewhere, if we can find it.
~ Michael Meade, Mosaic Voices
The men and women in The Welcome, a documentary shown in May at the Ashland (Oregon) Independent Film Festival, are veterans of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. What they carried out of those countries is not just about lost limbs or cancers contracted through exposure to Agent Orange, the recall of whistling mortars, or second or third tours of duty that upped the odds of not returning to be a parent to a child not seen since birth. What they carried out they carry inside, forever with them, what can only begin to be understood when the words, finally, follow the breakdowns; it is the stuff of fear and anger and isolation that few of us experience except in nightmares. . . or until they show us, like this:
The movie The Welcome is about a group of veterans participating in The Welcome Home Project, conceived and directed by Bill McMillan and his wife Kim Shelton as a way to engage members of communities throughout the United States in activities to support and facilitate the return of American soldiers. It is about identifying and providing means for soldiers themselves to reconnect with family, friends, colleagues, anyone "back home", and so begin to heal invisible wounds.
One of the project's specific objectives is to enable vets to "create meaning from their experiences" by sharing what they have witnessed through rituals, storytelling, and other arts, including poetry. Here is one moving example from Iraq veteran Mandy Martin, who now works as a congressional communications officer for the Department of Veterans Affairs:
Two other videos may be viewed here. The third one, featuring Laura Carpenter, will leave you haunted.
A book, Voices of Vets, contains the original poems of veterans and participating family members of The Welcome Home Project. It's available through Mosaic Voices - Mosaic Multicultural Foundation. A number of the veterans' poems can be read here.
The current sponsor of The Welcome Home Project is The Marion Institute, Marion, Massachusetts. Donations are welcome.___________________________
The Welcome Home Project Blog
Schedule of Screenings of The Welcome
The Welcome Home Project on FaceBook and Twitter
Resources Page at The Welcome Home Project