December 1, 2016 | PRA Work | Michelle Cleary Read Dan Abreu’s blog about SongwritingWith:Soldiers, written in 2014. During our recent seminar on Songwriting with Soldiers, our presenter, Mary Judd, the Executive Director of SongwritingWith:Soldiers (SW:S), invited seminar participants to attend a performance during their upcoming retreat weekend. The performances are not open to the public, so I knew this was a special opportunity. When I arrived at the lovely Carey Institute, I was warmly greeted by several people and guided to an intimate auditorium. Just prior to the performance, a box of tissues was passed around. I took one, but doubted that I would really need one, since I hadn’t taken part in the whole weekend; I was sure that I wouldn’t be as affected as the participants. By the third stanza of the first song, I was glad I had my tissue! The first several songs that were performed were composed from experiences of individual participants. The singer/songwriter would acknowledge the service member or veteran, provide a bit of insight into the discussions that led to the song, and would then perform the song. Once the songs written with the individuals were performed, the singer/songwriters performed songs that had emerged from group conversations with service members, veterans, and their spouses. Each song allowed a view into that veteran’s personal story, and to say it was moving doesn’t do it justice. The songs carried elements of the stories we hear or try to convey in our work at the Service Members, Veterans, and their Families (SMVF) TA Center—the personal accomplishments, the military culture, and the challenges that our SMVF face. A song entitled “Worth the Wait,” was composed based on the discussions with the spouses. It drove home the message of our SMVF caregivers and their commitment to get through the transition and the challenges that emerge during that difficult time because they, their spouse, and their families were ‘worth the wait.’ As I walked out of the auditorium, I felt shaken, not in a bad way, but because I was deeply moved. The performance allowed me to see inside the hearts and souls of a few of our SMVF, and having worked for 10 years on services for SMVF, I know those opportunities are rare and take a great deal of time, cultivation, and trust. What I observed sitting in that auditorium was an approach that allows the participants a guided peer process where SMVF open up with each other and share. The camaraderie in the auditorium was palpable, and the songwriters conveyed reverence and gratitude for being a part of the process. The result was a set of songs that shared a portion of SMVF culture that needs to be conveyed to the broader civilian population, but, no matter how often military culture training is offered, remains difficult to do. SW:S creates a setting where SMVF can connect and bond with their peers and open up about the things they hold dear. In turn, the songs allow others to emotionally connect and gain insight into some of the most personal aspects of what it means to be a service member, veteran, or family member. The more that SW:S continues to grow and expand, I am convinced that it will only help build the public’s will in continuing to provide the resources and services that can support SMVF even after they are home. I can’t wait to download some of their songs!