Five ways woodworking has positively impacted US military veterans
When veterans return to civilian life, they face a unique set of challenges. Some return home with physical injuries. Others face difficulties like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injuries.
For many vets with disabilities, woodworking has become a form a healing. It provides a therapeutic activity that allows for creative expression, offers a sense of accomplishment, and provides opportunities for continuous learning.
The following five stories show the positive impact woodworking can have on veterans. We hope their stories will inspire you as much as they inspired us.
1. Working with hand tools provides peace and relief
Veteran Richard Blair found a great sense of healing through woodworking as a result of a program called The Purple Heart Project designed to helping former service members. He had this to say about the hobby, “I am able to find a much needed relief and peace as I am woodworking. It is the best therapy I have experienced." Woodworking instructor Rob Cosman founded the Purple Heart Project after realizing how therapeutic woodworking can be for disabled vets. He teaches his students to use hand tools to create projects, and his program has helped many wounded warriors readjust to civilian life. For many vets, woodworking serves as a form of art therapy, and as their projects take shape, so does a new outlook on life.
2. Wood turning leads to empowerment and renewed purpose
Retired Gunnery Sgt. Ernesto Aquino also found woodworking to be a healing art. He began taking wood turning classes after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. He was wheelchair bound. He was also suffering from PTSD along with a traumatic brain injury. After retiring from the Marines, he attended a workshop called Turn Around for Vets, a wood turning therapy class run by a nonprofit organization called San Diego Wood Turners. This skill has provided Aquino with a sense of empowerment and purpose, and he currently teaches the art of turning to students of his own in his home workshop. Woodworking has provided a way for Aquino to teach other vets how to find peace and move forward. Most of his students are also former Marines.
3. Creative vision becomes a patriotic art company
Retired paratrooper, Brian Steorts, founded a business using his skills in woodworking. His art company, Flags of Valor, focuses on patriotic themes, and he takes pride in being able to say each of the products his company sells were made in America. He used his military experiences related to perseverance to take his woodworking from a hobbyist level to creating masterful works of art. Though many of his first attempts at creating what he calls “handcrafted pieces of pure Americana” were unsuccessful, he was persistent in his efforts until he had built his skill up to a level of professionalism he could take pride in. He hires other veterans to work for his business and creates an environment where they can thrive. Steorts understands the challenges vets face. His company has become a way to help others transition back into civilian life.
4. Woodworking helps veterans take control of PTSD
U.S Army veteran Ryan Oehlert returned from Iraq with PTSD and like so many people who are struggling to cope, he turned to alcohol until he discovered that woodworking helped him control his symptoms. Woodworking served as art therapy that offered him a way to find healing. He turned his family garage into a small workshop and began making furniture for his home. In May 2017, he founded Oehlert Woodworking Company. He's been able to transform woodworking from an interest into to a hobby, and then from a hobby to a start-up, in just a few short years.
5. The healing power of woodworking changes lives
Eloy Romero's woodworking began as a form of therapy to help him work through symptoms of PTSD. His wife encouraged him to take a colonial furniture making course instead of sitting on the couch and moping. It helped him more than he could have imagined, and he ended up taking the woodworking course at the local community college for twelve consecutive years, bringing more than a dozen other vets along over the years to experience the joys of woodworking for themselves. Romero's family has lived in New Mexico for over 400 years, and learning the craft of woodworking using traditional tools became its own tool for healing. The hand tools used for colonial woodworking allowed Romero channel his energy into crafting woodwork which looks like something his ancestors could have made. Woodworking has helped him heal and continues to be a passion that connects him to his roots.
Woodworking offers veterans a way to heal, to grow, and to build new lives. There is a satisfying feeling of peace in taking a piece of wood and turning it into something useful, practical, and beautiful.
They're not just transforming lumber and raw materials. They're transforming their lives as they delve into this ancient craft. By sharing their stories, they are also helping newly retired veterans discover the power woodworking has on lives. Whether by using hand tools, lathes, or power tools, learning to work with wood is making a difference in the lives of people who risked their lives for their country.
That is truly inspiring.
James Niehaus has been a writer and woodworking professional for over twenty years. Find out more about woodworking at his site, perfectcutsandmiters.com