“To be a soldier is to dig,” so remarked the Ukrainian commander, only 22-years-old, while we observed the men of his first assault company hard at work with shovels on the front line near Russia this month. It is true, Ukrainian forces are trenching all along the front. Standing there one can hear not only the rhythmic sound of shovel to dirt, then foot to shovel, and finally dirt re-deposited, but also the close range firing of small arms (what turned out to be marksmanship training). The smell of residual gunpowder from an exploded mortar just five days prior still emanated from its crater a few feet from the main bunker. We visited two other positions that afternoon, passing armored trucks and skirting mines that crisscrossed the landscape and tiny villages that civilians still call home.
This world felt familiar to me. I felt connected to the fighters we met that day on a level I cannot fully explain. Also, perhaps ironically, I was quite possibly my most peaceful self and at one with the universe while I was out there. I gained new insight while I was there, and here it is in two parts: 1) those who fight wars are connected by a shared experience that transcends boundaries of nation or conflict and 2) war, recovery, and growth are all processes of world making that can be as messy as conflict itself.
I traveled to Ukraine at the request of my good friend John Boerstler. John is not only assisting veterans in Ukraine develop a hub for military transition services like his very own Combined Arms project in Houston, he is advising elected leaders in the creation of a Ministry of Veteran Affairs. Through his leadership a consortium of experts representing seven countries convened in the capital city of Kyiv at a location just seconds away from Maidan Square, ground zero for the recent revolution. The experience was most impactful, bravo John!
While my mission in Ukraine was to share the lessons we are learning at Bastion regarding transition stress and post traumatic growth, I arrived a few days early to accompany my West Point classmate, Jenn Blatty, to the Donbas region where the armed conflict continues between Ukraine and Pro-Russian Separatists. Jenn is a photojournalist and working on a project to reveal the universality of soldiers in wars across the globe, an ambitious undertaking to say the least but she is the perfect woman for the job. That is how I found myself standing in a fighting position on the front line near Donetsk with one of the last remaining volunteer battalions from the Right Sector movement. It was there that I recognized myself in the eyes of other warfighters, and realized a commonality that extends beyond borders.
Through the work that Jenn and John are doing I also realized unmistakably how war transforms the way we experience the world. The practice of war for the individual soldier is perhaps the most extreme example of world making. World making is a term I first encountered in Zoe Wool’s book, After War, which chronicles the recovery of severely injured warriors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center from 2007-2008. In this blog, I will adapt the definition of world making to capture the personal nature of transformation occurring in the moment. From the soldier’s plight, it is the process of shaping and molding the contours of a land and its people to achieve some desired effect. I was deployed to Iraq as an Infantry officer from 2003-2004 where I participated in the destruction of Ba’ath Party loyalists as well as the rebuilding of Mosul. The world I was making included the first democratic elections in 40 years. As in Ukraine, this effort exacted many casualties. Iraq also transformed me in ways I’m still learning about, as my Ukraine experience illustrates.
In 2005 I thrust my body into the process of world making once again, this time in New Orleans during the aftermath and recovery of Hurricane Katrina. I repeated the process yet again in 2012 when the Bob Woodruff Foundation and Wounded Warrior Project gave me the seed funding to build a Bastion for returning warriors and families. The act of world making itself is exceedingly physical and I have come to understand the physical repercussions of trauma, as well as traumatic growth, because these lessons are recorded in my body. In many ways my mind and spirit have been trying to catch up after each repetitious cycle of pushing my body to a new breaking point. The infantryman inside me will not relent because his survival depends on movement. If he stops, death feels imminent. Of course, this is no longer true off the battlefield. I need him to slow down for the sake of my body, which he will use up completely if unchecked.
The hard lesson that every soldier learns eventually is that while they may give their bodies without reservation to make a world that is safer or more free (which I admit sounds altruistic but soldiers in Ukraine are very much fighting for freedom) they will need their mind and spirit to inhabit it once again. Restoring this connection is vital. I am still learning how to live in my body which helps me understand and inhabit a world that in varying degrees exists beyond my ability to shape and mold it, and many of the veterans I met in Ukraine are beginning the same journey. Similar to the U.S. during the post 9/11 era, young veterans in Ukraine are returning from the front to discover a society that is moving forward with or without them. While I was there, it was reported in the national media that one veteran every day is taking his or her own life in Ukraine. The clash between worlds can be fatal. In one reality the homeland is safer because of the veteran’s individual contribution. In a competing reality the veteran is not safe in the homeland.
Bastion was conceived because I rejected a reality where returning warriors lived in isolation, or under a bridge, or in a facility on the outskirts of society. There is a competing reality in which society still needs us. Bastion is world making, as are many other examples of local initiatives throughout our country where warriors are carving out their place and remaking themselves and yes, always, persistently and imperfectly, remaking the world around them. “Defending the Bastion” means holding the space for warriors and families to heal and continue the tough work of making their world inhabitable, which if you are lucky, may someday be the same world in which you live or at least one that partially overlaps. We can do the work more optimally together because we will always need each other, including our civilian counterparts, to truly belong and reconcile competing realities. The connection we made so long ago as soldiers extends across time and conflicts, beyond physical borders, and into the realm of what is possible when we dare to imagine a world with us still in it.
Our guest blogger is Dylan Tête, the executive director and founder of Bastion Community of Resilience, who recently sojourned to the Ukraine.
Growing up as a kid in the 1980’s, I idolized Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space. Her trailblazing story appeared in school text books, a poster of her, life-sized in a flight suit, hung in the hallways next to rows of lockers. I wanted to be an astronaut and just as cool as her in a flight suit. She was such a popular role model for my generation of young women, possessing the confidence in herself and her skills to be successful at any endeavor she took on. She never set out to be a pioneer, she was just being herself and striving for what she wanted.
I think the same could be said for the two military veteran role models in my life. My Grandpa was a Marine who served in the South Pacific theatre of World War II and my Uncle was a career officer in the Coast Guard. When I raised my hand to take the Oath of Office and join the Coast Guard, I never considered myself a “woman joining the military”. I simply wanted to serve my country like my Grandpa and Uncle did. More than anything, I wanted to be a part of the country’s oldest seagoing service, one whose primary mission is search and rescue and saving lives.
The women leaders that I admire now in my adulthood, are those lesser known Coast Guard leaders who weren’t necessarily focused on being “the first” of anything, but just doing their job with excellence and honor. Women like Ida Lewis, once referred to as the “Bravest Woman in America”, who in the 1850’s became the first woman lighthouse keeper in one of the Coast Guard’s predecessor agencies. She was an excellent boat handler, credited with saving at least 18 lives, her first rescue occurring when she was just 16 years old. Responding to her critics, asking if it was un-ladylike for women to row rescue boats, Lewis responded, “No one, but a donkey, would consider it ‘un-feminine’, to save lives”.
I think about women who felt the desire to do their part as the entire world went to war. Genevieve and Lucille Baker, twin sisters who at 19 years of age, were the first women to serve as uniformed military in the Coast Guard in World War I. I admire the Coast Guard SPARs, the World War II female corps, similar to the Navy WAVE’s and Army WACs, who served as parachute riggers and equipment drivers. One of those SPARs, Florence Finch, who just passed away last year at the age of 101, was a saboteur with the underground resistance movement in her native Philippines. She smuggled food, medicine, soap and clothing to U.S POW’s, until she herself was caught and became a POW along with them. Tortured and interrogated she never gave up information to her captors and was held for three years until released in 1945.
In 1979, two years after women were assigned to sea duty aboard Coast Guard cutters, Beverly Kelley became Captain of a 95-foot Cutter, the CAPE NEWAGEN, becoming the first woman to command a U.S. military ship.
Vivien Crea, is the most recent example of a Coastie woman accomplishing great things. One of the first women aviators in the Coast Guard, she was the first member from the Coast Guard, and first woman in any service, to serve as Presidential Military Aide, carrying the nuclear “football” for President Ronald Reagan for three years. She was the first woman to attain the rank of Admiral for the Coast Guard, ultimately being appointed the first woman Vice Commandant in 2006, the second highest position in the entire Coast Guard. This distinction also made her the first woman to serve as a deputy service chief in any of the Armed Forces. I had the honor of working with and getting to know her towards the end of her career, when I was Aide for one of her Admiral peers.
These women may be well-known, either worldwide or within a smaller sphere of influence, but their reasons for serving their country were about a sense of duty as an American and having a shot at doing something they desired. While it may not have been their intention, I’m glad they became influencers who paved the way for women like me follow in their footsteps. Their courage and bravery to say “I want to do this” is what resonates with me. That’s what being a veteran means to me. All veterans joined the military for many reasons, but being famous wasn’t one of them. All of us did it because we felt a higher calling, and to do our duty the best we could alongside our shipmates.
The late Sally Ride once said, “I would like to be remembered as someone who was not afraid to do what she wanted to do, and as someone who took risks along the way in order to achieve her goals.” This a message I want to instill in my children, son or daughter. I sure hope that’s how I am remembered as a veteran, as a woman, as a person.
Sarah Holzhalb works for Team Red, White and Blue, a veteran service organization that enriches the lives of veterans through physical, social and volunteer activities A born and raised Virginian she served five years as a commissioned officer in the Coast Guard. She lives in Covington with her husband and children, where they are active with various veteran and community organizations, enjoy running and any outdoor activities together.
Exciting. Romantic. Frustrating. Annoying. Proud. Struggle. Patriotic. A roller-coaster ride.
There are about 20.4 million U.S. veterans, and each of them has been impacted by their time in service. Talk to a handful and you’ll hear many similar stories and feelings, but each one also has been touched personally by their time in the military. Some emerge stronger, more resilient and proud, but at the same time they may be wounded (mentally or physically) and have hidden battles within, which can impact their relationships with others.
My husband and I were both in the Army National Guard. Then in 2008, following our first deployment to Iraq and struggling to find a good paying civilian job during the height of the recession, he chose to switch to active duty Army. I was excited because I’ve always loved an adventure, but it was a struggle at first and still can be at times. Over the past ten years of marriage my husband has deployed two more times to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. We’ve moved six times. I completed my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I served in the Guard for five more years. We had an amazing little girl who is now 6 years old! Needless to say we’ve made some wonderful memories and endured some very difficult trials together.
Through my own experience I have learned that being in a relationship with a veteran has its ups and downs. So many factors come in to play such as; if you were with your veteran during his/her time in service or if you met him/her after, the severity of any injuries incurred, what the veteran experienced during their time in, and the list goes on. All of this also affects your level of understanding what they’ve been through. No two experiences are exactly the same, so I cannot pretend to act like my situation or my view of things will be the same as yours. However, every marriage has its mountains and its valleys, regardless of you or your partner’s career or background. With Valentine’s day upon us, I would like to share with you a few things I have learned.
Don’t underestimate the importance of weekly/monthly date night, especially if you have kids! Staying connected is incredibly important. Try doing things you don’t usually do together, like going to the shooting range, exploring antique stores, strolling through the park, or making a dessert together at home and playing cards. You may discover new things about yourselves and strengthen your connection.
You may not be able to change your partner, but you can change the way you respond. My husband looks at things in a very systematic way. When he was struggling with depression he wanted to know; what the next step was, when exactly could he expect the medication to start working, why did it feel like the treatment was not working fast enough, etc. At other times he can be very calm, cool, and collected. Whereas, I tend to get more emotional about things. Empathizing with him and reflecting on his thoughts and feelings helps me to respond to him appropriately. It also helps me calm my frustrations when my way of thinking doesn’t line up with his. Sometimes all it takes is a calm response to a situation to completely change the poor direction it was heading.
Nothing can replace the camaraderie that was shared with fellow service members. We recently had a 10-year reunion with a bunch of guys and gals who served in the National Guard during our first deployment to Iraq. We spent all weekend telling stories and joking about our time together and catching up on where everyone is now. It was a blast! There are things from my time in service that I would like to forget, but there are many more good memories that I want to remember forever. The bond that is forged during intense times when you’re all “in the suck” together, cannot be replicated. This is an aspect of a veteran’s life that could be difficult for civilian spouses and family members to grasp. It is essential to understand this aspect of the veteran experience and know that your relationship is important too.
The grass IS NOT greener on the other side. Sometimes it may be tempting to think so, but that grass on the other side is fake, plastic, painted, and won’t last. It may be tempting to think that things may be easier if ___________ (fill in the blank). That is not reality. Marriage takes effort, a lot of effort. Try putting all your effort and energy into fertilizing, watering and caring for the grass you have. Start by taking steps in the right direction and look for the good in your relationship.
Communication is key. Change is inevitable. Be supportive. Seek support. So oftentimes in relationships we make assumptions, but that tends to work against us. Ask questions. Listen to your veteran. Share your thoughts, dreams, hopes, and fears with them. Talk about your future. Talk about your needs. Be open to changes that life throws at you. You are not the exact same as you were when you were a teenager, nor will you be the same when you are 60 that you are at 35. Same goes for your partner, times changes us all. Adapt to changes in your life together. Lean on each other.
I acknowledge that there are couples and families that are encountering or have been through much more challenging circumstances. Illness, injury, side effects from medication, and mental health struggles are all things that can complicate our relationships. Good medical care and solid social supports are critical in these situations. It is important to remember that all relationships are a work in progress, and no one is perfect. No relationship is perfect. Be kind to yourself and enjoy your journey. “A great relationship is not when the ‘perfect couple’ comes together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.”
This blog entry was written by Sheri Beck, Bastion's Director of Organizational Development.
2018 is finally here, and at Bastion we are back to work creating a bigger, better, and healthier community! For those of you who haven't noticed, our hard hats are back on! Bastion has began construction on 20 additional units, and we look forward to welcoming our new families this summer!
A new year means a new look! The Wellness Center is getting a makeover soon, with the help of an interior designer who will help us integrate a welcoming spirit of wellness into our community! This year you can also look forward to more yoga classes, mind body skills groups, and fitness programming! So be on the look out for announcements in the newly dedicated Purple Heart Room sponsored by Red River in the Wellness Center!
Until then you can mark your calendars for the following events:
January 13, 2018 Volunteer Opportunity with the Mission Continues
(more info here)
February 1, 2018 The New Orleans Veterans Transition Workshop
(more info here)
March 31, 2018 Crescent City Classic 2018
(more info here)
May 12, 2018 Four Play- Quads Volleyball Tournament
more info to come
Weekly events (more coming soon!)
Resident Social - (Each Tuesday @6:00pm)
Yoga with Jason Davey- Every Friday @ 5:30pm (moved from Thursdays at 6:00)
Come see the transformation for yourself!
The holidays are in full swing at the Bastion Community! During the month of December we had two Christmas parties in the Wellness Center! The atmosphere was festive as residents, staff, and supporters came together to celebrate. For both events, each child, ranging from 3 months to 16 years old, went home with a gift and a goody bag. Everyone was all smiles as treats were passed around and the children played.
We want to send a huge thanks to all those who donated and/or organized festivities, including: Quintella Stills, Yolanda Patterson, Hector Maes, Charise Jerve, Ashley and Khloe Fleming, Ms. Sylvia, The Massengale Family, The Seaman Family, The Eustis Family, The Fitzpatrick Family, The Butler Family, The Villere Family, The Bush Family, The Montgomery Family, The Hooper Family, The Mann Family, Ms. Phyllis Taylor and staff, American Red Cross, and more who all pitched in to make the events successful! We can't wait to see what's in store for 2018!
Couldn't make it? See pictures of the festivities below.
As the seasons change and the weather shifts, checking in and ensuring your winter wellness routine is in good shape is always a good idea. If you are in the northern hemisphere, the days are shortening and the evenings feel even shorter. It is important to recognize the challenges your normal wellness routine may have in the winter months, so you can adapt and overcome.
If you are willing to try something new (or again), I would recommend yoga.
I enjoy a yoga practice year-round, but I admit it can be challenging during south Louisiana summers because of a yogic idea tapas, which means “to build heat/burn”. Tapas warms the body, and during the winter months is an added benefit. It seems every month there is a new study that validates yoga as a wellness method, but the Yogis have always known this. The most important aspect of yoga is the self-identification of the effect yoga has on you. If yoga doesn’t work for you, don’t do it.
Yoga has great benefits to all who practice it and is an excellent supplement to existing wellness routines. Yoga is also a great way to transition from inactivity to a new wellness routine. Yoga also has many different styles and I encourage you to try several classes and teachers before you give up on it. Yoga is an effective method to building wellness in the mind and body, but yoga is not magic. Yoga requires effort. Pattabhi Jois, one of the founders of Vinyasa Yoga said, “yoga is 99% effort and 1% theory”.
Yoga exists in most corners of the US and around the world. Look for classes in yoga studios, community centers, fitness clubs, and through organizations to promote wellness like Bastion Community. Bastion, 1901 Mirabeau Avenue in New Orleans, has yoga every Thursday at 6:30pm. When the days are longer, there is an outdoor vinyasa (movement linked with breath) yoga class with Marion, and year-round, there is an indoor chair yoga class that is accessible to anyone with Jason. The classes are free and geared towards veterans, but yoga is for everyone, and everyone is welcome.
Jason Davey is a Kansas native, Marine Corps Combat Veteran, and community yoga teacher. He is also the founder of NolaSeva.org, a nonprofit org dedicated to bringing wellness to the community through yoga. Jason and Nola Seva believe that yoga is for everyone, regardless of their ability to pay.
Bastion held it's first annual Evening of Appreciation event on November 9, 2017! The theme of the night was gratitude, as residents, staff, and a wide range of supporters gathered together in mutual thanks for the Bastion Community. Entertainment was provided by the musical styling of Dr. Brice Miller and his band, whose jazz melodies flowed throughout the night. Guests also enjoyed a cigar rolling station, a bar and lounge area, passed appetizers, Bastion home tours, and even a children's play and food station. A notable moment from the night includes a speech from Bastion's Executive Director and Founder, Dylan Tête, stating that, "gratitude has a way of attracting more gratitude. It builds on itself and it builds and builds until there is a Bastion." Needless to say, our community has so much to be thankful for and the first annual Evening of Appreciation was truly a night to remember.
Our staff would like to take a moment to thank everyone who played a role in creating our special community. Bastion would not be possible without your support, generous donations, and veterans to serve. We’d also like to thank our volunteers for being so generous with their time, to Brice Miller Entertainment for creating the beautiful ambiance, to ILEA New Orleans for being the most amazing partner in making this event a success, to our amazing speakers - Christine Lemoine, Brandon Dorrington, and Michael Pitre, and last but not least to our sponsors for enabling us to dedicate an evening that was truly just for appreciation. Thank you.
Sponsors: UBS, Humana, Carr, Riggs & Ingram, Kappa Designs LLC, Just Ask Rental, George Kuchler Photography, Big Easy Event Rentals, River Parish Disposal, BRG and Boucherie Catering!
We cant wait to see you next year!
Want to relive the excitement? Leave comments and scroll below!
It was not too long ago on Tuesday, June 21, 2016, that Bastion Community of Resilience broke ground as the nation’s first intentionally designed neighborhood for returning warriors and families with lifelong rehabilitative needs. Since then, Bastion has continued to thrive and is home to 73 residents, who have over 196 years of combined military service!
As our community grows, Bastion offers this blog as a resource for all! Here, you can find out about Bastion events, wellness tips, and day to day life in the community! This post is the first of many, check us out each month for content dedicated to warriors, caregivers, volunteers, Bastion residents and more. As a Bastion our community stands to defend, protect, and serve. Our team is dedicated to fulfilling our mission and we are excited for the journey ahead!
The Bastion Team!
Mark your Calendars!
Residents, please join us for the following events:
Every Monday and Wednesday @12 pm - Lunchtime Meditation
Every Tuesday @ 6pm - Resident Social Hour
Every Thursday @ 6:30pm - Warrior Yoga
The third Friday of every month @9:30 am - Coffee with the Staff
If you would like to attend any of these events please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
City Wide Events:
November 28th- #GivingTuesday
March 31st- Crescent City Classic 10K
May 12th- Four Play Quads Volleyball Tournament
You can find detailed information about these events here