The artwork of 16 female veterans will be on display at a free show later this month, and will also include their stories of war-related trauma and healing.
“The Trauma Transformed – The Story and Art of Women Veterans” show will culminate a four-day creative arts healing retreat in Scottsdale for female veterans are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and military sexual trauma.
The show will be 6-8:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, at the Franciscan Renewal Center, 5802 East Lincoln Drive.
The retreat and art show were organized by the Chandler nonprofit Warrior Songs.
Warrior Songs was founded in 2011, by Iraq war veteran Jason Moon. After serving as a combat engineer in 2003 and 2004, Moon returned home to Wisconsin, where he struggled to reintegrate into civilian life.
Suffering from PTSD, Moon attempted suicide in 2008.
“As part of my recovery, I started writing songs. I wrote a whole CD about dealing with PTSD,” he said.
“All of that kind of just sparked a healing in me, but then it also taught me that I can take this pain that caused me to want to kill myself, and I can put it in a song, not only healing me but starting to help other veterans.”
Moon began speaking and performing at conferences and churches and began receiving letters from other veterans.
“I got a letter from a mother, her son was over there at the same time I was, and attempted suicide three times,” Moon said.
“She said she played him some songs on the CD, and he went to the VA the next day. So that was the moment I said ‘Alright, I’m going do something with this.’ I founded Warrior Songs and started just singing for anyone who would listen.”
Warrior Songs began in Wisconsin but moved to Arizona when Moon relocated in 2016.
As the organization grew, a variety of programs were developed to assist veterans in healing through music and the creative arts.
One program, called Story to Song, connects veterans with musicians and songwriters through song. Through this program, two albums of music were released.
The healing retreats are facilitated by both civilian therapists and other veterans who help participants use arts and music to connect with themselves and then work on their healing process.
The first was held in 2013, and since then three others have been held. This is the first arts retreat specifically designed for female veterans.
Moon explained that after hearing the stories of female veterans who were traumatized, he knew a retreat tailored to them was needed. But he also knew he needed to build a team of women who could relate to them.
He sought help from Graciela Marroquin, who will be the “mind, body and spirit assistant” at this year’s retreat.
“We both found out we’re musicians,” Marroquin said. “He was Iraq, I was Iraq at the same time, so all the connections just lined up.”
Marroquin, a Washington native, joined the Navy when she was 18, and later served in the National Guard and the Army. She was deployed to Iraq in 2003, and after being discharged due to a back injury, she went back to school to get her master’s degree in social work.
Marroquin’s trauma didn’t catch up to her right after returning home, she said, but eventually it caught up to her.
“When I came back from Iraq, I went back to grad school, but during that time, not only did trauma from war, but the military sexual trauma I had also came to surface,” she said.
Marroquin began a seven-week stay at a residential facility for women with PTSD, after she said she, “had a lot of suicide ideations like a lot of us do, but the final one was where I was really just had lost my mind and I knew I needed to get help.”
Now, Marroquin is helping other women with their trauma.
She said one on the goals of the retreat is for women to form, “a sisterhood where they know they’re not alone. A sisterhood they can build upon, not only with each other here, but also go back to their own communities and to their own homes.”
The retreats are of no cost to the attendees, which means Warrior Songs relies heavily on fundraising.
This year’s event was also made possible with a grant from the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services.
The lead fundraiser for this year’s retreat, Ellicia Romo, said they’ve raised roughly $24,000 so far.
“I think its huge for veterans to know that civilians care,” she said. “I think it’s so important for them to know they’re appreciated.”
Moon said he encourages as many civilians as possible to come to the art show, where not only can they view the art, they can hear the stories behind the art.
“For about an hour we make sure each veteran has an opportunity to share whatever they need to share about their art. And when they do, they get to hold their art while they talk about their art, so the eyes of the audience move onto the art and off of the individual, who can then fully express what they need to say,” he explained.
“I think as many people as possible should come to this show. They’re going to be amazed by what they see and feel, and maybe walk away from it with a different understanding of what art can do,” Moon added.
For art show tickets and more info: www.eventbrite.com/e/trauma-transformed-the-story-and-art-of-women-veterans-tickets-68836380467