The print was created by Jennifer Ghormley and tells the story of a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom. It is titled “The Peacekeepers,” and was created in collaboration with the Veteran Print Project, a non-profit organization that pairs veterans with artists. Their goal is two-fold: 1) Obtain and develop oral histories of a new generation of veterans and 2) to connect artists with the veterans to create prints based on the oral histories. Veteran Print Project believes that artists have a unique capability of communicating history visually. It is the goal of Veteran Print Project to assist in the development of these “Pict-Oral” histories and to display the creative energies that result from the collaboration between two iconic groups: artist and veteran.
Here is Jennifer, describing the thinking that went into her print:
Participating in this project proved to be a valuable, eye-opening experience for me as an artist. My father was in the Air Force, stationed in Vietnam for a bit, so I grew up exposed to many stories and movies from the Vietnam War era. I am embarrassed to admit, but my initial, naïve impression of a “vet” was someone old and weathered, with irreparable psychological and physical damage as a result of their service duties and self-sacrifice for the good of the country.
Upon meeting the veteran with whom I was paired, I quickly realized this was an archaic definition and that many wars have passed since then, recruiting younger generations of soldiers along the way. Family history and a strong desire to travel and help people, she voluntarily enlisted in the Air Force when she was 19, and she hoped to make a difference in the lives of others. Her position was Security Forces, essentially the base law enforcement. I immediately thought “the peacekeeper”.
Leaving home for the first time was an emotional event, but she was determined to follow in her the tradition of her grandfathers. Adjusting to life in boot camp, the learning curve was difficult, as she and her fellow cadets learned to function as a strong supportive unit and work together. Deep-rooted fears of punishment for disappointing the Sergeant kept order and peace amongst the squad, as they adapted to the new environment and way of work and life. Field training exposed her to many new skills and weapons, and she routinely carried a 9MM, M4, and M203 as part of her duty.
While she was stationed for a few years in the states, her first deployment overseas was to Bagram, Afghanistan. Tension was high in this high-profile war zone, as was the need for tight security and a well-prepared base unit. Imagine being “on edge” for months on end and how that must affect your body and your mind… After a bit of time back in the states, she was deployed again, this time to a rest and reconstitution base in Qatar. While the need for security was also high, this location was not as dangerous as Afghanistan, and she was able to interact and learn a bit about the culture of the area. One of the many challenges she faced overseas included a lack of personal privacy and extremely restricted internet access, which greatly limited communication with family and friends.
After four years of service, she separated in 2009 and found the biggest challenge was the transition from a rigid daily structure to complete freedom with no structure at all. This adjustment was abrupt and extremely difficult; she experienced intense periods of anxiety, which had a physical impact. With support, she managed to establish a framework and life for herself, and through the GI bill enrolled in a four-year program at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins. She was a student in the Human Development and Family Studies program, where she continued to pursue the rewards of helping people and a desire to make a difference in the lives of others.
In listening to her story and learning about her experiences, one of the things that stuck with me was the physical impact one endures as a tool for waging war in order to establish peace. She mentioned that she has tinnitus, or a constant ringing in the ears, as a result from being around loud noises, operating artillery, machine guns, and grenade launchers, etc. So while she is no longer enlisted, and has a whole life of experiences ahead of her, this constant reminder will always be present. My piece is an interpretation of this event, as a grimacing textural face is recoiling from the exploding sounds of numerous M-16s emanating from the ear. While I am not necessarily pro-war, I do identify with a personal sacrifice one makes for the good of others. And a part of me is grateful in ways I simply cannot express.