This Land: A Compelling Story

By Katey Schultz

A little over a year ago, I was thrust into the veteran community whether I was ready for it or not. Sure, I’d spent the last three years of my life researching the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to imagine stories for my debut collection, Flashes of War. But that was in the privacy of my own writing studio and the safe explorations of my own imagination. I’d never been in a room full of veterans. I’d never travelled to the Middle East. I’d never worn 55 pounds of battle rattle or ridden in a Humvee, let alone fired an M4 because my life (and my buddies’ lives) depended on it.

What I found was that my book was received by a group of polite, focused, inquisitive people. Those veterans who read my short stories had stories of their own—lived stories—but they still took the time to engage with me: the mild-mannered thirty-something white girl who wrote about combat she never saw. Whether at a book event, in the airport, waiting in line at the grocery store, or doing business, if someone was a veteran, they typically made themselves known. Because of all the time I’d spent looking closely at our most recent wars, for the first time in my life, our conversations had a shared starting point. More importantly, for the first time in my life, I actually had something to say back.

Dan McReady
Dan McCready

So when a new message from Dan McCready of THIS LAND showed up in my inbox, I wasn’t entirely unprepared. A former Marine and Harvard Business School graduate, he introduced himself as the founder of a small start-up company based in Charlotte, North Carolina that was committed to pioneering the American spirit. My attention caught. American spirit? Now that’s a tough thing to put your finger on. Yet as I clicked through the images of work by THIS LAND artists on the company website, I had to admit I could see it. Our American spirit; that thing that makes people living in America most essentially who they are, no matter their race, age, sexual orientation, level of education, or economic status. Then, I read Dan’s story as founder of THIS LAND and knew I wanted to assist his team as a writer.

In short, THIS LAND is an online company carrying a highly curated selection of handmade functional objects for everyday use and enjoyment. Plates, mugs, scarves, bottle openers, earrings, belt buckles, and linens—yes—but with the kind of quality and craftsmanship that represents the best of our country he fought to protect. Dan founded the company because he believes handmade objects in America are key to preserving and expanding our cultural heritage. “The corporate fast track was interesting work, but my heart wasn’t in it,” Dan recalls. “That experience motivated me to take a stab and do something on my own. Now, I can say I’m doing something that matters to me and makes a difference. That was something I missed from my days in the Marine Corps. I’m grateful I’ve found it again.”

That’s how a person can get from leading a platoon of 65 Marines in Ramadi, to promoting an artist who makes handblown glass flasks in the mountains of North Carolina. Regardless of politics, of wins and losses, or of achievements and regrets, after serving his country for four years, Dan somehow understood that the most meaningful way to “come home” would be to find something that represented the best of the country he stood up for and make it accessible to a wider audience.

The connection may sound subtle, but because of my background researching Flashes of War and looking for signs of veteran activity everywhere I went, to my ears it rings loud and clear. We can celebrate what’s quintessentially American by supporting American-made. We can revitalize the sense of individuality and creativity that our founding father’s had in mind by uplifting the self-supporting artists in our midst. We can connect with our shared history by using a forged steel letter opener we may someday pass on to our children. In short, we can pioneer the American spirit one beautiful object at a time—investing in tradition and creativity and our economy at the same time. It may sound like a pitch, but I’d argue it also sounds like the best news I’ve heard in a long time.

Working with a team of six (two of whom are veterans) in a small apartment, Dan started THIS LAND with the determination of a family man who wants to assure his children grow up in a country that still stands for something real. Last week, in a conversation with IAVA staff member Rebecca Forbes, Dan explained the rest of his mission. “In the bigger picture, I want THIS LAND to be a voice that adds to the dialogue about the spirit of this country…To that end, we use our company blog to explore this through a number of themes, including studio visits with our artists, but also our thoughts on pioneers, independence, family, war, tradition, and memory.” Just last month, THIS LAND team member Mel McCaslin, a pilot in the Navy Reserves, wrote about her hero Amelia Earhart in celebration of the anniversary of Earhart’s transatlantic flight.

For my part, it’s a way to connect the hard work of my fellow neighbors and community members in the North Carolina mountains I call home, with the dream of a veteran who has a background in business. As with the stories I worked so hard to imagine for Flashes of War, I can begin with two ideas that seem disparate and write my way toward hopeful understanding. I’d argue that both outlets—the fictional world of my short stories and the real world of Dan’s company carrying artwork that embodies the American spirit—work toward a way forward in what we hope to soon be a post-war era for our nation.


Katey Schultz is author of Flashes of War, 2013 winner of the Military Writers Society of America Gold Medal in Literary Fiction and an IndieFab Book of the Year from ForeWord Review. Learn more about her writing life at

“Trying to Make Our Nightmare a Dream”: Hanro Studios Engraving

By David P. Ervin

When Hank Robinson got out of the Army in 2010, he thought the only thing he was good at was fighting the enemy.  However, he discovered a new talent while navigating his civilian life.

After deployments to Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan as an infantryman, he went to welding school on the GI Bill.  Something about the aesthetics of the metal gave him an idea, though.  So he experimented with a Dremel tool doing some engraving.  He made a few pieces a month, essentially toying with ideas.  When he found they were well-received, he went for it and began selling the pieces online.  Now he’s making art a living as owner and operator at Hanro Studios Engraving in Glendale, AZ.

20140516_164526To him, the work is calming and helps him escape.  Passionate, he says, is an understatement.  He’s found definitive purpose in creating his pieces.  He is always thinking about the next project, new ideas, or ways to improve technique.  It’s also a way to commemorate his brothers’ and sisters’ service, and to keep connected to the military world.

For now, his customer base is primarily the military and veteran community.  He uniquely memorializes the fallen and commemorates careers.  His preferred medium, the black aluminum with which memorial bracelets are fashioned, is “tough” and “it’s something that’s eternal,” invocative of gunmetal.  He also works with wood and glass.  There’s more to the gravity of his work than the materials.  He says there is “no room for failure” when memorializing someone who lost their life.  The detail and quality of his work serve as a testament to this belief.

Hank Robinson is a great example of finding personal solace and purpose through art while contributing to the greater community.  It’s a gamble he’s found to be well worth it.

Learn more about Hanro Studios Engraving here. Check them out on Facebook here.

“Citizen. Soldier. Citizen” Art Exhibit

The Lubeznik Center for the Arts located in Michigan City, Indiana is featuring the special exhibition Citizen. Soldier. Citizen. The exhibition is a collection of art made by former military service-personnel, many of whom have been featured in JME. The


exhibition is curated by JME’s Art Editor, Tara Tappert. The entire catalogue of the art exhibition is available online and worth a look. Additionally, the collection has already received favorable press. We are excited that Tappert and many JME contributing artists are hard at work promoting the power of artistic expression for bridging the military – civilian divide and for healing the wounds of war.

Review: “Veteran ‘On Killing'” (VOK), a Documentary by Zach P. Skiles

By Karen Springsteen

In the recent column, “On War, Guilt, and ‘Thank You for Your Service,’” West Point Professor Elizabeth Samet argues that the ritual of thanking the troops for their service is a “poor substitute for something more difficult and painful—a conversation about what war does to the people who serve and the people who don’t.” 

That conversation often comes about when citizens—out of concern, curiosity, or too many beers—have the desire to ask: “So, did you see any action?” “What was it like over there?” Or the lesser-spoken (I hope) “did you ever kill anyone?” To many veterans, such questions may be foolish and offensive or smack of some kind of voyeurism.

In the gentle words of former Marine and now professor Galen Leonhardy, “asking a person whether he or she has killed another person does seem to push the limits of propriety” (349). Yet, “action” (combat, killing) is a truth of war. It is as undeniable as it is ineffable (overwhelming, beyond words): faced with the mortal realities of more than a decade of war, how many of us—veterans and civilians—turn off, tune out, go numb?

With a new feature length documentary titled “Veteran ‘On Killing,'” (VOK) Iraq veteran Zach P. Screen shot 2013-11-06 at 12.03.22 PMSkiles, offers a way to reconnect. He shares the voices and faces of veterans as they read and respond to passages from Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman’s book, On Killing: The Psychological Costs of Learning to Kill in War and Society, which Skiles read while staying at the Pathway Home PTSD clinic in Northern California. By first reading a passage from the book aloud for the camera and then offering his or her own perspective on that passage, twelve veterans (of Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and Kosovo) bring Grossman’s research to life.

When, for example, Grossman writes about how citizens today are mostly insulated from death (our meat is pre-packaged, medicine prolongs life, mortuaries take care of our dead), Iraq veteran Jose Arias reflects on how death is treated in war, discusses how “our honor code prevented us from talking about it,” and suggests that “we create the bubbles we want to live in.” When Grossman cites the term “operant conditioning” from B.F. Skinner’s work, Iraq veteran Mack Butler follows up by talking what had become “natural” from his training. Relating an experience from combat, he talks about the “path of least resistance” and the power of automatic, as if instinctual, response.

In another passage, read by Skiles, Grossman uses the term “combat exhaustion” to describe a scenario in which the current physical and logistical ability to sustain combat outstrips humans’ psychological capacity to endure it. Grossman notes that never before have troops had to stay in such a continual state of fight-or-flight, and seldom did they experience such high levels of imminent personal risk without respite. In response to this passage, Skiles tells us that, in his first two weeks in country in 2003, he got eleven total hours of sleep, a point about sleep deprivation echoed by Javier Juarez, a veteran of Kosovo and Iraq: “when I came back and I would tell people I didn’t sleep for a year, physically you might’ve but even then your brain didn’t.” The vigilance and danger has been so extreme that, as Iraq veteran Irwing Lazo puts it in the film, “in a sense, you have to play like you’re dead already”—a practice that Lazo sees extending into veterans’ postwar lives as well.

Sitting on their porch, two veterans (not identified by name in the film) tell us that the effects of such service aren’t as noticeable “until you get out and maybe are a civilian” “I think it’s been promoted, like, I think in the military it’s better to be wound up and uptight.” The practice of militaries committing “psychological warfare” upon their own troops is addressed by Grossman in a passage to which Iraq veteran Tasia Flores responds:

It’s much like in basic training when you do say ‘kill, kill, kill.’ It’s just another word … but reading this book, I see how it can affect people, you know. Learning that ‘kill’ is not a bad word to knowing, like, yes it is, and it has a profound ripple effect not only on my life or the person that was affected by it, but their family and, you know, their community.

As a collective voice, the personal reflections and real responses to Grossman’s work that are captured by this documentary speak to the larger historical, psychological, and moral context of war and post-traumatic “stress” (which now seems like too plain a word). The documentary teaches us that veterans’ problems coming home from war are not pinned to individual defect or aberration and that no vet is alone in feeling the embodied effects left over from a military’s systematic, years-in-the-making, training apparatus. In this way, Zach P. Skiles’ “Veteran ‘On Killing’” is humane, powerful, and humbling.

Currently, the documentary can be found on Youtube as an eight-video playlist, each of which is 9-12 minutes long and has received anywhere from 75 to 576 hits. Please watch, learn, and share with veterans who may be transitioning into or out of service.

Review by Karen Sprinsteenkaren


Grossman, David. On Killing: The Psychological Costs of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1995. Print.

Leonhardy, Galen. Transformations: Working with Veterans in the Composition Classroom. Teaching English in a Time of War. Spec. issue of Teaching English in the Two-Year College 36.4 (2009): 339–52. Print.

Samet, Elizabeth. “On War, Guilt and ‘Thank You for Your Service.’” Bloomberg LP. 1 April 2011. Web. 6 Nov 2013.