Episode 389 Fred Johnson Art, Service, and Healing Transcript

This transcript is from episode 389 with guest Fred Johnson.

Scott DeLuzio: [00:00:00] Thanks for tuning in to the Drive On Podcast where we are focused on giving hope and strength to the entire military community. Whether you’re a veteran, active duty, guard, reserve, or a family member, this podcast will share inspirational stories and resources that are useful to you. I’m your host, Scott DeLuzio, and now let’s get on with the show.

Hey, everybody. Welcome back to Drive On. I’m your host, Scott DeLuzio. And today, my guest is Fred Johnson. Uh, Fred is a former Marine and a musical performer known for his contributions to healing veterans through artistic expression. Uh, Fred is deeply committed to bridging the gap between, uh, the military community and civilians, and he works to develop healing programs for veterans.

Through the arts. Uh, so before we get more into the type of stuff that Fred does and what he is doing for the military community, first off, wanna welcome to the show Fred. Really glad to have you here.

Fred Johnson: Thanks very much, Scott. I’m honored to be with you.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, you [00:01:00] bet. Um, so let’s kind of, maybe just take it back a little bit. Can you share maybe what the listeners, uh, what motivated you to get into the military and your experience? Some, maybe some of your experiences serving as Marine.

Fred Johnson: Sure. Um, I was motivated to join the military by my adopted dad, Robert Johnson, who was a 35 year career, uh, soldier in the army and then worked another, uh, 20 years, uh, for civil service. And so I, uh, I grew up around, uh, the army. Never really had a desire to be in the Army. It’s a great branch of service.

It was nothing about that. It was just, you know, I always had this inclination and desire to, to be in the Marine Corps. Um, you know, the, uh, honestly, my first inclination towards wanting to be in the Marine Corps was when a recruiter came to, uh, came to my high school in his dress [00:02:00] blues. Okay. That’s just the truth of the matter.

Um, the other, the other part of it too, though, and kind of an interesting part of the story is, uh, in high school, I was a wrestler. And, um, and, uh, I was a pretty good wrestler. As a matter of fact, I was actually. Uh, kind of scouted by a number of universities and one of them was the Naval Academy. Um, at that time Mr.

Ed Perry was the head of the wrestling program there. And you know, you, if you were able to get into the Naval Academy, then you graduate as either a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps or an ensign in the Navy. And my aspiration was to, you know, was to go to the Naval Academy and graduate as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.

And, uh And the, and the, uh, uh, Naval Academy was interested in me. As a matter of fact, I had the opportunity to go to Annapolis and. And train a couple of times with the, with the wrestling team there. Interesting story. I was 17 years old at that time. So, um, uh, I was with my dad downtown one day and we [00:03:00] were going past the Naval recruiter’s office and young Naval recruiter came out and said, can I interest you, uh, can I interest you in the Navy?

And my dad said, no, you know, I’m actually, um, You know, my son is, my son possibly has an opportunity to go to the Naval Academy. You know, he’s interested in the Marine Corps, he’s a good wrestler and whatever. And so he said, well, you know, do you have all your papers and everything in? And, you know, you have to be recommended by a state representative or a congressman and And I said, yeah, yeah, all of that, uh, you know, I just have to take the SATs and things of that nature.

And so he says, well, look, you know, let me tell you, you know, if, if, if you’re in a situation where it’s against, it’s against you and somebody else, you know, I wanna recommend to you. You know, if, if you join the Naval Reserve, then you’ll already kind of have a leg in. And the fact that, you know, you’ve already made a commitment, you know, so you know, you join the Naval Naval Reserve.

So if it’s up against you and somebody else, and you, that’s another caveat. Um, and so, and, and so my dad said, well, that sounds pretty good. And, you know, in order for me to [00:04:00] join the service, I had to have his signature. So we signed on and so I was thinking, okay, good. I’m in really good shape now. So, you know, like, you know, I’ll do whatever, whatever.

So I took the SATs and when I finished the SATs, um, I did magnificently on English and everything else, but I scored low. on the math. I didn’t, my math score wasn’t high enough, right? And so, uh, so what would traditionally happen would be you, you, I would go to the prep school in Bainbridge, Maryland. They have a couple of prep schools and you, you study there and you get your score up and that, you know, that helps you out anyway.

Make a long story short. So, um, When it came time for, for me to, to go to Bainbridge, and they were like, okay, you know, go to, you go to Bainbridge, and, and I was like, I, I can’t, I can’t go to, I can’t go then, I can’t go, because I got to go to boot camp. And they were like, what do you mean you got to go to boot camp?

And I said, um, Well, you know, I joined the Naval Reserves because the recruiter told me, you know, that, you [00:05:00] know, they were like, oh my God, Fred, you know, you just signed a contract with the United States Navy. You can’t go to Bainbridge Prep School. You got to go to, you got to go. So I spent two years on active duty in the, as a Naval Reservist.

Um, and, uh, during that time, actually, uh, had the opportunity to engage with a, a number of, of, uh, both Naval and Marines that were in the Photographic Division. And so, uh, during my time in the Navy, spent most of it in the Mediterranean, uh, you know, got out and then immediately went and said, look, I want to sign up for the Marine Corps.

I got experience in the, as a photographer, they said, Oh, no problem. You can be a designated striker. Um, and, uh, I, I joined the Marine Corps and same thing. You know, I ended up, you know, with a rifle and, you know, I was a rifleman at first. I did ultimately end up, uh, uh, you know, getting into the 46 31, um, uh, um, uh, photography, uh, billet.

Um, but, uh, [00:06:00] the early part of my first, my first time out of boot camp, uh, uh, did one, one and one deployment in, in Vietnam and worked actually with, uh, with a naval unit, with the PBRs, with the riverboat, um, riverboat patrols up and down the, uh, the Mekong Delta. Um, but, uh, you know, uh, I’ll, the experiences that I had as a Marine, the training that I got as a Marine.

The, the, the, the, the connectedness that I received as a Marine really kind of helped to shape the rest of my life. You know, uh, um, you’re, you’re called to, to do things that, you know, you physically, sometimes you think you’re not able to do, you know, I mean, I learned how to not quit and I also, uh, learned profoundly that every decision that I make in my life.

It has an effect upon somebody else as well as me. So I learned a powerful sense of camaraderie and a powerful sense of, uh, uh, pride and I was probably in the best shape I’ve ever been in my whole [00:07:00] entire life. So,

Scott DeLuzio: that’s a funny way of doing that for you, is uh, getting you, whipping you into shape real, real quick.

Fred Johnson: Yeah,

Scott DeLuzio: and you learned, learned probably a valuable lesson early on too, that uh, recruiters don’t always tell you exactly the truth.

Fred Johnson: yeah, I did, and I’ve shared that with a number of people. I said, you know, join, but be careful.

Scott DeLuzio: Right, right. Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with joining. I, I don’t have any, anything against the recruiters for getting folks in. I mean, obviously, you know, we all go through a recruiter, you know, somehow to, to get in. Um, but yeah, that, that recruiter was, was looking at, at those numbers for that month probably.

Fred Johnson: those numbers, and of course, my father very angrily went back to try to find that recruiter, as I did, and you know, he had been You know, shifted to somewhere else cause they, they, you know, shift them in and out, especially back in the sixties, you know, and especially during Vietnam.

Cause there was a huge need along with the draft, but there was still a huge need for, you know, people to join the military, but [00:08:00] all things considered, uh, uh, very proud of both my Navy and my Marine Corps service. And, uh, and, you know, I’ve committed the rest of my life to doing whatever I can to continue to be in service for those, uh, those, um, all those people.

Veterans who serve and their families and caregivers.

Scott DeLuzio: And, and that’s, yeah. Uh, certainly a noble, uh, you know, cause, and I know a lot of folks who are transitioning out of the military, uh, from service to civilian life, um, it can be really challenging, uh, for, for those folks, um, and, uh, We didn’t really talk much about your, you know, transition out, but, uh, how did your military experience, what you, what you experienced, what you participated in, uh, shape your, your journey into, you know, what you’re doing now, uh, and kind of inspired your, your career, uh, that you’re, you’re in now.

Fred Johnson: Well, the truth of the matter, Scott, is, uh, it [00:09:00] affected me in a, in a number of ways, first of all, um, you know, being involved in music and being involved in the theater and arts and all that stuff was something that I did before I went into the service and in truth. During my time in service, um, it was something that I had to let go of.

It was something that I lost. I lost a bit of that, you know, because my focus had to be in another place. Um, and so one of the ways that I was able to find my way back was to find myself again, to find that part of me again, and I was also able. Um, to help other, to help other Marines and, and, um, uh, you know, find a, a return to a sense of balance, um, because, you know, we’re, we’re, we’re called, we’re called to serve in a different way.

And sometimes you have to lose a little bit of you in order to gain another part of you. And so a part of that journey for me back was to find my voice again, was to find my voice. [00:10:00] You know, my, my way back to, to being, to being creative, uh, to find my way back to believing and trusting in my ability to move outside of regimentation and find the fullness of myself again.

And so in that way, uh, it, it helped to, it helped me to, again, you know, kind of return back to a full sense of myself while at the same time, you know, the other reality that exists oftentimes for, uh, servicemen and, and, and, you know, for me coming back home is, and especially during Vietnam War, I mean, there was a lot going on.

I mean, I ain’t come home to a whole bunch of people saying, yay, yay. And, you know, I mean, you know, I, I came back to. A lot of really difficult social issues. Um, and, uh, so, uh, so it causes you some time to question. It causes you to, you know, try to find your place with that. And so a part of what I committed myself to [00:11:00] was to the realization that I will, I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to give back, right?

I’ll spend the rest of my time trying to find a balance place there. You know, when you’ve, when you’ve been involved in something that, that, that, that, Doesn’t necessarily fully sit right with you. Uh, the only, for me it was, okay, so let me find ways as I move forward in my life to use who I am in continual service, both to myself so that I can keep a sense of my fullness and really to serve my community, to continue to serve my community in another way.

And for me, Creativity’s been a big part of my life, all of my life. It’s been a way that I feel like I’ve had a positive influence on others, and a positive influence on myself. And so, you know, you use what you do best, uh, to, to, to serve in your life. And that’s what I do.

Scott DeLuzio: You know, it’s, it’s interesting hearing you, you talk about this because you are saying how, uh, you [00:12:00] know, you, you didn’t come back to, you know, the best, uh, you know, welcome home and, and all that, that kind of stuff that, that a lot of folks who have deployed in recent years, they, they They come home to, you know, folks who are welcoming to them and, uh, they’re, they’re waving the American flags or they’re, they’re proud of them and all that.

And, and that wasn’t the case back in the Vietnam era where, where you guys are coming home, they’re getting spit at and called names and all these other things that like really didn’t need to be happening. Um, and. I could see how somebody coming back to that environment would kind of just be like, really?

I went and did all that, you know, for the, these folks back home. Uh, you know, I, I sacrificed my time, my, my, my potentially, uh, you know, my wellbeing, my physical safety, my, you know, I’ve sacrificed all this stuff. Um, And I come home to this, this is the thanks I get. It’s really easy in my mind to see how someone would just go the hell with these people.

I don’t want to, [00:13:00] I don’t want to be of service to anybody. I’m just going to go take care of myself. Um, and you’re taking the opposite road where you’re like, no, I’m, I’m going to be helping. I’m going to be of service to folks. Um, even more so than you were back, uh, you know, during, during your time in the military, um, where you’re, where you’re, You’re basically, you’re, you’re helping out this whole community.

Um, but you’re doing it in a way where you’re kind of getting back to your roots. You know, you said, um, you know, you, You’ve always, you know, kind of been involved, but you know, during the military service, you kind of had to put some of that personal stuff on the back burner. Um, but I think, you know, uh, you know, that it’s your calling when you leave that environment or that, that hobby or that activity or that, whatever it is that you do, whatever that career, um, if you leave it and then find your way back to it at some point, um, I think that’s how you kind of know that, [00:14:00] yeah, this is, this is the thing that I am meant to be doing.

And, and I think that’s kind of where you’re at, right?

Fred Johnson: Yeah, in part, I mean, you know, um, it’s interesting. You know, I think what, sometimes what people, Uh, or at least I can only really speak for myself, but I think oftentimes when people think about a, uh, uh, uh, someone who serves in the military or you think about military service, um, or just life and living itself, it’s like, it’s the sum total of who you are.

I mean, you go into the service and you know, uh, you, you learn another way of being with a group, you know, another, you learn another way of serving, but you’re the sum total. And what I mean by that is. My journey with, with healing or with music and sound and stuff being a healing for me, it wasn’t just that I liked music as a kid growing up.

I mentioned earlier that, you know, I mean, the strongest influence in my life was, you know, my, my adopted dad, Robert Johnson. And so the first five and a half years of [00:15:00] my life, I was a ward of the state in the state of New Jersey. So I was in and out of foster homes. I was, you know, in and out of of orphanage situations.

It just wasn’t a good time for me. So in those developmental years, I did a lot of What the body needs. I did a lot of sound making. In other words, I hummed all the time. I created sound, you know, as a little kid, that’s how I found my comfort zone. You know, my comfort zone was by singing or it was by humming or, and it was by rocking cause the body has a need to feel the frequency and vibration, you know, of, of your own voice and the body has a need for motion.

Right? So early on, that’s how I knew that was my, that was my healing. That was my comfort place, right? Was sound and song. Then as I got older and I was adopted and, you know, I, I started, when I started to sing, because as a little kid, I would just make noise and just kind of be in the corner, you know what I mean?

I was just trying to scare myself. But then when I sang out, And people heard me sing was the first time in my life that I [00:16:00] had the experience that people were attracted to me because of my voice. So sometimes, you know, I believe that, you know, all of the experiences that you have in your life prepare you for your life’s journey.

So when I had to call upon myself, when I had to return to that place of finding my voice again, Return to that place of recognizing that a lot of my healing came from the inside out and I could quiet my mind in that way and quiet the questioning and quiet the madness because I also, you know, grew up as a child, you know, in America as a, as a young Black male.

So, you know, I mean, there, there’s always been dissonance in my life. Right? So, so the whole, the whole realities of the, the whole Vietnam era period was just another thread in that dissonance. Right? But, but you had that, but we were able to contain or retain that camaraderie when veterans are together because we speak the same language.

We understand each [00:17:00] other. We might, we might rib each other about being in different branches of service, but we understand that sacrifice. And so the natural, natural thing for me, And was to, when the opportunity presented itself, be able to work with veterans and their families and their caregivers. Um, and I don’t take credit for that.

Um, uh, about 2015, I believe it was the Department of Defense and the National Endowment for the Arts and Americans for the Arts, which three national organizations came together. The Department of Defense realized that especially for. Veterans with traumatic brain injury or kind of severe PTSD is that oftentimes what you couldn’t say, what you weren’t able to talk about or communicate about, you know, you could paint, you could do a painting and it came out in a painting, or you would write a piece of poetry, or you know, you would play a song, you would play an instrument.

And so the Department of Defense realized, and we’re looking for [00:18:00] other ways to engage, in the VA system, a way to help, you know, expand, uh, veterans returns back to a sense of wholeness to the highest degree that they could using everything. So, of course, there was recreational therapy and then, you know, and all of the other specific therapies, but they began to, uh, deploy art therapists, licensed art therapists who could apply Art, you know, art, whether it was, there’s like a powerful, powerful, uh, tradition in the art therapy world of, of allowing vets to make masks, mask making, because, you know, you, you create this mask that has a meaning for you that you don’t have to speak about, but it can be felt in the mask, you know.

So where I come, where I come into the national picture is because I work Um, added Arts Institute. I work at the Stras Center for the Performing Arts. I’m artist in residence there and also the community engagement specialist and actually was the first person to [00:19:00] ever perform at what was then the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center back in 1985 when it opened.

Stayed involved, was Vice President of Education and Humanities for 10 years, and then went back out into the world, and then actually returned in 2017, when this formalization of the utilization of arts was finalized. became a more prominent part of the veteran rehabilitation and support system because they had done all this great clinical work, but then they said, but what happens, you know, when, when the veteran leaves the clinical setting, where do they go?

How do they continue? And so they adopted a program called Creative Forces. And Creative Forces was kind of a handoff or a partnership called a clinic to community. And, um, and I at the stress center and kind of for the state of Florida during this First initiative, creative forces thing. The state of Florida was one of 11 states that was involved in the initial clinic to community initiative.

[00:20:00] And I kind of helped to coordinate that in alignment with the folks at James Haley VA hospital in Tampa, uh, to begin our effort and our way forward with creative forces. So I represent that handoff or that opportunity to extend the veteran and their family and caregivers journey. Being introduced to the arts and how do you continue and how do you continue have that be be a part of your therapeutic process.

Right? In a safe space with other veterans. And I also included the extension or the connection of the civilian community as well, because since the mid seventies, when the, when the, when the, uh, the draft ended. Many, many American families did not have the experience of having a young family member go away to serve in the military because there was no draft.

It was all volunteer. And so unfortunately, there’s been this kind of a chasm or a bit of a disconnect between the military community and the civilian community. And that’s a, that’s [00:21:00] another opportunity that we have to mend You know, and reform that, um, and that in and of itself is a healing as well.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. And to your point, there are so many families, so many people, uh, in this country who don’t even know anybody, uh, who is in, in service, uh, you know, personally know them, you know, you know, in general that there are soldiers, that there are Marines, you know, but, but knowing them personally, you know, whether, you know, it’s a close family member or friend or neighbor or something like that, they, a lot of times they, they don’t know anybody who has.

Yeah. has even served. And that’s, um, that, that grows that divide, uh, that, that you were talking about where, where you don’t even have that personal connection. Um, and, and it almost becomes like, uh, they’re just this other group of people that we just don’t, Know anything about. And, and so having these [00:22:00] programs where you can kind of bridge that, that gap between the civilian and, and veteran populations where we can kind of better understand each other because we, we have to get along together.

You know, we, we leave the military service and we are now unleashed into the world. Um, we got to work together. We have to, You know, shop at the same stores. Our kids go to the same schools. We, we have to be able to interact with each other and, and, uh, getting to know each other and, and what we are, um, you know, kind of, kind of maybe going through, uh, is, is certainly helpful, right?

Fred Johnson: Absolutely. And I mean, I mean, it’s a, it’s a reintegration, but the fact of the matter is, and I think that a lot of folk don’t understand. Or maybe it’s just not been articulated to people in, in, in, in, in this way. But the community at large has a responsibility to those families, to those veterans, to those folk who, you know, make the commitment to go out and [00:23:00] protect and defend.

Our country and all of, all of the folk who live there, you know, to our population. And I think what it is, is that folk just don’t understand. You know, many, many people, many civilian folk, their understanding or their perception of the military is based upon some movie. That they’ve seen, you know, or some dramatization that they’ve seen, and, you know, that’s designed to, to make money for folk.

You know, it’s not the real world. It’s not really what it’s about. Um, so, you know, oftentimes that’s why there’s this, uh, uh, this divide before. Uh, Creative Forces was formalized in kind of the developmental stages. They had these regional meetings and one was held in the Jabe Theater at the Strasz Center in Tampa.

Um, and I was actually at that time working in New York, still living in, in St. Petersburg, but I did kind of the longest commute. Um, I worked at an organization [00:24:00] called Intersections International, so I would spend like two or three weeks in New York, and then, you know, come home for a week, and, and I did that for a number of years, so I, I stayed, I was, kids were here, family was here, wife was here, you know, but I was, I was making that commute, and I started my work with veterans at Intersections in New York City, but they had this regional convening here, and it was a meeting of Uh, veteran support groups of veterans and of community arts organizations.

And the purpose was to kind of find out how veterans felt about, you know, their way forward, their connections. And a number of things came up. were brought to the forefront. Number one, many vets, and I totally understand this because I experienced this myself, many vets feel like they don’t get a chance to really tell their story.

They don’t get a chance to speak for themselves. You know, their truth from, in their own words, is really not articulated. People don’t get that. They, they get it from somewhere else, [00:25:00] right? That was one major thing. The second major thing was that, again, um, many veterans felt like they didn’t feel like they belonged.

They didn’t feel like there was a real connection or even an understanding between them and the general civilian community. And then the third one was that here, at least here in Tampa Bay, there’s, you know, there’s, Two major VA hospitals, but those VA hospitals don’t talk to each other. You know, like there’s not, there’s not a, a net that was felt by veterans that there really wasn’t a network.

And just depending upon where you live, you had privy to one, but not the other. So, so when we Uh, when we here at the Performing Arts Center decided, okay, we’re going to get together and we’re, and you know, it was mandated that we work in alignment with the James Haley VA Hospital. But one of our mandates was to take those things that the veteran community said that they felt like they didn’t have.

and integrate it into our programs. And so we created a website called Vet Artspan. [00:26:00] And Vet Artspan is, was designed to be a point of destination. And we did, we did, uh, I did interviews and, and podcasts with veterans, about veterans, you know, with, with their family members, um, with, uh, folk who are, Working in, in VA hospitals, art therapist to understand what’s the difference between art therapy and like then coming to the Performing Arts Center and doing some art.

Um, we did, uh, I worked with some of my colleagues from New York and helped to create something called the Military Cultural Competency Curriculum, which was specifically designed for the civilian community. To get an overview of the military. What are the branches of the military? What are some of the unique nuances of the military?

What are some of the job related connectedness? Because that’s one of the most important reasons that our civilian community needs to more broadly understand what happens in the military. What are those jobs? What do we do when we’re in the military so that there are [00:27:00] connections? You know, so that there can be a greater integration and kind of a joining from the work community.

You know, like a lot of businesses, they don’t understand what a military occupational specialty is and, and how does that work and, and what is the affiliate job, if you will, in the civilian world. So that creating a common language for folk who really don’t know is really important. So we based our thing around giving voice to veterans.

Creating opportunities for the civilian community to learn more about the military. Uh, and expanding this conversation, because most people would say, come on, you know, you know, no marine, you know, is going to dance, you know what I mean? You know what I mean? Or write some poetry, you know, again, you know, which I think, Scott, is a really important thing.

I think one of the most important things for people throughout our community to [00:28:00] understand Not only, not only do, do service personnel, you know, um, make a commitment to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and all of its inhabitants, but there’s a high level of humanity. People don’t see the full measure of our humanity.

So a part of, you know, that reintegration or that reconnection or that reason to more solidly help the civilian community to know more about the military experience and for the military, for our military and veterans that are coming back into the community to really feel and know who they are. That there’s a trust and that they can be safe and that they can make that transition and that they truly have help beyond some of the most best intention people who say, thank you for your service.

Just not, you know, it’s one, that’s one thread in the tapestry of service, but the community at large has a responsibility to serve the community. The veteran to serve the [00:29:00] military community. Your way of service is to provide every resource of support that you can as our military family, as our military, uh, active duty folk transition back into civilian life and come into that veteran status.

So the responsibility is everybody’s. I mean, I. Early on, I heard a number of people say, well, you know, you, you know, people volunteered. I mean, they volunteered for that. They wanted to do that. Yes, and that doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility of recognizing is that your job is to do all that you can to support.

You owe that and ought be, you know, enthusiastic to provide that. One of the big problems is people just don’t know how. And so by building this bridge and building this connector. And interestingly enough, we use the arts, but Scott, this is not just happening between military and civilian life. There’s a national conversation throughout the medical community about the importance of artistic expression in all of its forms to help [00:30:00] support the health and wellbeing of citizens of this country.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. Being able to express yourself, uh, in one way or another, having a conversation the way we’re talking right now is, is great, but sometimes there might be something that you or I, or somebody else in the conversation may just not be comfortable, uh, talking about. And they, they just, they clam up and they don’t, they don’t want to verbalize it for whatever reason.

And, uh, they, Might have a better chance at, uh, expressing it in some other way, you know, painting or, you know, pottery or sculpting or, you know, whatever the, the, the mode of expression is that they choose. Uh, they, they may still be able to get that message out there somehow, uh, just in their own way. And it doesn’t make one right or wrong, or, Hey, you need to do it this way, you know?

It kind of stifles creativity, I think, [00:31:00] if that’s the mindset. And, um, and so. You know, what you’re doing is you’re, you’re providing an opportunity for folks to, uh, use their, their creativity. And I think some of the most creative people probably can be argued, come from the military. Um, I, I know, I know when we were, uh, deployed to Afghanistan, we came up with creative solutions to problems all the time, and it wasn’t, it wasn’t.

That we’re painting a picture or we were, you know, whatever, but we were using our minds, that creative part of our minds to solve a problem. And we, we did it to, um, to, you know, complete the mission, whatever it was that we needed to do. Um, but we used our creativity, uh, and we exercised it pretty well there.

Um, but when we come home, if. We don’t really know how to continue using that creativity. Uh, you know, then, then [00:32:00] we, we kind of lose it. It’s almost like a muscle that you don’t, you don’t flex it enough. Eventually that muscle is going to kind of wither away. Right.

Fred Johnson: absolutely. No, no question about that. You’re absolutely right. And there are, you know, I mean, there have been a lot of studies done and I think that, you know, there’s been a, a significant amount of damage, uh, from a creative standpoint of view, uh, has, has happened just in sort of, uh, enriching the well roundedness of every individual when they took many music and art programs out of the school, or they just centralized them around a student who is considered to be interested in the arts.

Right. But there, you know, the act of creativity in all of its forms helps to create, helps to, you know, enrich and strengthen their creative mind. So regardless of the situation, to be able to flex and be able to use that creativity is so important. I will tell you that, um, I’ve, I’ve, I’ve witnessed some really, [00:33:00] really powerful, powerful experiences.

There’s a, a group here in, in Florida. Uh, Christo, a former, a fellow Marine, former Marine, um, ran a program for a really, really long time where they blow glass. You know, glass, glass blown is, is hot and, and it’s teamwork and it’s, you know what I mean? And to, to watch them. As a matter of fact, on our, uh, vet art span, uh, website, there’s uh, there’s a video there of, of Chris and, and his team, and they talk about this similarities, you know, between, you know, working on a fire team, working the squad together.

I mean, everybody works together for the ultimate out outcome. And there’s. That, that sense of camaraderie and that challenge that, you know, hits us in the exact same place, that, you know, we experienced, many of us, you know, when we were in service. And again, another colleague who’s a member of our Veteran Civilian Arts Ensemble, which is a group that we put together.[00:34:00]

of veterans and civilians from the community, vets from all military services and folks from the civilian community to come together to engage in conversation and, and find creative ways to understand each other. And we also, we create a, a theater piece that involves many, just I, what I do is myself and John Parks, who is a phenomenal choreographer, world renowned choreographer, um, We come together and it’s shared stories.

It’s the stories that people share together. That becomes the, the, the, the making of the storyline. Um, members of the, members of the ensemble write some, uh, some prose or some poetry and I’ll set it to music or there’s one member of our team, you know, and I remember the process of him kind of moving from the clinical setting into this, uh, uh, ensemble with us.

You know, one of the most important things that we build at first is trust. [00:35:00] And once the trust was there, he was able to come and he, he writes amazing music, you know, writes amazing music and says, I can, I can, without words too, right? He says, I can say through my music, I can let, I can let the emotions that it’s hard for me to let go of.

I can move that into this music and it means something to me and it touches other people. So absolutely, man, you know, it’s. Whatever it takes, you know what I mean, is, is the key.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, absolutely. And, and I think availability and access to. a platform where, or, or a facility where you can, uh, use stuff like, like glassblowing, like you said before, um, you know, that might be something that I’m like, Hey, that sounds really cool. I I’d love to try it. I’m not going to do it at home.

I, you know, I’m not, I’m not, I’m not going to start blowing glass in my kitchen. My wife would kill me if I was to do something like [00:36:00] that, you know? Um, so. If there’s, there’s no place to do this, then, then where, where are people going to, uh, you know, get started with this? I mean, at some point, maybe they, they, they take this even further and they, they do something else with it down the line, but everyone’s got to get started somewhere.

And. You don’t just start blowing glass. Like you got, someone’s got to teach you how to do that and do it in a safe way. And, you know, like you said, it’s really hot and it involves teamwork and, and all these things, uh, are, are, uh, you know, necessary, but without, um, without that facility available and the, the folks who can teach you how to do it in a safe way, um, then. You’re probably just not going to do it and, and then that creativity, creativity and that creative side of you is, it’s not going anywhere, you know, and so, so it’s, it’s [00:37:00] awesome that there are people out there who are, um, you know, willing to, to give this inspiration. Opportunity to folks to be creative and, and to express themselves in, in ways that, uh, you know, maybe they wouldn’t have the opportunity to do any other way.

Fred Johnson: Yeah, I mean, and that’s again, speaks to the importance of the civilian or the community network. I mean, you know, uh, we as the Strathcenter, we’re a performing arts center, and so, you know, our resources are, you know, Um, music, dance, uh, and, and theater, and costuming, and technical design. Um, but then our, you know, like the Morian Art Center is a local community art center, and they were, you know, they, uh, were, that’s where the glassblowing was done, but that’s where visual art is done as well.

Um, we, and we have other veterans in the community who are artists themselves. Um, uh, we, [00:38:00] one of the most powerful experiences that we had when we first started is, Um, we worked in conjunction with the Diavolo Dance Company, with Jacques Himes and the Diavolo Dance Company, and they’re in Los Angeles, California.

And so one of the first initiatives we did was called the Veteran Civilian Dance Ensemble. And this was 22 people, 22, um, members of the Diavolo Dance Company, professional dance. But beyond that, it was a movement thing, right? It’s like people go, well, you know, how are you going to get veterans to do that?

You know how much attention we put to close order drill and really understanding. It’s just a different form of movement together and it’s beautiful and it’s powerful and everybody relies upon everybody. So Jacques, who’s the Artistic Director of the Diavolo Dance Company, and there’s a, of course, in the state of California, a huge population of veterans and active duty personnel, and And Jacques had an instinct and an understanding and a feeling that, especially his dance company, [00:39:00] because they’re very physical, they’re like dancers and gymnasts, I mean, they use the body in powerful ways.

And so he created this initiative and this initiative invited any veterans who wanted to come and active duty personnel as well to come to his studio and to train and to work out there. And, uh, and then, and then he created this, um, community, uh, military connection between civilians, like, you know, folk that are, that are movement people that are in the community and then veterans that are in the community and brought everybody together and created.

This powerful, powerful dance piece that, I mean, the work, the energy, the effort, the camaraderie, uh, the understanding and conversations that were had, and every veteran there said, man, I’ve never worked so hard in my life, and every, you know, member of the Diablo Dance Company and member of the civilian community said, man, we had to rely upon each other so much.

I mean, the Diablo Dance [00:40:00] Company, um, was probably best known for the fact that they were like runner ups in a America’s Got Talent. And I mean, they, and I mean, the, the, the apparatus that Jock creates, I mean, the, they, the, it’s just phenomenal. I would say anybody, just Google the Diablo Dance Company, it’s phenomenal.

But there was this great camaraderie, you know, and, and so that, and that, that tradition lives on now, and Jacques travels around the country, um, and does that. So yeah, to have partners, you know, throughout the community. We have local partners. You know, local companies that, um, do other forms of, of, of, of art, creative art, and we can channel folks there.

This national conversation that’s going on in the medical community, in the science and research community, we partner with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, with our Arts and Health, or Arts and Healing Initiative. And [00:41:00] there’s a big conversation about, of utilizing the arts as a prescriptive way to support someone’s rehabilitation or someone’s health.

This is already being done in, in the UK. The United Kingdom, you go to the doctor, and the doctor along with other treatments, and we’re talking about medical doctors and also, uh, psychologists, and so it’s mental and physical health. Uh, you know, if someone is, has a real, uh, love for music, you might get a prescription to go to the symphony, you know, or if, if you played flute or if you played guitar or if you played banjo, you know, your prescription would be to, to go to the symphony.

Get back on that instrument and, you know, get with, uh, some, uh, a teacher and, and, and, you know, return to that, or a lot of people find great healing and great, um, mental, uh, uh, emotional support in painting, in drawing, photography, all forms of, of artistic expression are [00:42:00] such an important part of, of who we are as a, as a human animal.

We need that, that aesthetic experience. And so why not, you know, make it a part of. Of what it is to, to, you know, to be whole and complete with yourself and your community.

Scott DeLuzio: And I think sort of along the lines of what you were saying earlier about how, when you’re in the Marine Corps, some of that stuff kind of took a backseat, uh, during your time. And, um, a lot of times life just gets busy. For a lot of people. And we kind of suck quite frankly, at time management, like we don’t make time for these types of things in, in life where, where we, um, where we might want to, uh, have more time to paint, for example, but.

There’s work, there’s the kids, we gotta do this, we gotta do that, there’s, you’re always running around and, and you don’t make time, it’s like, you almost have to just put it in the schedule, and what you’re talking about, you know, when a doctor or a psychologist or [00:43:00] something says, hey, this is what you need to do, you need to make time for this, this is your prescription, uh, for, whatever, For, you know, whatever it is that you’re dealing with, go and play the guitar or go paint a picture or go do that creative thing that you need.

That kind of sets a spark off inside of you. Um, I know myself, I, I used to do some painting and my wife, uh, Would comment after I was done painting. It’s like, you seem happier, you know, afterwards, you know? Um, and sometimes like I, I would, I would just spend an afternoon and I would just get lost in the painting that I was doing.

And I, I, time would fly by and. Like before I knew it, my wife’s like, Hey, uh, you know, dinner’s ready. You want to come join us? Like, Oh crap. Like I didn’t even realize this much time had passed, you know, just the way I would spend a, you know, a Saturday or whatever. And, um, [00:44:00] but at the end she said, you know, you just, you seem a little bit happier, you know, after, after doing that.

And so, um, You know, like you said, it, it should be a part of that plan for, for folks. And, and, you know, as I’m saying this, I I’m realizing that I probably should be doing it more because you know what I mean? Like, it’s just one of those things that I let myself fall into that trap of, Oh, well, I got, I got this commitment.

I got that commitment. I got all these other things. Well, why don’t I just, you know, Schedule a couple hours to, to just do it and, and make that a part of, uh, you know, my routine. Um, you know, and, and we all should find that thing that fuels that fire inside of us. And I think a lot of times it, it does involve something on the creative side.

Fred Johnson: Yeah, no, absolutely. I think the other really important thing to Scott is for, uh, people to recognize that, you know, you could [00:45:00] be a Green Beret or you could be a recon ranger, or you could be a naval administrator, or you could be a fighter pilot, or you could, you know, work in IT, in the military, and also, you know, play classical piano or play the violin or, or paint, you know, it’s not an either or kind of thing.

You know, that a lot of, a lot of, a lot of that preconceived, uh, you know, macho thing, you know what I mean? Like, you know, I mean, I, you know, I, you know, I, you know, I can whoop your butt with a paintbrush in my hand, you know what I mean? But, you know, so that, that preconceived, that preconceived thing that you’re in either or, but, you know, I mean, you know, uh, and that’s a part of it is like, The depth of our humanity, oftentimes, you know, to the same degree that we achieve whatever level of excellence we need to achieve in the military, that same level of commitment, you know, can be translated through our humanity through an artistic expression.

You know what I mean? And I think that [00:46:00] that’s an important thing is that we are We both serve in the military and, you know, and our humanity still exists. And it’s an important part. It’s an important thing for people to see that many of the indigenous and ancient cultures of the world, you know, like the first nation people in America, you know, after war, after wars would come home and they would have a special tent and they would be taken care of until they were ready.

to reintegrate to come back, you know, because you don’t, you don’t experience a lot of what we’ve all had to experience. And then you just kind of, I’m cool. I’m back, you know, especially nowadays with the, you know, different from, you know, when I served, you know, when I served, uh, now, I mean, I know so many.

Um, folk who have returned time and time and time and time again back to Afghanistan, back to Iraq, you know, and talk to many folk who said, you know, I was never, on some level I was never really home. I was worrying about, you know, folk, you know, that were [00:47:00] back still in country or counting the days until I was going back.

So it’s a different time now. So the need. The need has always been great, but the need is still really, really great now because we’re still losing a lot of our veterans, you know. So yeah, in, in all ways that we can create an opportunity for people to know, hey, you know, you’re good, you’re safe. We’re going to do everything that we can to support you.

Um, we don’t have to know the whole story. You just need to know that we care and you guide us. You know, you let us know what we can do in order to really support and, and continue to, to tell the story. You know, one of my goals is to try to talk to every. A chamber of commerce in our region to say, look, you have a tremendous opportunity here to serve veterans and their caregivers and their family members.

Every day, you just need to understand and find ways to do that. That’s one of the greatest things that we can do.

Scott DeLuzio: Absolutely. Um, for the folks who are kind of [00:48:00] interested in some of the programs and stuff that we talked about today, uh, where can they go to find more information

Fred Johnson: One of the, yeah, one of the first places that they can go to is they can certainly go to our website. Um, it’s, uh, called Vet Artspan and that specifically is designed. It’s a creative forces initiative. Um, led by, uh, us here at the STRESS Center and the James Haley VA, uh, Hospital. Um, Creative Forces will kind of give an overview, give examples of some of the things that I talked about.

Um, you can, uh, people can look up create, the Creative Forces initiatives. Um, there’s a National Resource, uh, Center under the Department of Defense. Um, uh, just look up creative forces or people can look up arts and health in the military. Um, and, uh, you’re certainly welcome to contact us here at the Strass Center.

If you’d like to, if you would like to email me, you could, uh, [00:49:00] [email protected]. And I encourage people also to just, you know, kind of check in with, you know, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Institute for Health and the National Academy of Sciences are all involved in this national conversation about the importance of art for healing, specifically though, for, uh, you know, for, in support of, um, Arts and utilization for the military.

And also, you know, folks, there’s some stuff at the, you can look up the Veterans Administration, look for Arts and Health and Department of Defense. And it’s, it’s, you can find information relative to that.

Scott DeLuzio: Wonderful. And I will have links to all of that. And I know there’s a lot there. So, uh, so folks, uh, don’t need to jot everything down. You just check out the show notes and, and you should be able to find, uh, most of the stuff that we, we just talked about there, um, as far as the links and everything, and, and so we’ll, we’ll put all of that in there.

Um, and. I [00:50:00] really do want to encourage people to get involved in one way or another with some sort of creative way of expressing yourself. If, if you’re feeling like you’re struggling to express yourself, you don’t want to talk about that thing that happened or the, the events that you’ve, you’ve lived through or whatever you, you, you.

Talking is not working for you. There’s other ways to do it. There’s, and it’s really powerful, really incredible. I actually saw a show, um, where, um, I think it was America’s Got Talent, the show that you, you were referring to where there was a, there was a person who had just such a severe stutter in their, their talk, the way they, they would talk and they got up on stage and they started singing, uh, And sung beautifully.

Like it was just really good. There’s no stutter. There’s nothing like that. But then afterwards, after the singing was done, the stutter came back and it was like, almost like this [00:51:00] person needed the singing to be able to express in, in a, you know, kind of clear and, um, you know, uh, In a way that, um, it would help other people understand where he’s coming from.

And so, um, you know, maybe you’re not in that exact situation, but I do want to encourage, uh, folks who feel like they, they need some way of expressing themselves to find that way. And what we talked about today, I think are great options, great opportunities for people to do that. Um, so I want to thank you, uh, for taking the time to come on sharing, uh, everything that You did, uh, you know, with us today.

And, um, before we wrap this episode up, whenever I have a veteran on the show, I like to do a segment, uh, to add a little humor at the end, uh, to kind of hopefully make some folks laugh. Um, and, uh, uh, I like to call this segment, Is It Service Connected? Uh, and it’s, it’s just a funny way to, uh, Kind of watch a couple of videos, uh, you know, of, of service members doing things that are, um, kind of [00:52:00] America’s funniest home videos, uh, kind of, kind of, uh, situation where they’re doing something stupid and they end up, you know, falling or hurting themselves somewhere or another.

And, uh, it’s usually a good way to laugh. Like you were saying, we can usually joke about, uh, other branches and kind of. Tease each other and things like that. I kind of look at it the same way, just a way to, to make each other laugh. And, and hopefully the folks at home can laugh at as well at this. So I’m going to share my screen with you so you can take a look at, uh, what we’re, we’re doing here for the folks who are listening to the podcast.

Unfortunately, you can’t see what we are looking at here, but I’ll try to describe it right now, it looks like. There’s a soldier who’s on the back of a truck. It looks like he’s throwing a box. There’s a bunch of boxes, uh, maybe MRE boxes or something on the side. Um, let’s take a quick look and see what happens here.

So yeah, he’s picking up a box and he throws it. Oh, and he, he’s not even paying attention to where he’s throwing it. And he nailed the other guy right in the crotch. Um, so, uh, that was, he’s not even looking where he was throwing [00:53:00] that thing. He, he just. Chucked it and it was gone. And, uh, yeah, that other guy was not quite quick enough to, to grab that box.

But, um, yeah, he’ll, I think they’ll, they’ll find a better way of distributing those boxes after that. I’m pretty sure they’ll put their heads together and figure that one out.

Fred Johnson: I hope so.

Scott DeLuzio: yeah, so that, that probably, uh, that probably is. It’s something that the, uh, the recipient of that box is probably regretting being on that end of it.

Next time he’s volunteering to be the guy who throws the

Fred Johnson: throws. That’s right. That’s right. That’s right. He probably immediately recommended that they changed places,

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Yeah. And, and blindfold them too. So he could throw the boxes right now. Payback. So anyways, thank you again, Fred, for taking the time to come on and, uh, sharing everything that you do. And, uh, you know, I really am hopeful that, that folks do go in and check out the arts and, and, uh, [00:54:00] you know, uh, find some of your programs.

Fred Johnson: Thanks, Scott. It’s an honor to have the opportunity to do it, and I just also want to say that one other place folk can check is just at our, at most of the major VA hospitals, there’s a program called Whole Life, and so if you contact them, and that has art as well as yoga and tai chi and, you know, other forms of, of support, uh, in addition to, um, you know, uh, creative, uh, creative expression.

So, Whole Life is another way, and that’s a part of the VA system.

Scott DeLuzio: Excellent. Excellent. And so again, all of these links that we talked about, I’ll, I’ll try to put them all in the show notes. If I happen to miss anything, I’ll, uh, just feel free to let me know and I will get it back in there and put them in. Um, but thank you again for taking the time to join us. I really do appreciate it.

Fred Johnson: And a big thanks to you,

Scott DeLuzio: Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to support the show, please check out Scott’s book, Surviving Son on Amazon. All of the sales from that book go directly back into this podcast and [00:55:00] work to help veterans in need. You can also follow the Drive On Podcast on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and wherever you listen to podcasts.

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