Exploring the Military Experience through Art | Bob Woodruff Foundation

Exploring the Military Experience through Art

Bastion Community of Excellence Hosts Veterans Experience Project

On Veterans Day 2022, our Got Your 6 Network partner, Bastion Community of Resilience hosted its inaugural Veterans Experience Project. With support from the Bob Woodruff Foundation, the Bastion team created the event to highlight the experience of service members after returning to civilian life. Guests participated in interactive exhibits, created art, attended panel conversations, and spoke with community representatives who work with veterans. The event coincided with Bastion’s 10-year anniversary.

Changing lives for the better

Nationally recognized Bastion is the nation’s first intentional community for veterans and their families. The community provides a supportive living environment for injured veterans and their families; uses a holistic approach to reintegration and recovery; and requires that every resident give service, including volunteers who live full time in the community.

According to Bastion founder and executive director Dylan Tête, “the Veterans Experience Project is about connecting the public to veterans and building a broader sense of community that bridges the military-civilian divide.” An Army veteran, Tête added that while Veterans Day events typically honor veterans and their service to this country, the events don’t always make a lasting impact on civilians.

Slipping into the boots of military veterans 

Master of Ceremony Jimmy White, a Navy veteran and friend of Bastion, welcomed guests to New Orleans’ historic Gallier Hall. where the event took place. “Today is not a showcase. We are here to celebrate community, love, and healing,” he shared. 

The public was invited to “slip into veterans’ boots” and understand their experiences through different mediums. Attendees mingled with performing and studio artists, photographers, journalists, authors, filmmakers, including

  • Army veteran Thomas Brennan, founder and executive director of War Horse, and an award-winning writer and investigative journalist.
  • author Kayla Williams, an Army veteran and former Arabic linguist who, in her book Love My Rifle More Than You  shares her experiences from the war in Iraq. She has also written Plenty of Time When We Get Home;
  • playwright, LGBTQ activist and Marine veteran Jeff Key, who performed selections from his solo piece The Eyes of Babylon. Keys developed the piece from his Iraq War journals;
  • novelist and Marine veteran Michael Pitre who wrote Fives and Twenty-Fives. The work follows an American road repair crew and bomb disposal team in Iraq.
  • documentary filmmaker and photojournalist Russel Midori, who is also a Marine veteran;  and
  • photojournalist JT Blatty, an Army veteran who’s written for BloombergOxford American, and The Daily Beast.

Veterans from the Bastion community participated in panels, and shared their stories of deploying, transitioning to civilian life, and finding their way to Bastion and healing. Event organizers screened We Are Not Done Yet, an HBO award winning documentary. The film follows 10 veterans crossed paths at Walter Reed National Military Hospital. There, they participated in a USO-sponsored arts workshop to combat their traumatic histories through the written word. 

For event attendees who were interested in community services available to veterans, representatives from local organizations were on hand, including The Wounded Warrior Project, Southeast Louisiana Veterans Healthcare System and Imagination Veterans.

On the ground at Bastion

Coast Guard veteran Belard Ernest has been a Bastion resident for six years. Bastion changed his life for the better. Blind for the past 18 years, Belard shared that his Bastion experience has helped instill in him courage and independence. Admittedly it took time for him to buy into the program, and once he trusted the staff, he felt comfortable and at home. “[I’m] proud to be a resident of Bastion because here I am!,” he exclaimed. His joy is felt through his infectious smile. 

Celebrating the 2022 Veteran of the Year 

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell concluded the day by presenting John Boerstler with the 2022 Veteran of the Year Award. The Award recognizes and honors an exceptional veteran who demonstrates a commitment to public service. A native Texan and Marine Corps veteran, John is Chief Veterans Experience Officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs and helped found the Lone Star Veterans Association which became the largest network of post-9/11 veterans in Texas.

Impacting veterans throughout Louisiana and Mississippi 

Bastion is a one-of-a-kind community. With investments from the Bob Woodruff Foundation, Bastion has operated

  • a supportive housing program since 2017, 
  • an adult day program since 2019, 
  • an emergency COVID-19 telehealth response in 2020, and  
  • a food security program since 2021. 

Through these efforts, Bastion has impacted 700 individuals throughout southeast Louisiana and coastal Mississippi. This has resulted in increases in post-traumatic growth for a predominately low-income, African American, veteran population, and in independence in a severely disabled post 9/11 veteran cohort.

In the words of Bastion resident Jessica Edwards, “We care. There is hope. We need more Bastions! Learn more about the Bob Woodruff Foundation’s partnership with Bastion.