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Red Badge Project helps find new voices

Northwest Guardian

Published: 10:49AM January 28th, 2016

Writing about a childhood pet, the first time they met the love of their life or what it felt like to be truly scared can be part of the healing process for those who have served.

Veterans and service members who take Red Badge Project classes know this. The nonprofit hosts a variety of classes for both veterans and currently-serving service members to help them process their life experiences through creative means.

The program began in the fall of 2012 in partnership with the Warrior Transition Battalion. Actor and Seattle resident Tom Skerritt, is the founder of the project and Evan Bailey is a co-founder. Bailey said the battalion has been a wonderful partner ever since.

“For the first year and a half, we taught on base to be more convenient to the WTB Soldiers,” Bailey said. “After working with the Soldiers and WTB staff, we realized that the most dangerous time for our students was the transition back into the community, so we partnered with the University of Washington-Tacoma campus. The goal is to give transitioning Soldiers a taste of success on a college campus and hopefully inspire them to pursue higher education.”

First Steps

At first, the program was only for currently serving service members. The WTB provides transportation to the service members, who wear civilian clothes instead of their uniforms.

Eventually, veterans were included in classes by partnering with the Federal Way Veterans Center.

“The idea is to reach veterans who did not have the benefit of alternative therapy programs when they left service as well as introduce WTB Soldiers into the VA system in a nonthreatening or clinical environment,” he said.

The main course at the UW-Tacoma campus is split into three sections. First, students learn why writing is an important means of communicating complex issues, and then how to write their own stories the way they want. Finally, students learn how to share their stories in meaningful ways.

The Classroom

Warren Etheredge is a faculty member of the Red Badge Project. Skerritt invited him to join the Red Badge Project after they worked together creating The Film School, a nonprofit group in Seattle. After 25 years of teaching various subjects to many different types of students, Etheredge said he loves working with service members.

“One of the things about Soldiers is that they are hyper vigilant from training and it gives them many tools for storytelling,” Etheredge said. “They spend so much time learning how to seek and address people and threats in the environment constantly, which really helps with storytelling and remembering those tiny details. If they are learning anything in the process, it’s that their own personal opinion has value and to trust those instincts.”

Etheredge said it is always interesting to see the energy of these classes change, often in just two hours.

He used a recent example of a comment from a student in Federal Way.

“When she first arrived, she thought everyone seemed so different from her,” he said. “Weeks in, she said she sees how similar these folks are. (From) the person who served in Afghanistan to the Korean War veteran. All of these people of different races and cultures. And that’s a beautiful thing.”

The main course often breaks the ice with new students by passing around a joke book. This can help loosen people up and start them thinking about things in a new light.

Etheredge said these classes are for anyone willing to open themselves up to the idea of storytelling.

Only those ready to tell their own stories are enrolled, which is determined by the WTB or a veterans center.

Continuing Help

Partnering with veteran resources has allowed the Red Badge Project to expand its reach by working with veterans centers in Seattle, Everett and Federal Way. Red Badge Project instructors also began working at the Seattle VA hospital.

There are two courses taught at the (veteran) centers. “In Your Voice” class teaches students introductory storytelling techniques, such as framing and construction. The class expands into advanced techniques as they explore the stories they want to tell. The “Women’s Voices” classes create a safe place for women to tell their stories through writing exercises.

Both meet weekly over a six-week period. Students in these courses can also attend the main course at UW-Tacoma.

Interested service members or veterans can sign up for classes through the WTB or at one of the veterans centers’ partners.

For more information on the Red Badge Project, visit theredbadgeproject.org.